Lay Off Amy Chua

Last week the whole e-Parenting world was abuzz and ablaze after an excerpt of Amy Chau’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was printed by the WSJ under the title “Why Chinese Mothers Superior.” In it, Ms. Chua describes how she would make her children practice piano and violin for hours on end every day, would not allow them to have sleepovers or play dates, no TV or computer games, participate in drama productions in school, OR complain about not being able to participate in drama or having to practice piano for hours on end.

She describes the difference between Chinese and Western parenting styles, saying:

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

She also says that Western parents are obsessed with the American concept of individuality and the average American mother considers herself ‘strict’ if she forces her child to practice a discipline, any discipline, for 30 minutes a day. You’ll have to read the article yourself (  to judge how you feel about the ‘Chinese method’. After this article was published, Ms Chua’s in-box was flooded with angry emails and even some death threats. Really? She was raising musical prodigies born of her own womb, not the imbecilic inbred offspring who I AM SURE are the issue of the only boneheads who would make death threats to a woman discussing her child rearing choices.

The bad thing about the American media is that everyone forms an opinion and spouts it as gospel without ever doing their due diligence. The WSJ chose the headline and most likely the most controversial excerpt of the book. They may have even piecemealed several excerpts together to arrive at the final column – who knows? True to form, other bottom feeding bloggers took excerpts of THAT piece and assailed Ms. Chua for calling her children garbage and asserting that she routinely insulted them to get results. Clearly that is not the case, but it makes for more sensational reading, doesn’t it? One blogger proudly espoused that she makes sure that her children are well rounded and enjoy all types of activities, particularly drama.

“My son was even cast in an improve sketch in a local theater”, she wrote.

A witty commenter on her page shot back:

“Sounds to me like you would have benefitted from Ms. Chua’s parenting style yourself. Perhaps you meant ‘improv’? Try reading over your work.”

For my own part, I see the value in Amy Chua’s strict parenting style and instilling a sense of discipline in her children. While I myself could never go so far because I simply don’t have the TIME to hawk over my daughter for 3 hours while she clumsily played Chopin, I have taken a portion of her method in not allowing my children to give up and to do their personal best.

My daughter 4 year old Aya is a weepy, sensitive child. At the slightest challenge, she bursts into tears and proclaims that she “CAN’T DO IT!” – whatever ‘it’ is at the moment. In the past, I would tell her it’s okay, pat her head and tell her to lay down and watch TV. ‘It’ could wait.

That was before we went to Ghana (where we all learned a thing or two about real hardship) and before I read the WSJ article the other night.

That evening, unfortunately for Aya, I saw her whole life flash in front of her. It was mediocre at best, because I had never encouraged her to push herself. Uh-uh. Malaka was not having it. She stood in front of me, sobbing because she could not write the number ‘2’.  

“Yes you can, Aya. You CAN write the number 2.”

“No I caaaaan’t,” she sobbed.

“You can sit down and cry about it if you like, but when you’re done, you’re going to get up and write the number ‘2’. Understand?” I was firm and getting little pissed.

She stood there crying and I kept changing Liya’s diaper, giving her minimal eye contact. After sobbing a bit more, she sat at the table and wrote the number ‘2’ again and again until it was perfect. The child can write all her numbers up to 20. That’s why I was pissed that she was crying over the number 2!

This parent is grateful to Amy Chua for sharing her experiences and thoughts as mother. As she said, her book is not a ‘how to’ on parenting. She is merely sharing her insights with a clearly very sensitive American public who cannot STAND to hear that they’re not the best at everything. That data is there folks. The US falls last in the rankings for math and science amongst all the industrial nations. A report came out yesterday that the majority of universities in this country do not teach college students critical thinking and most of them have never written a paper over 20 pages long in their first 3 years. Instead of blasting Chua, why don’t we try taking the meat from the bones, actually read her book without paraphrasing,  and see if it holds any insights into helping our children succeed? I’ve already begun.

Photo source: Assoc. Press