The greatest thing about being a human being is that there are no two alike. While we may display common behavioral traits or similar ways of thinking, we are all uniquely individual at the core. This means that the way we think, learn, and yes, even parent our children vary wildly. There is much debate as to the best methodologies in which to raise our children. Parenting styles have gone under the microscope in recent years intensifying the lack of confidence one may have in their own parenting skills. Parents are afraid of the scrutiny they may face if someone decides that their parenting skills are too harsh, or at the other end of the spectrum, not harsh enough. But where does this line get drawn, and what effect does it have on our children? No one really knows for sure whether they are parenting ‘right’ because there is no scale to measure perfect parenting. There is no superior parenting model. While Amy Chua explains and defends her choice for adapting the ‘Tiger Mother’ parenting model, David Brooks sneers at her hard core parenting style and claims she wasn’t tough enough and Lac Su claims that the abusive ‘Tiger Mother’ parenting style leaves deep emotional scars. While all three articles have valid points, the answer to ‘perfect’ parenting lies somewhere in the middle.
Amy Chua’s excerpt from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” incited a backlash of negativity from the public in which she portrayed her parenting style—that of the Chinese Mother. Her article implied that CMs were superior over WMs because they are
stricter, cut out unnecessary activities such as sports and sleepovers, and use the methodology of drilling to make sure their children not only do their best, but are the best. At everything. The way that the excerpt is printed leads readers to believe that she raised happy, well rounded children by applying the Tiger mother method. However, what it doesn’t show is that this method doesn’t allow children to interact with peers, belittles, punishes, and shames the child, demands and accepts nothing less than perfection, and overrides the preferences and desires of the child. I have to admit, there were times when I got huffy, felt offended as a Western parent, and cringed at her actions. I get her point, although I don’t necessarily agree with the method. The Tiger mother keeps pushing and doesn’t give up when things get hard. By demanding perfection, she is saying that she believes in her child, therefore the child believes in themselves and has better self-esteem. Praise is earned, not just given. By being a Tiger mother, she is in protecting her children by providing them with the skills they will need for the future.
In the New York Times opinion article, “Amy Chua is a Wimp,” David Brooks thinks the Tiger mom gets it right. He takes a satirical approach to showing where she falls short, mainly in underestimating the power of group dynamics. He says that practicing music for four hours cannot even compare to a sleepover with fourteen year old girls. Kids of Tiger moms and Tiger moms themselves have no understanding of how to “navigate” group status and hierarchy, understanding social norms or group dynamics. Brooks’ main point in the article is how group navigation is essential to the whole person. By shielding her children from these experiences, Chua is actually coddling them because “…these and other social tests impose cognitive demands…blow away any intense tutoring session…(Brooks). Brooks gives equal importance to the Tiger mom method and group interaction.
On the opposite end, Lac Su states that Chua’s parenting style is abusive, and gives us a very personal insight into the unseen emotional damage that can result from the Tiger mom parenting style. And he should know, he was raised by a set of Tiger parents. Su describes how the abuse, both mental
and physical, the constant belittling, and the mind games left him an emotional wreck even to this day. He struggles with self-esteem and self-medicates with alcohol on order to deal with the emotional scars and how he would trade his success in life in order to live without the deep wounds of the Tiger Mother.
The main points made by both Brooks and Su are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what constitutes a good parent model. in the beginning of his article, Brooks seems to agree with Chua, supporting the fact that she wrote her book partly to show her realization of the extreme Tiger mother and to show that “…American parent lack authority and produce entitled children who aren’t forced to live up to their abilities” (Brooks). Brooks clarifies that the American public’s problem with this idea is that Chua hits a raw parenting nerve because “Chua plays into America’s fear of national decline.” Meaning that as Americans we are aware, and are at a standstill in what to do about the decline of our education system and our children. For me, this makes sense. It touches a raw nerve and makes me question whether I am being the most effective parent I can be. Could four hours a night at the piano or no sleepovers be the solution?
Not so fast. Brooks puts a stop to that thought when he makes the analogy of practicing four hours of music a night to a sleepover involving fourteen-year old girls. I get it, I understand the dynamics of fourteen year girls and how vitally important those relationships are. Not everyone does, and as Brooks points out, Chua doesn’t. By not allowing her girls to participate in group activities like sleepovers or lunch in the lunchroom, she is “…protecting them from the most intellectual demanding activities…” It is here that the satirical tone of Brooks’s statements almost made me question what he was
really trying to say, but I think he really is trying to prove here that a sleepover demands just as much intellectual stimulation as a four hour piano practice, maybe even more.
It may seem like a silly analogy, but Brooks says, “…mastering these skills is at the very essence of achievement.” He clarifies this statement by pointing out that people are more likely to work in
groups, that “…groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals.” Not only is it more efficient, but working in groups allows individuals to read, gauge, and anticipate the emotions of others. By sheltering her children form this, Chua shelters her children from difficult situations.
While readers may begin to understand the uncomfortable harshness of the Tiger mother parenting model , Lac Su claims growing up in a Tiger parent household was “…no piece of cake” and that he “…still bear[s] wounds that haven’t healed.” Su calls the memoir of her parenting “abusive” and was driven by her own unhappiness. This he knows because his father told him that was what motivated him, the main difference being that Chua’s parenting did not involve reprimanding her children physically. I remember the passages about Chua calling her daughter “garbage” and the Lulu incident, where Chua forced Lulu to get a piece of music ‘perfect’ through abusive actions. Although not physical confrontations, they are still incidents that have the ability to leave invisible scars.
These are the ‘belittling’ tactics, what Su calls the “emotional mind game—brainwashing, derision, negative reinforcement, and reverse psychology.” This tactic is the name calling, a kind of goading to see if the parent can belittle a child into doing something better because they make them feel ashamed. While Chua remains adamant in her belief of the Tiger mom parenting, Su wonders if one day she will come to regret her actions like his father did. Su says, that at a family picnic his father “confessed regret about his choice in parenting.” How is this supposed to make Su fell better? It can’t, because as Su says, “[t]he damage had been done.” The damage, despite Su’s success, is the fact that he doubts his self-worth, one of the main points in which Chua argues that Tiger parenting builds
confidence and self-esteem, that he has seen a psychotherapist on many occasions, and has to self-medicate with alcohol in order to feel numb.
So where is the middle ground between these views on Tiger parenting? By reading and analyzing the arguments from Chua, Brooks, and Su, I realize that somewhere there has to be a balance.
While I admire Chua for sticking out her parenting and not giving up or giving in, something I also believe strongly in, I still find myself cringing at the harshness of her parenting style. What would be so wrong with compromise? Why did Lulu have to learn that piece of music all in one night? To me, it would have been more reasonable and less stressful to spread the practicing out over a few days until she got it. I agree with Brooks that social grouping is just as important as piano practicing. It is one of Su’s final statements that bring together the ideas of the three authors to the middle of the road. He states, “ [c]hildren need their parents’ love and acceptance in order to develop real self-esteem.” A child, like Su, who does not meet the Tiger parent standard, or the “hard core” tiger mother who only sees her way of parenting as the right way, children still need to know that you care and that you love them no matter what.
Brooks, David. “Amy Chua is a Wimp.” New York Times: The Opinion Page. 17 January 2011. Print.
Chua, Amy. “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” The Wall Street Journal: The Saturday Essay. 8 January
Lu, Sac. ‘Tiger Mothers’ Leave Lifelong Scars. CNN Opinion. 20 January 2011. Web. 17 June 2011.