There’s a fresh skirmish going on in the wars over parenting, provoked by Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’ve not read the book, but I did read the excerpt (with its unfortunate title), “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” carried in the Wall Street Journal, as well as reviews and commentary. The WSJ article, said the editors, generated tens of thousands of responses. No doubt about it, people take very seriously their beliefs about the best way to parent!
As I hear the frenzy around Chua and her book, I feel profound relief. Why? Because I don’t have to get worked up about it. I’m done. You only get one run at each child in the family, and for better or worse, I’ve had my turn. I don’t mean that I no longer have a role in my adult children’s lives. But, for me, child-raising is finished.
I suppose I could haul out the examples of our three children who are wonderful people with their fair share of achievements, to defend how we raised them — to defend, that is, where we came down on “tiger” versus “kitty-cat.” But that would be using a premise that’s part of the problem, I think, in the arguments being waged around “harsh,” “coddling,” “Chinese,” “Western,” “permissive,” “entitled,” and “shame.” That premise supposes that if you do it right (right being the ingredients one parenting guru or the other, one culture or the other, set out for you), you will get exactly the kind of children you need, and want. Children who will be “happy”; children you can brag about in terms your culture deems success. We know — don’t we? — that parenting is a years-long engagement without such guarantees.
Hauling out our children as examples might also imply that we haven’t looked back and wished we’d done one thing or another differently. (Not to mention that they could supply a few stories to thoroughly embarrass us.) We don’t have regrets because our children have disappointed us, but because they, and our honest memories, teach us that we were still growing up ourselves when we started growing them. We failed them too often. (How grateful one is for their forgiveness, and God’s.)
Chua, who says the WSJ excerpt focused on the extremes of her memoir instead of the “journey” she’s been on, wishes she hadn’t been so harsh, and lost her temper so much. She wishes she’d paid more attention to individual personalities. Well, ditto for all of us, with variations. I don’t actually know any parents who’ve finished the job who don’t wish they hadn’t done more of something and less of another.
One might have had a parenting philosophy, have used certain approaches, but just as often it came down to what Ayelet Waldman said in response to Amy Chua:
I sort of throw everything I can at the problem, and hope that something will work out.
And, on a lighter note…