Mommie Dearest?

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. The book was just published Tuesday, but it’s already creating a huge storm of controversy.

Chua’s a law professor at Yale and has written several books on international affairs, but her new book is a memoir. The topic? How she’s raised her two daughters. She advocates for the “Chinese Way” – incredibly strict, disciplined and structured.

After a Wall Street Journal article earlier this month previewed the book, the reaction was swift and intense – and just as polarized as you’d imagine.

Readers have flinched at the unrelenting pressure Chua put on her daughters to succeed. Her take on parenting is that while the intense pressure and repetition may be a challenge for a child, the self-esteem they earn when they succeed is far more real and permanent than the “everyone gets a trophy for showing up” mentality.

Chua’s choices are her own, and as someone who can’t keep a houseplant alive, I don’t want to criticize anyone’s parenting choice. I think it’s an awesome responsibility to be a nurturing, sustaining force for a child.

I can (to a degree) see both sides of the argument. I had great parents. But I was also the youngest and in some ways, too smart for my own good. I was pretty adept at talking my way out of challenges and avoiding things I didn’t want to do. I ended up paying for that later in high school and college. I wish I’d have been challenged a bit more, or put into new environments at school or in the real world.

There’s a lot more to Chua’s book, and this discussion, than any of these buzz-building articles cover. It sounds to me from everything I’ve heard that Chua truly loves her children, and she makes a number of solid points in everything she’s written.

But when does discipline go too far? There’s a passage in Tiger Mother where Chua’s mother-in-law begs Chua for just one day with her granddaughters. Chua had not for one day allowed the girls to have a “day” of fun  with Grandma. Not ONE day, at any point in their lives.

The girls always had to do the things Chua selected for them, including playing the musical instruments she wanted them to. I’m all for giving them goals and focus, but it seems bizarre and inhumane to me to not let the girls choose their musical instrument (or activity).

What’s worse – no choice, or too much choice? Do you think Chua’s methods go too far?

UPDATED TO ADD: I’m adding this note just a few days after the original post. This book and this debate seems to be gaining momentum; I’ve seen a number of TV news pieces about it, and there’s a very well-written, nuanced look at the book in TIME magazine this week (it’s the cover story). I think this debate will be around for some time to come.

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