Yale professor and self-proclaimed Chinese super-mom Amy Chua set off a firestorm two Saturdays ago when the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Under the catchy headline—reportedly chosen by the editors—of “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” she sings the virtues of Chinese-style parenting and the fruits of excellence it bears.
Chinese moms, she writes, don't allow their children to have playdates or go to sleepovers, engage in team sports or theater, or bring home anything less than straight As. If her children dared to rebel, Chua is prepared with more than a few proven tricks under her qipao: taking away their beloved possessions, making them aware of their worthlessness by calling them “trash,” and being brutally honest about what constitutes subpar work or a mediocre performance...
It takes, of course, a great deal of commitment and perseverance to pull this off, but as she sees her children become accomplished musicians and unrivaled pupils in every discipline, she assures us that it’s all well worth it.
Other children will never rise to such levels of excellence. And, of course, it’s all their mother’s fault.
You see, according to Chua, Western moms are undisciplined wimps, more concerned about their children’s feelings and self-esteem than with giving them the skills and dedication they'd need in order to succeed.
As expected, the article proved highly controversial, generating a record 4,000 comments on wsj.com and over 10,000 on Facebook. And a hell of a lot of sales for Chua's newly published book.
Last Saturday, the WSJ followed up with an essay by Jewish mom Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, generating yet another flood of comments and, yes, more book sales. (Who would've guessed that the Wall Street Journal would become the next Oprah Book Club?)
On this latest installment, the “Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western” mom advocates a conveniently relaxed approach to parenting, one that provides ample space for children to excel (or fail?) on their own, that is, owing to their individual passion (or lack thereof?) and not in response to fear or shame.
The deluge continued. Readers of all ethnicities chimed in on the importance of finding a balance between these two extremes; a happy medium between overzealousness and ambivalence. A most difficult task, some argued. Definitely an art.
I don't think it's as rare as they suppose... You see, Latina moms figured this out a long time ago.
My mom, for one, didn’t have to threaten to burn my beloved peluches or take away the dollhouse piece by piece if I didn’t make good grades... First of all, there was no dollhouse to give away and, secondly, rather than burning those stuffed animals still in perfectly good shape, she would’ve repurposed them as fancy potholders or toilet seat covers...
She would’ve known that to call any of her children “basura” would’ve meant calling one of her own creations trash. And her work was always excellent.
The simple truth is that she didn’t have to scream or call me names to voice her disappointment. All she had to do was to give me “the Look.” Such thrift, even with words!
But not so with those who tried to mess with me. Oh the rainfall of adjectives that followed... ¡Sinvergüenza, endemoniao, renacuajo inmundo, qué te has creído...!
As a wise Latina mom, she taught me when to speak up and when to let silence speak.
She knew not to obsess as much over grades as over integrity.
She encouraged me to learn other languages, not for the sake of helping me make good connections when I grew up, but so that I’d grow up feeling well connected to those around me.
She taught me that if I ever felt like cooking, I might as well try it in a big pot, because donde comen dos, comen tres. And four and five too.
She told me that I didn’t have to become a mother to be fulfilled, but that if I ever met a child who needed a mother, I’d find it the most fulfilling work I’d ever do.
So as I read about the extreme parenting style of Tiger moms, I wonder... What if I’d grown up under stricter rules, would I have become concert pianist or a renowned physicist? Would it have saved me from money woes and romantic disillusionment? Would I be happier, healthier, wealthier? Would I be grateful? And just as I start to get deeper into the forest of this fantasy, I remember “The Look” and, suddenly, I know the answer.