Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Pussycat Mother

I have a few things in common with Amy Chua, author of the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (which I have not read) which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal (which I have read). Like her, I am a university professor, I don't let my child watch TV or play video games, and I recently convinced my child, despite his initial resistance, to begin piano lessons.  But there, it would appear, our commonalities end.  As an advocate of play, non-coercive education, and peaceful parenting, I recoiled at Chua's descriptions of the threats, violence, and degradation that she claims as the hallmarks of her parenting. 

There have been myriad responses all over the internet to Chua's book; I was especially struck by Ann Hulbert's review in Slate in which she identifies the supposed envy Chua's book might elicit from parents, not merely of her daughter's achievements, but of Chua's seemingly blissful belief in herself, her "supreme maternal confidence and almost complete lack of ambivalence about her approach with her children."  I certainly do not envy her lack of ambivalence.  In fact, this very lack is what makes me most skeptical of her claims.  While doubt can be crippling or can foster inconsistency and hypocrisy (Hulbert describes "typical hyperparents buffeted by shifting expertise that leaves them anxious about overpressuring even as they push"), doubt is also productive: it makes us evaluate our beliefs and practices, question our assumptions, seek guidance, explore new ideas, think in more complex ways.  Without ambivalence, I would not have discovered the many resources that led me to homeschooling and that continue to shape my parenting.

So many parenting books offer seemingly iron-clad "solutions" (the better to climb the bestseller list) and inspire die-hard devotees.  I would guess that most of us, however, have parenting philosophies that are rich in complexity and even some contradiction.  My dad has a great mantra that captures this: "Tolerate Ambiguity!"  When you tolerate ambiguity, you remain active as a thinker, working to reevaluate and perhaps reconcile contradictory beliefs.  I think this kind of active engagement can be a very effective approach to parenting.   

[Meanwhile, for an excellent dissection Chua's WSJ piece and the relationship between happiness and "success" see Christine Carter's riposte "How to Raise an Unhappy Child"].  

6 comments:

Mom and Kiddo said...

Point well taken. I will always remember a bumper sticker (literature at its finest) I saw many years ago which read, "Changing your mind is a sign that you have one."

CMR said...

LOL--i thought of you when i heard the interview with Chua and her husband on NPR. I thought, "is this person really talking about CURRENT parenting philosopies?!"

CMR said...

or philosophies...

Adrienne Pilon ("A") said...

I, too, read an excerpt and read an interview with Chua. I think she felt more ambivalence than her words might initially show. That said, I also think her parenting might be a reaction to the child-centered philosophy that is more prevalent these days--a philosophy that is not without its problems and drawbacks. There is the sense that children are being rewarded for doing too little and their whims are catered to far too often. Overindulgence is no more loving than Chua's take-no-prisoners approach. Right now, I wish I had been a little more Chua-like earlier on. All that said, I haven't the faintest idea of how to parent, and I seem to get worse at it with each passing day. (insert sigh here).

Fanny Harville said...

A,
I wonder what you thought of David Brooks' response to Chua today in NYT? And she seems to be backpedaling in the media now...

These debates re: indulgence vs. discipline etc. are always so black and white in the media, but your comment exemplifies what I am saying in my post: in practice parenting is way more complicated, and the very fact that you are rethinking your earlier approaches and doubting your current efficacy as a parent -- as we all do! -- is evidence (I think) that you are a very good parent indeed.

Emily said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/science/01angier.html?pagewanted=1

Take that, tiger mothers. Let's be New Caledonian crow parents instead. (-: