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26 February 2011

This week I read Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  I'm not at all certain I qualify as a "Chinese Mother", but I am certain that Chua and I agree on a great deal concerning parenting.
Chua has been eviscerated in the press for demanding so much from her girls, who are developing talents, gaining knowledge, and becoming high-achieving young women as a result of these demands.  Parents are lining up in droves to criticize her tough love parenting style.
As a mother, (the German, French, Mediterranean variety) I commend Chua for her non-apologetic stance.  She speaks truth when she says that the majority of parents reward mediocrity and lavish undeserved praise on under-achieving offspring.  More harsh truth is found when she observes that often, we parents take the selfish, easy way out while hiding behind clichés such as, "Well, they have to find their own way", or, " They've got to make their own mistakes".  I admit to the truth in these statements, but I also recognize that they can be convenient excuses.
I wonder if Chua's critics are honestly upset that she doesn't allow play dates, sleepovers, and hanging out with peers, or if they are actually bothered by the realization that their permissiveness and absence of requirements has allowed their children to remain well below the heights to which they would have soared if excellence had been expected of them.
These parents claim that Chua (and parents like her) denies her girls fun.  By fun, they mean "belonging" to cliques of teen-aged girls who gossip constantly and turn on one another as viciously as a starving pack of wild animals.  The fun includes sexting, attending parties to drink, 'sharing' homework instead of doing it themselves, and worrying about looking 'sexy' to the opposite sex.  The fun leaves our daughters and sons conforming to the views of the peer group rather than thinking for themselves.  I have encountered these students through the years, and I must tell you, they are the majority.  These young men and women (who have a great deal of "fun") know which celebrity is cheating, who isn't wearing name-brand clothes, how to chug beer, and effortlessly lie to professors about why their paper is not finished.  But they cannot perform long division, fill in a map of our country's fifty states (we won't even attempt Europe...), and struggle to write papers that I would grade a 'C".  In the pursuit of fun, they have abandoned all meaningful, worthwhile pursuit of gaining knowledge and wisdom.  What good is all this 'fun' if it leaves our children ill-equipped for success in life.  The 'fun' most children pursue is empty, vain, and worthless for producing any admirable character traits.
'Chinese mothers', as Chua explains, act from a position of strength.  They expect A's.  They insist on success.  They BELIEVE that their children CAN.  They are willing to call shenanigans when their child says, "I can't", and then take the necessary steps to ensure that they do, such as enforcing a set study time, drilling multiplication facts twenty times a day, or hiring a tutor.  Some say this is militant and cruel, but I disagree.  This is honoring, as it proves the spoken belief in one's ability and fosters inner strength; this is love, as it works to develop the child to their full potential.
My boys do not practice musical instruments for hours a day, nor am I as intense as Chua in pursuing excellence.  I have been learning on the job in my twenty-one years of parenting, and my experience has led me to acknowledge the value of demanding excellence.  I have, like Chua, refused to accept a homemade birthday card, not because it was homemade ( I prefer them), but because minimal effort was put into it.  I routinely require assignments to be rewritten if sloppy penmanship is evident.  Many compositions have been shredded and reassigned when laziness produced drivel upon a page.  (Just ask my older children!  The younger boys are just beginning to learn).  I insist that the boys offer their best, whether it be in school subjects, sports, or performing a chore.  And, of course, when you insist on this, battles sometimes ensue.  At times tears commence, and I have even been referred to as "mean" and "unfair", but that's okay.  Chua's book, for me, was not only encouraging, it inspired me to examine areas where I can further exhort my children toward excellence, and called attention to other areas where I have neglected to stand firm.  The pride that shines in my children's eyes when they accomplish the thing that they earlier insisted they could not is a powerful encouragement to say the course.


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