Brace yourselves, modern mothers. Brace yourselves for another round of debate about parenting styles, children’s achievement, and how to raise happy and successful children. With Tuesday’s publication of the new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, “western” suburban mothers will once again be called out. Who is “too soft” and who lets her children quit too soon? Who demands and expects success and achievement?
In a recent excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” Ms. Chua recounts her own extreme parenting practices, in which her daughters are never allowed to “have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.” She argues that her “Chinese mother” style “assumes strength” in children and produces achieving children while western style parents give up on their children too soon, failing teach them the value of sticking with something that might not come easily at first.
For many modern mothers, these comparisons may be a bit intriguing but mostly horrifying. The prospect of bringing up a tuxedo wearing, soul-less virtuoso through relentless hounding might be disturbing and yet the prospect of sending Beavis and Butt Head to college on the 8 year plan will doubtless be equally unappealing. Clearly, there must be some middle ground: one can encourage children to achieve their potential while also allowing the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Yet, it would be difficult for any parent reading Ms Chua’s excerpt not to contemplate her own parenting, however briefly.
The modern mother who teaches manners is also teaching standards of behavior. She expects her child to learn to greet others with more than a grunt, to say please and thank you, to approximate appropriate table manners, to write thank you notes and more. Is it such a stretch to extend standards and expectations to academic performance? Perhaps a well mannered mother might re-double her efforts to ensure minimum daily practice of a musical instrument; perhaps she will begin expressing expectations for grades or even household chores; perhaps she will sit back and feel confident in the status-quo. Whatever she may choose, we hope it won’t involve any of the denigration and deprivation Ms. Chua describes in her thought-provoking piece.