In My Opinion, I Am Mother, Hear Me Roar
Several days before
"Didn't you study?" I shrieked, apoplectic.
Of course he had. His was one of the highest scores, he replied defensively. He went on to detail the hours he had put in, the problems he had practiced, the effort he had demonstrated. The professor had surprised the class with unfamiliar material, he explained.
"Excuses, excuses, excuses," I retorted. "I don't want to hear them."
His score on the next exam? 100.
"That's more like it," I told him. "Now, don't let up."
Compared to my own mother, who thought coddling and compliments would make her five children too weak to face a cruel world, I'm a softie. My children, however, think otherwise. So it was with a good deal of interest -- and self-reflection -- that I read the
Beneath the headline "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," Chua, a
She recounts an incident in which she hauled a dollhouse to her car and threatened to donate it to the
The piece has created a firestorm, not so much, I think, because of its undertones of Mommy Dearest -- hey, what I've-had-it-up-to-here parent wouldn't recognize herself in some of these anecdotes? -- but because of the comparisons between Eastern and Western styles of parenting. As you might guess, the Eastern style comes out ahead in her book.
More than a million people have read the excerpt online, and thousands have commented on it. It has inspired editorial cartoons, animated re-enactments and a spirited defense from Chua herself, who explained that this was not meant to be a parenting manual but a story of what she learned from her experiences with "extreme parenting."
She has expressed surprised at the rabid reaction. I'm surprised she's surprised. After all, nothing is more personal -- and divisive -- than child-rearing techniques.
Though some of Chua's tactics seem excessive, count me as a disciple of her philosophy. Like her, I believe that self-esteem develops from learning to do something well, not from getting a trophy for suiting up. And like Chua, I think the best way to prepare children for life is to arm them with skills, work habits and the confidence that comes from overcoming obstacles to reach a goal.
But mothering involves more than orders and repression. It's a balancing act. You have to know when to push and when to step back, when to cajole and when to empathize.
Regardless of nationality or culture, parents want the best for their children. Defining that success -- engineer or mechanic? physician or football player? -- and the manner in which it should be pursued is highly subjective. What works with one child might not be effective with another.
I want conscientious, compassionate, resilient, hard-working, emotionally healthy children. And after three decades in the trenches, I've learned that at some point you must stop pushing so they can push themselves.
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