“Remember years ago when I threatened boarding school?” I asked my 16-year-old son after I forced him to put down “Lord of the Rings” and read Amy Chua’s essay in the Wall Street Journal. “You thought I was bad, just take a look at this,” I said.
Ms. Chua, a Yale Law School professor recently chronicled her strict parenting style in the Wall Street Journal essay, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Her adherence to no sleepovers, play dates, television, sports or drama, and her demands for straight A’s and hours of piano practice drew some 7,000 comments, the largest response in the history of the Journal. Her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” hit number five on The New York Times hardcover non-fiction bestseller list this week.
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At a recent coffee gathering, mothers I talked to were appalled. Some said Chua’s children would end up depressed, headed for years of therapy. Others said they might become successful adults, but would never be happy.
Poor Amy. She was hit with a fusillade of bad vibes from moms all over the country, a virtual witch hunt. But how else could we react? Next to Chua, we feel like losers. While Amy is directing and challenging her children, we are cajoling and pleading with ours. And who can blame us? It’s exhausting, and the battle, never ending. But meanwhile our young sons are playing video games 24/7 and our country slips in global test score rankings.
A friend down the block called the day after the article appeared and whispered, “Well, you and I are sort of like her, but we can’t tell anyone.”
Indeed, how could anyone admit to agreement with Chua’s disciplinary methods in a nation that prides itself on letting children make their own decisions? “I’ve never told my son to stop watching television,” said one mother over coffee. “That’s up to him. That’s what kids his age do.”
But in a country where Miley Cyrus is better known than Tom Sawyer, and a new MTV series is being criticized as possible child pornography, the stakes are really high. A parent such as Chua who takes charge against an unrelenting culture of stupidity should be admired, not scorned. She should not be defending herself; instead, we should be taking notes.
Okay, perhaps she went a bit too far when she suggested name-calling. But why is everyone missing her main point? Parents in this country need to give their children more direction. They need to turn off the television, forbid hand-held Internet devices, ask their kids to read more books, and that’s just the beginning.
When I was in my teens, my father put me in my room and made me read the first 75 pages of “Gone with the Wind” before I could make the decision to quit. And, no, I wasn’t forever scarred by the experience. Reading her essay, I never thought Chua a bad mother; on the contrary, I thought I should be doing more.
Now we find out that her friends respect her and that her children are quite normal. A friend of Chua’s recently wrote to The New York Times extolling her qualities as a mother. And a friend of Chua’s daughter wrote to say what a great help the high school student was in the science lab, and that she had no problem socializing with other students. She was an “intellectual and musical powerhouse,” the friend wrote, in addition to being a “wonderful, encouraging and extremely loyal friend.”
We envy Chua because we know precisely what the aftermath of a sleepover looks like. We also realize that the extra-curriculars that she has so wisely forbidden have stolen some of the best years of our lives, time we could have enjoyed with our children in a less harried manner. And maybe we should ask Yo Yo Ma if practice and discipline turned him into a miserable adult, or if a childhood spent watching American Idol would have been better.
Fortunately, there is a bit of the Tiger Mom in all of us. On our better days, when we have enough energy, we do fight the battles that are important to us.
“How do you think I got my son to work on his Eagle Badge?” a good friend emailed me after she read the article. “It took several 'beatings',” she quipped.
Inspired by Chua, this Lithuanian Leopard Lady is ready to get to work.
But, please, no comments.
Janine Wood is a freelance writer.