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.