Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tigers Belong In a Zoo

I haven’t read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press) yet and I may not unless I have time to kill at the airport. It is the book everyone has been up in arms about since excerpts of it were released in the Wall Street Journal. It’s the kind of story parents like to take up arms against – over achieving mother who emotionally torments and severely restricts her children from the simple pleasures in life like playdates and leisure time in order to turn them into the type of uber achiever she requires them to be. The book has a provocative title that makes for a great headline – Tiger Mother – and an attractive, accomplished mother whose own credentials – Yale law professor – make it tough to argue with the notion that just maybe her way, the Chinese way – makes for better parenting. But it doesn’t. No one way is the way. There is no one child or one parent. Each are different, each require different approaches and styles to help and guide the children on the road to the person they are destined to be – not the person that I as the parent require them to be. If there was one way that was right, raising children would be much easier than it is.

I hate these types books because it gets people in an uproar - there were actually almost ten times more comments posted on the Wall Street Journal website in response to the story on this book than there were on coverage of the Arizona shootings. Really? How one parent raises her kids (brags about it in print and uses cultural comparisons as a weapon in her argument) is more compelling than a political assassination attempt where lives were lost and serious questions were raised about gun possession and the identification and support of the mentally ill in our country? To me, that’s a sign that our priorities our out of whack.

The controversy around the Tiger Mother book reminds me of the brouhaha that sprung up a few years back when Lenore Skenazy wrote about letting her 9 year old son take the subway home by himself in New York City. Her stunt reinvented her writing career and made her the guru of the free range parenting movement, which promotes a hands-off parenting style.

Free range parenting, tiger mothering, I guess if you want to sell a book, you have a gimmick, but gimmicks are not the best way to raise children. I think that somewhere in the middle is where the path lies and the path twists and turns differently for every family. You will be influenced by your own upbringing, by your cultural traditions, your own family/work life juggle - in some cases even by what meds you are or should be on. But you will find your parenting path without clinging to or rallying against books like Tiger Mother. Honestly, as a parent, I really have way too much to do than to worry about a mom who won’t let her kids go to sleepovers or playdates – it just means my tv watching, computer game playing, junk food indulging kids won’t be socializing with her robotots. And I have the feeling that regardless of how I raise mine or she raises hers, they will all turn out just fine.

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