Not a tiger (yet), just a cub.

There are many ways to become famous.  There are the traditional means: write an epic novel, make a radical political contribution, explore the far corners of the earth, give an Oscar winning performance, etc.

Or do as Yale law professor and author Amy Chua who recently made a tidal wave with her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  It seems everyone from the Wall Street Journal to bloggers and even Oprah are taking time to comment on her wildly controversial memoir and subsequent interviews.

According to Chua there are some significant differences between “Chinese” parenting and Western parenting.  Among the differences Chua ascertains that a Chinese mother would never allow her child to do the following:

  • Have a play date or attend a sleepover
  • Be in a school play
  • Complain about not being in a school play
  • Not be the number one student/get an A in every subject (except gym and drama)
  • Play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • Not play the piano or violin
  • Watch T.V. or play computer games

These social activities aside, Chua goes on to state the basic principles of Chinese parenting.  In brief:

  • Nothing is fun unless you’re good at it. Therefore children must practice, practice, practice in order to attain a certain level of mastery.  Once this level is reached, the activity will then be fun.  Should the child resist, the parents must persist and use all means to ensure that their child attain mastery status including, if necessary, verbal threats and emotional torment.
  • Chinese parents are not concerned about their child’s psyche but instead want them to be strong for the real world.  In contrast, Chua believes that Western parenting is so caught up with instilling self-esteem in our children that we lie to them about their abilities and often accept mediocrity.
  • Chinese parents believe that their children owe them everything and in doing so must make them proud.
  • Chinese parents know what is best for their children and therefore can override all of their children’s wants and desires if they feel it is in their best interest.

Needless to say that Chua’s comments have enraged many parents and on-line discussion boards are overrun with comments.

At first read admittedly, I was incensed by her parenting practices but like with most things that I have a visceral reaction to, I reflected on why I had such strong feelings.  Is this another Octomom pulling some publicity crazed stunt to garner the attention of the world or is Chua calling attention to a discussion that needs to be had about parenting and by doing so, scratching open a wound?

Chua has stated that the context of her memoir is supposed to be deadpan humor but I am guessing that it must have been lost in translation. For many, calling your children “garbage” and making your love conditional on rigid (and in some cases unattainable) standards borders on abuse.  And in light of recent teen suicides that have awakened a nation it’s hard for many to see how this parenting model produces successful adults.

So why did I not just turn the page, roll my eyes and move on to the next piece of news for the day?  Why did I read several different articles and interviews with Chua?  Why did I feel the need to discuss “Chinese parenting” with pretty much anyone who mentioned they had read anything by Chua?

I have some tiger in me.  A cub if you will.

Let me start off with saying there is much of Chua’s beliefs that I vehemently disagree with.  I don’t agree with verbal putdowns of any kind or making my love conditional.  I don’t agree that my children owe me everything; I believe that they owe themselves everything.  I don’t agree with anything on Chua’s list of forbidden activities.

But here is what I do agree with.

I am not my child’s friend.  I don’t need to be friends with a four year old.  I am his mother and sometimes being a mother doesn’t win me any popularity contests.  When my four year old tells me that he’s not my friend anymore, I simply shrug my shoulders and say that he is my son, not my friend.

If my child signs up for something they must see it through.  Tears, tantrums, begging, – save it.  If I have spent my hard earned money on the lessons and the teacher has shown up to teach, I see it as disrespectful to either drop out or to give a half-hearted effort.  If at the end of the session my child never wants to play soccer again, I don’t really care but I will not tolerate a quitter’s mentality.

I know my child.  I know his capabilities and if he is putting forth less than his best, the tiger in me sharpens her claws.  He doesn’t owe it to me to be his best.  He owes it to himself.  If he doesn’t think that he owes it to himself to be the best, no one else will think he deserves it either.

Kids need to know the truth.  We are not all winners.  We are not all the best at everything.  Most of us aren’t even good at everything.  That’s just the way it is.

Chua relates a birthday story in her Globe and Mail interview.  Tralee Pearce calls her mean.  But I found myself championing for Chua and nodding my head in agreement.

My husband had forgotten my birthday and at the last minute had put together something at a very mediocre Italian restaurant and then he said, “Girls, we each have a little surprise for Mommy, right?” Lulu’s surprise turned out to be a piece of paper folded in half, that had a happy face on the front and said, Happy Birthday Mommy. Misspelled. I knew that it couldn’t have taken more than six seconds to make. I gave it back to Lulu and said, “I reject this. I want a better one. Think about it, I work so hard for you. Whenever you have a birthday I plan for months. I hand-make the invitations. I spend my salary on waterslides and magicians and party favours. And I deserve better than this.” It worked. She made a much better one.

Perhaps why this memoir is getting so much attention is because with parenting there are no clear answers.  Ultimately, it is hard to go against type and speak up against the masses but clearly Chua has touched a raw nerve in many.  People have either strongly opposed her or thanked her for giving them a voice.  And then there are people like me still left scratching their head.