I'm a Chinese-American mom, but I'm no Tiger Mother.
I'm almost loathe to start this post as I don't think Amy Chua, and her book, could possibly have more press. I also fully disclose that I did not read this book, having only read (the scary) excerpts and multiple articles and blogs about the book. I did hear her on NPR with Diane Rehm when she defended the "tongue-in-cheek" nature of the book and how it represents an evolution of her own parenting. (Although, it seems that many people who have read her book in its entirety seem to have missed that subtlety.) My friend Joanne wonders whether her form of parenting represents child abuse.
I grew up the daughter of Chinese immigrants who, if anything, were on the permissive side. Sure, they valued good grades and hard work but honestly never pushed me. This might be, in part, due to the fact that I was doing well anyway, but I remember their mantras whenever I called home from college were two: 1) make sure you get enough rest; 2) don't study too hard. In high school, I did cause quite a bit of their concern when I declared I wanted to get a part-time job during the school year. Not out of necessity, I didn't need the money, but, what can I say? I wanted the experiences my friends had. I promised them that I would stop if my grades suffered. (And looking back, the experience of working minimum wage in discount retail was enlightening.) My parents' parenting style was the envy of my circle of friends: I had no curfew (although my dad would nonchalantly stay up, probably developing an ulcer, while waiting for me to return home on Saturday nights). I watched a lot of TV. They allowed me to give up piano lessons when I likened my times with my mid-life-crisising piano teacher to extreme torture.
I did have ABC (American Born Chinese) classmates that had proverbial Tiger Mothers. These women terrified me. Their children were polite, respectful, disciplined and high-achieving, but something was off. There was a hardness to these boys (they were often boys), and, often, a social awkwardness. I felt for them. And very glad I had a different upbringing.
On the flip side, the criticism that American parenting culture is too permissive is interesting to explore. Are we not pushing our children enough (not to TM extremes but isn't some pushing necessary)? I semi-struggled with this as I've watched my 5 year-old daughter beg for piano lessons...then totally lose interest a few months later. Same with dance class. When it got to be a monumental struggle to get her to even pay attention to her teachers or go to class, we've allowed her to stop. The feeling was that maybe she's not ready and when she finds something that she is truly passionate about, it wouldn't be such a Herculean effort to get her to practice. More physical activities, like swimming and gymnastics, have held her attention week after week. We are "following the child" as her Montessori teachers say. This makes a great deal of sense to me. I don't want her to do something for me, or for the sake of doing something. I want her to do something and work hard at it because she loves it and derives happiness in the process (That's possible, right?). But I sometimes wonder if I'm doing her justice by letting things go too easily.
One possible ill consequence of the TM method is raising children where conformity over individuality and creativity is selected. The Chinese have produced a nation of math and science heavyweights, but where are the visionaries? The Apples? The break-out ideas?
Chua, on NPR, wanted it to be known that her book was not a how-to-guide to parenting but a memoir. She clearly has struck a chord with mothers (and parents) everywhere. As much as she's been demonized in the media, I think this comes from a place of insecurity, that we all carry, about how we are doing as parents. Could we not be giving our children the best advantages in life? Are we doing it wrong? At the heart of the "Mommy Wars, " afterall, is insecurity and wanting to believe that our parenting, one of our most precious tasks --to "successfully" raise a child -- is right.
I hope that her daughters grow up to be successful, as defined by their own beliefs and that this backlash towards her mother's memoir doesn't do any permanent damage. We are all mothers, doing what we think is right, in the best way we know how. After all.