If you haven’t read Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, you’re surely among the few. The essay was published in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, a few days ahead of the release of Ms. Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
The article sparked some controversy. (I do hope the award for “Understatement of the Year” is one of those nice Waterford crystal trophies.)
The piece has been called everything from “horrifying” to “heartbreaking”. Ms. Chua’s husband has been criticized for being too weak. Comments and tweets have speculated that her girls will spend adulthood in therapy, or worse. And as for Amy Chua? Well, she may be the second most hated mother in America right now.
According to critics, Ms. Chua is, at the very least, a horrible parent. Commenters and bloggers have spent hours and days publicly debating the merits and faults of her parenting style. We can be a judgmental society. The “funny” thing is, so much of the parenting criticism we dole out is based on our own parenting experience or cultural norms. That’s it. We’re parents. Imperfect ones. Just like Amy Chua.
I couldn’t help running some of the comments through my mental Successful Family filter. From that perspective, here are some thoughts on Ms. Chua’s essay and the public reaction that followed.
1. Do we really have nothing better to do?
I may have an opinion about every single parenting practice in the world, but spending hours debating them publicly provides no value to my own family.
We mothers can be so quick to judge each other. I catch myself doing it, too, every time I see a kid standing up in a shopping cart or a preschooler at an R-rated movie. I’m just not sure how condemning other parents makes my own family better or happier. Wouldn’t our families be better off if we used these situations to reflect on our own behaviors and values?
Many people have accused Ms. Chua of blatant emotional or psychological abuse. You know, emotional abuse comes in many forms, some of them subtle. Can those people honestly say they’ve never invalidated their own children’s feelings with any of the following comments?
- Don’t cry.
- Don’t worry.
- Don’t be so dramatic.
- Don’t be so sensitive.
- There is no reason to get upset.
- You’re overreacting.
- You’re blowing this way out of proportion.
- You should feel thankful that…
- You should be happy that ….
- You shouldn’t let it bother you.
Would our time be better spent developing and working toward our family’s personal definition of success?
2. Ms. Chua’s family is (likely) a model of success.
Why would I judge someone who presumably has a successful family? Each family has to define success in its own terms, not mine. I don’t know them personally, but her essay makes me think their definition includes academic excellence; mastery of classical music and instruments; children who are emotionally “sturdy”; a home with both parents, one of whom may or may not feel emasculated in front of the world; maternal confidence; and overachievement in general. If that is the agreed-upon definition of success in her family, they’ve achieved it. The whole family might be very happy, for all I know. Who am I to criticize a happy family? I dream of seeing happy families everywhere!
3. It made me think.
I’m not here to give parenting advice; I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for other people’s children. However, I work pretty hard at understanding what’s best for my own. (By the way, they are completely different.) And the advice I feel confident sharing is this:
- Happiness and success mean different things to different people.
- People have different personalities and needs.
- It’s hard enough to really understand yourself and your own family, and what would make your own family happy. THEN you have the challenge of actually achieving that happiness and meeting those needs. And if I had time left over [sarcasm] after family success and happiness, I think I’d push the envelope and go for MORE success and happiness for my own family. I wouldn’t mind the occasional nap, for example.
- #3 should be infinitely more important to us than debating the parenting style of another family, who—frankly—seems to be doing OK.