Over the years, I have been called every name in the book, all related to my admittedly traditional parenting philosophy. Draconian is a favorite slur. I am confident that these epithets are tossed by folks who have turned their children into golden calves, so I have no problem with harsh or evil or “parenting Hitler” or any of the rest.
But my reputation may be in store for rehabilitation, because according to Amy Chua, writing in The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 11, my parenting malevolence is nothing compared to that of the Chinese tiger mother, of which she is one. Consider that the CTM does not allow her children to attend sleepovers, have playdates, participate in school plays, watch television, play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, be less than the very best in every subject save drama and gym, attend sleepover camp and play any instrument other than the piano or violin, of which they will play one or the other.
I conclude that future Chinese orchestras will be bereft of horn and percussion sections. I also ponder the competitive chaos that must result if several children of CTMs wind up in the same classroom. Chua believes that one does not become proficient to the point of superior at a skill without hours and hours of forced practice. Practice must, in fact, be forced because as she admits, “the child will resist.” Left to their own devices, she claims, children never want to work, which is why it is crucial for responsible (presumably) parents “to override their preferences.”
Chua overrides her two daughters’ preferences by calling them names like “garbage” and threatening to throw away a favorite doll house unless the child in question learns a particularly difficult piano piece within 24 hours. If one of her daughters ever came home with a B (something she says would never happen), there would be a “screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” From her, mind you, not the child.
The CTM believes her child is in debt to her because of the inordinate time and energy she devotes to making sure the child achieves total, unequivocal success in life. If the child does not repay the debt by being the best at everything, it is the CTM’s right and perhaps even duty to demonstrate, presumably by launching ballistic missiles at the child’s psyche, that she is ashamed of the child.
This all seems like unmitigated, indefensible emotional blackmail to me, but then I am a Westerner and therefore an unmitigated parenting wuss. I do not understand what it takes for a child to achieve success in life. Is this cultural chauvinism or what? Chua describes her parenting style as if she is being totally unselfish, but I suggest that she is all about her. This CTM stuff is more about Chua’s ego than it is her kids’ success. She lives through her children. She even freely admits that she and her American husband do not agree on how to raise the kids, but when he objects, she simply argues him into submission. The Chinese tiger mother is also a tiger wife.
At the crux of my disagreement with Chua is her definition of success. She’s fixated on grades and other material accomplishments (one of her daughters played Carnegie Hall in 2007). I want a child to pretty much — with some coaching and correcting of course — find his or her own way in life. I’m all for the child learning through trial-and-error what path is right for her. Chua is about choosing the child’s path and keeping her on it no matter what. I think character is more important than material success. Chua believes character is forged in the struggle for material success. We agree on nothing.
In any case, I am indebted to Chua for inadvertently improving my public image. I am now a Western parenting wuss and proud of it.
A psychologist, Rosemond answers questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.