Tiger Mom

At Book Club the other night, we spent a fair amount of time talking about the Tiger Mom controversy.  Amy Chua’s new book has, to say the least, got women talking.

Having not birthed babies of my own — at age 31 I became stepmom to Chloe 15 and Austin 9 — I’ve often felt like I had to keep my mouth shut when it comes to motherhood.  Too many real mothers were quick to let me know that my opinion, whatever it was, would be different if I “had my own children.”  It made no difference that my stepkids’ mother was nowhere to be found, that I was the only one mothering them.  When I was lenient, women insisted I’d be more of a hard-ass with my own; if I got tough, they’d assure me that I would be more relaxed and loving if only those children were really mine. By the time I decided that I, too, deserved have my say, my kids were grown and off to college.

While I might not agree with Chua’s extreme parenting, I do appreciate the fact that she’s willing to put herself out there, make her case, and take the heat.  This is the kind of bravery I hope for when I write, the courage to say what I really want to say, regardless of the judgment that may come my way.

The main thing I find puzzling is Chua’s stance in the interviews I’ve seen this week.  She appears to be backing down, saying that readers and interviewers are not getting the sarcastic tone and self-mockery in her story.  Having not read the book, I can’t comment on her tone, but surely she had to know the controversy her book might cause.  If she really believes in this ultra-strict Chinese parenting style, why is she backing off?

The best article I saw in response to the book was this one by Ayelet Waldman in the Wall Street Journal.  The story she tells about her daughter’s dyslexia makes an excellent point about control — parents exerting their will vs. the child learning to make her own choices.  Waldman is the author of BAD MOTHER which also caused quite a stir — in a different way — when it was published.

We mothers (and yes, I consider myself a “real” one, having birthed them or not) can be one hell of a judgmental crowd.  Even my mother-in-law, whom I adore, once said the following to my husband when I insisted my stepkids go away to college:  “If she were a real mother, she wouldn’t want them to leave.”  Everyone’s a critic.

7 thoughts on “Tiger Mom

  1. lisahgolden

    First – If you mother, you’re a real mother.
    Second – Thank you for linking to Ayelet’s article. I missed that this week.
    Third – I haven’t read the book either, but as the founder of the parenting school of Benign Neglect, I couldn’t be a tiger mother if I tried. The reality is that I’m way too lazy to be a tiger mom. The effort that appears to take exhausts me to even think about.

    I’m about encouragement and giving them their wings and all that, but I’m also about convenience. My convenience. Like Ayelet, if my kids decide they want to quit something, I let their father give him his canned You Finish What You Start speech and then I wait to see if they push back or not. If they do, then fine. They’re not so committed. Less inconvenience for me. Unless they’re letting down a team or something, there’s no harm. Caveat – If it’s a team thing, we make them stick with it.

    I’m cool with that. If they take their father’s advice to stay with it, they must not have been that committed to quitting.

    Here’s how that looks for our family. I enrolled our eldest in ballet at age 3. She stayed with it through pointe at age 13 when we moved to Georgia and she didn’t like the feel of the only ballet studio in town. She quit dancing and took up soccer. Two years later, she took dance at her performing arts high school. She asked if she could enroll in classes at the studio. The same woman who ran the studio taught the dance classes at school. After graduation, our daughter went to school on a combo academic/dance scholarship and was part of the ballet company in the small city where she attends college. By the end of her first year, she decided that she loved dance, but did not see herself making a career of it. She changed majors and seems happy with her decision to live out her dream to the extent she needed to in order to satisfy her curiosity.

    Yes, I enrolled her in that first dance class and encouraged her through the years by getting her to classes, paying for them and the costumes, performance tickets, etc., time spent sitting around reading or chatting with the other moms during rehearsals and classes. But she was the one who chose the route and decided when to stop, restart and stop again. Dance is what she does for herself and I like it that it belongs to her in that way.

    Oy, sorry for the looong comment.

    1. Teri Post author

      Lisa, that was the first thing that came to my mind: Her method sounds painful and exhausting. How do you keep that up?

  2. MacDougal Street Baby

    You’re right. In this day and age it’s extremely difficult to believe in yourself. We are bombarded with books on how to raise our children and it takes a brave soul to close them and figure the path out by oneself. We are are own baby whisperers but nobody seems to understand that.

    We are big on teaching our kids the motto, “different strokes for different folks.” Amy Chau’s way is certainly not my way but, in that same vein, neither is the road of Ayelet Waldman. We all have different battles that we choose to fight. I think what is important is that we teach our children persistence and discipline because no matter what direction they ultimately take, they’re going to need to know how to see something through. Quitting something is certainly a viable choice in our home but only after the commitment has been seen through. It’s an important lesson and one that I never learned growing up.

    It’s sad that we’re all judging each other. This job is hard enough without feeling our every move being assessed by others. In the end, I think it all boils down to the people living within your own four walls. If you’re doing right by them, you’re doing fine.

  3. glasseye

    I actually avoid these kinds of books for exactly this reason. I don’t want to judge or be judged when it comes to parenting. But I’ll make this judgment unreservedly, for you and for my husband, who has been a father to my kids for ten years: You are a REAL parent. You could walk away at any time, yet you choose to stay and make those lunches and help them with their algebra and give them a cuddle (or a chewing-out, as the case may be). That’s parenting.

  4. Teri Post author

    The whole market for these books is like an anthropological study — writers write them and publishers publish them because they sell like crazy. Why?! This makes me nuts.

  5. Lyra

    I cannot begin to tell you the unasked for, and unwelcome comments I have gotten. I have a step daughter and 2 of “my own” and challenge anyone who tells me it’s different. All kids are different, I parent them all differently but they are all mine.

    1. Teri C.

      You got that right, Lyra. When I used to take my stepdaughter to, let’s say, the doctor’s office, it would go something like this:

      — My daughter has a 3:00 with Dr. D.
      — You don’t look old enough to have a daughter that age!

      Some would call this a compliment. For me it was a stab in the heart, just another reminder that I was a Mother Impersonator. Like they do with Elvis.

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