I do not claim to be a perfect mother. Or to know what it means to be a perfect mother. Or to believe in the existence of Perfect Mothers.
But I will say one thing: I am not mean to my girls.
Do I snap from time to time – out of exhaustion or exasperation? Of course. I’m only human. But I have no deep, dark disciplinary agenda with my progeny. I do not have visions of of morphing my children into modern robots, whipping them into math whizzes, or making them musical prodigies. Do I want them to find passions and nurture talents and excel? Sure. Do I secretly (or not-so-secretly) want them to get fabulous grades and attend top schools? Yup. Do I want them to be happy and healthy? You bet. Do I want them to like me? I’m not going to lie; I do.
What’s all this about? Maybe some of you have read the recent piece in the Wall Street Journal called “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” The title alone makes me cringe. Anyway, go read it. Because it is provocative and inflammatory, but does beg some important questions: What, ultimately, does it mean to be a good parent? Are we missing the mark by focusing on happiness at the expense of “success” and “superiority”?
I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know. I’m learning as I go. But what I do know is that, unlike Yale law professor Amy Chua, the article’s author, I want my girls to have sleepovers and play dates and be in a school play if they choose. I will let them play video games and watch television within reason. I will let them choose their extracurricular activities. I will encourage them to work hard, but not punish them if they receive less than an A or rank below #1.
Chua provides a haunting example of her tactics. She describes a time when her daughter Lulu was 7 and was struggling with a particular piano piece and wanted to quit. Chua would not have it: “I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling…” Guess what? Little Lulu finally nailed that piece. Victory? I’m not so sure.
I do not have an exact parental plan, but I intend to let them be kids. To be people. To become who they will become. To let them, and help them, learn to live and love. Does this make me a weak Westerner? Maybe so.
Chua says she uses the term “Chinese Mothers” loosely. She says she knows some Irish mothers who would “qualify.” Maybe I could fit the bill if I tried. Maybe. But if I know anything at all about myself as a parent and as a person, I am not a member of this species, nor would I ever want to be.
Did you read Chua’s article? If so, what do you think? In parenting, do you think the focus should be on nurturing happy creatures or superior academic and societal citizens? Do you think an element of fear or domination is essential in “successful” child-rearing? Do you think Chua truly endorses everything she writes or do you think her words are an attempt to enrage and call attention to herself and her recently published book?