Have you heard about the Tiger Mother? She makes me feel like Ostrich Dad — scared and with my head in the sand.
Amy Chua is an American-born daughter of demanding, unyielding, Chinese, immigrant parents who is raising her kids in the same demanding, unyielding fashion.
Naturally, she has a memoir about it — “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” — and an excerpt ran in the Wall Street Journal under the headline, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”
Needless to say, it provoked a good deal of discussion — most of it negative.
And why not? Chua discusses how unwavering she was in her push to create academically and artistically excellent children, raising them in the manner that cowboys will domesticate a wild, unruly mustang.
She calls this the “Chinese” parenting style, as compared to the “Western” approach practiced by parents who “seem extremely anxious about their children’s self esteem,” who blame schools and teachers, rather than their own kids, for poor performance, and “who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.”
As you might imagine, “Western” parents are pissed.
Me, I’m just scared by the certainty with which Chua molded her kids. On a good day, I think I’m doing OK as a parent. I’m involved, active in my daughters’ lives. I set rules and, mostly, enforce them.
Other days, though, I’m filled with self-doubt, often when confronted with parents who seem more lenient, more successful, more hip.
You know, parents whose kids still talk to them.
Maybe I should be more like them. I’m susceptible to my kids’ lament, “EVERYONE ELSE is allowed to … fill in the blank” (the latest are “go to parties in Manhattan at 3 am,” “walk home barefoot at sunrise,” “sneak into 21-and-over clubs to hear a hot band,” etc).
But Chua stirs up the fear that I have let my daughters down, that I don’t push them hard enough, that I’m raising kids who won’t achieve their potential. Her conviction, her faith and belief in the way she raises her children preys upon my uncertainty and doubts. How can I know what is best for my girls? How is it possible for any parent to really recognize, at each moment, what the right choice is for their child? Yet she seems to.
The greatest fear is that my kids will have to compete with kids like hers — well trained, disciplined, programmed children who have a leg up for college placements, jobs, recognition, promotion, the presidency.
What chance do my daughters have in the real world when they can’t seem to fold their clothes or get themselves out of bed?
What if Chua is right? What if I really have put my head in the sand and hid from the real work of parenting? Chua forces her girls to practice their instruments hours each day, restricts them from friends so they stay focused on school work and extra drills, bars them from e-mail, texting and TV. She is ready to battle her girls at any moment because she knows she is right.
I’m such a wimpy parent. I couldn’t even stick with a No-TV-On-School-Nights policy.
I’m intimidated by Chua’s arrogant self-certainty, but her parenting reeks of tunnel vision and near-sightedness, loving and rewarding her children only for grades and recitals, rather than simply because they are her children. She teaches them they are the merely the collected entries on future resumes rather than creative, flexible, loving human beings; that relationships are emotional and complex, not simple transactions.
Perhaps it is Chua who has her head in the sand, hiding from the fact that no matter how many A’s your kids bring home or how many concerts they perform, you can never control the adults your daughters will be.
I teach my kids some values they will hopefully use when they’ve moved out of my house, like make choices and stick with them: You want to play soccer? You’re in for a whole season, even if you hate the coach and your uniform is the wrong size.
And face the consequences of your actions: Start your homework late, you’ll have to stay up to finish, and still drag your exhausted butt to school on time in the morning.
Chua has the same goals, but does the work for her girls. By abusing them until they’ve achieved excellence, she fails to teach them how to motivate themselves. Everyone works harder when faced with a loaded gun or an angry mother.
Childhood is a time to try, and fail sometimes. To find out that not everything is easy or fun (but some things are); to begin figuring out what YOUR choices will be, not your mother’s.
My daughters fail sometimes, and I stand by with Band-Aids when they pick themselves up. Broken toes, broken curfews, failed exams, I get frustrated, but love them no matter what.
Ostriches can be fierce and cuddly.
That’s me, Ostrich Dad in a Tiger Mom world.