I just finished reading “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua and I have to admit I have conflicting feelings about it.
My own kids are grown and most likely irreparably damaged at this point, so I didn’t read the book to get any great insights into parenting techniques.
I’m just joking about the damage part—my son has a Ph.D in neuroanatomy and is a successful magazine editor and publisher and my daughter is a furniture designer who’s had her home featured in national magazines and on television, so I guess I didn’t screw them up too badly.
(I also didn’t have anything to do with their career choices, so all the praise for their successes should go to them.)
I try to keep my nose out of their business when it comes to raising their children. I figure they have every right to louse their kids up as much as I did. Dr. Phil (sorry about bringing him into this) says that parents do the best they can “with what they knew when they knew it.”
In other words, we don’t always have access to the right information all the time as parents and often we learn more in hindsight when it’s too late to apply that knowledge.
Amy Chua’s book chronicles the early upbringing of her now teenage daughters. She mercilessly makes them practice the piano and violin and will not accept any grade below an A in anything except gym and drama. She puts forth the not unheard of premise that Asian (in her case, Chinese) parents create better outcomes with their children overall than Western parents do–particularly American ones. This is not something new, but the look into her family life with all its pressures (and triumphs) is pretty eye-opening.
The author has undergone quite a bit of backlash over her book, which she calls a memoir and not a “how-to” book. I agree with her on that. Not everyone comes from a family that has the monetary resources she does (she’s a Yale law professor and lecturer and her husband is also a Yale law professor and fiction writer). She spends oodles of money on lessons and anything that will help her children be the absolute best in everything they undertake—whether they like it or not.
This is where the backlash comes in. It’s one thing to encourage your kids to do their best and keep on trying at something like piano or violin when they want to chuck it in, but it’s entirely another thing to make them practice for six hours at a time until they get a certain piece “correct” while leaving teeth marks in the wood of the piano over middle “C.”
She berates the kids unrelentingly, telling them that she’s only doing it because she loves them and wants them to succeed.
At one point the youngest daughter rebels and refuses to do anything her mother wants her to do—including play the violin, which she has become extremely good at and actually loves. She feels that her mother just wants her children to be the best so that she (the mother) will look good.
Granted, the kids are amazingly talented and very poised for their ages, but one wonders if it was all worth the price they had to pay by not having a more “normal” American childhood. We’ll have to wait and see because at the publishing of the book the oldest was just sixteen and the youngest about thirteen or fourteen.
I think back to my own upbringing and wish that my mother had been more encouraging to me. She usually went with the assumption that I wasn’t capable enough to do something, whatever it was, for a variety of reasons—I was too young or just didn’t measure up to the task at hand somehow.
Now, looking back, I think she essentially wanted to keep me dependent on her because that was her “job”—being a mom.
When I was grown and already had two kids of my own, I finally got a chance to go to college and ended up getting accepted into the dental hygiene program at our local community college. I went up against 250 other applicants for a slot in a class that would be limited to just 24 students. I got in on the first try.
My mother, upon hearing that I was accepted, said to me “If it gets too hard for you, you just quit.” I guess it was her way of giving permission to fail, but that wasn’t exactly what I was hoping to hear at that moment—more like “Congratulations, that’s really great!”
Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m pretty sure I was a threat to the way she had lived her life as a stay-at-home mother. She initially didn’t even want me to apply to the school because she said that at the end of the two year program “You’ll be thirty years old!”
I came back with, “At the end of two years I’ll be thirty anyway, so I might as well be thirty with a degree in dental hygiene.”
Parenting can be really complicated.
It’s too bad we can’t know what we didn’t know when we didn’t know it.
Where’s Dr. Phil when we need him?