Ever since Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" was published early this year, American parents have been deeply divided. There are those who seem greatly impressed by Chua's tough-love parenting methods (which include calling her kids "garbage" and denying them activities like sleepovers with friends) and those who are horrified.
Chua's name flashed into the headlines again last week, with her advocates arguing that the news that her daughter Sophia has been accepted into the 2015 class of Harvard University is vindication of her Tiger Mother methods.
But now enter the "Panda Dad," freelance writer Alan Paul, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he, his wife, and three children have lived in China and he isn't buying into the "Tiger Mother" parenting philosophy.
"Our 3½ years in China give me an unusual insight into what author Amy Chua claims is not only the best way of parenting but also the Chinese way," he writes. "[T]ime in China also taught me that while some here view a Chinese education as the gold standard, many there are questioning the system, noting that it stifles creativity and innovation, two things the nation sorely needs."
"Further, he adds, "having seen it in action, I have a strong aversion to hard-driving 'Tiger' parenting, certain that is not a superior method if your goals are my goals: to raise independent, competent, confident adults."
Paul, who is also the author of a new book about his family's time abroad ("Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in China") says that during his years in China he saw Chinese children, alone in their rooms, required to spend "long hours ... practicing violin, piano or character-writing." To him it seemed "a sad, lonesome way to grow up and nothing I would ever prescribe to my children."
He also points out that such methods are "not the only style of Chinese parenting. I saw plenty of kids smashing these same stereotypes."
Might the Panda Dad feel vanquished by news of the Harvard acceptance of the daughter of Tiger Mother? It seems unlikely. "Our home is like a state university," he writes, "where you can get a great education but you have to do your own legwork." And he seems very comfortable with that comparison.
When it comes to bookselling clout, however, tough love clearly wins the day. While Chua's no-nonsense parenting manual has an Amazon rank of #89, Paul's tale of his more laid-back years in Beijing has been hovering in the mid to low thousands. [Editor's note: This blog originally ranked Paul's Amazon rating too low.]
But then again, perhaps the Panda Dad has only just begun to fight.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.