Parenting wars

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…

“I’ve been thinking, dear, do you suppose we were too lenient with the children’s 7-Up/Mountain Dew addiction when they were young?” [Our oldest two, right]

9 thoughts on “Parenting wars

  1. Hi Dora, I too loved the photo of that 7-Up-Mountain Dew-addicted, threesome which somehow reminded me of a Norman Rockwell (?)painting! Also, your confessions about the challenges of parenting while we’re growing up ourselves (and the many sins/errors that this can lead to) rang true for me as well. As did the concluding quote by Waldman re throwing everything you know at a problem & simply hoping it’ll work out!
    Interestingly, this morning’s daily reading from our Rilke book, followed by a comment from P., sort of fit the theme and helped to relieve some of that lingering parenting guilt. E.g. Rilke writes that God speaks to each of us at our creation with words which we dimly remember, telling us that we are now being sent out “beyond … recall … now go to the limits of your longing, and embody me.”
    That reminded P. of a quote by linguist, Steven Pinker, who stated that the idea of children being a blank slate is a myth. Instead, he says, they are born almost completely formed and the role of parents is to accept that, and, as Richard Nouwen says, “to be good hosts to these “guests” in our home, providing a nurturing environment to guide them in the growing up process as best they can.
    If only I had known more about all this earlier! Leona

    • Hi Leona. The notion of hospitality to our children, who come formed and “visit” for a while, is both helpful and exciting. (And lovely to think of it for grandparenting too, isn’t it?) Thanks so much, as always, for your ruminations.

    • Hi MaryLou, great to hear from you! I really enjoyed reading your students’ responses. By my count, about five or so of the 13 speak of their parents being exceptions to the “tiger mother” approach, and the others seem to agree, with just a couple defending it and the others wishing it was otherwise. And BTW, also enjoyed their versions of “my love is like a …” A creative group you’ve got there. Best to you in your teaching, and glad to be aware of your site as well!

  2. Hi Dora,
    Reading about “Tiger mom” brings to mind the polar opposite parenting philosophy my daughter/son-in-law are employing with their little one (now a bit over 2 years): Attachment parenting.

    From Attachment parenting Wikipedia:
    Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears,[1] is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, the child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style which fosters a child’s socio-emotional development and well being. Less sensitive and emotionally available parenting or neglect of the child’s needs may result in insecure forms of attachment style, which is a risk factor for many mental health problems. In extreme and rare conditions the child may not form an attachment at all and may suffer from reactive attachment disorder as defined in DSM-IV and ICD-10. Principles of attachment parenting aim to increase development of child’s secure attachment and decrease insecure attachment.

    There is lots to it. Very intense and ‘hands on.’ Attachment parenting moves beyond the ‘baby’ stage through child development. totally different than Dobson or ‘Tiger Mom”

  3. Hi Larry, thanks for this, and sorry for the delay in responding. I think I’ve heard of attachment parenting, but don’t know much about it. A polar opposite, that’s for sure. I find myself in awe of the energy and thought that I see so many young parents, including our kids who are now parents, put into their responsibilities!

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