The Coast News Group
Small Talk

The great mothering debate

If any of you have missed the delicious firestorm surrounding Chinese-American mother Amy Chua and her essay on mothering techniques, I insist on rehashing it one more time for you here.
Chua’s essay that recently ran in the Wall Street Journal was titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and is excerpted from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” But I suspect there are zillions of moms out there who really don’t have time to sit and browse the Internet, the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Unless, like me, they have a very well-read friend who shared Chua’s bon mot, they may yet be ignorant that they need to weigh in on this international motherhood throwdown. You just have to read it.
Chua is one very brave cookie to take on the mothers of America. But the gist of her essay chronicles the extreme and outrageous rules and behavior she believes are needed to produce a successful child. Basically, she maintains that it is OK to be an unrepentant, shrieking control freak, harshly limit your children’s outside activities and bully them mercilessly, for them to amount to anything important.
Oh no, she just didn’t.
Most mothers I know will read about her Attila the Hun mothering tactics with horror and just a dash of joy. I know I always wondered casually why there were so many overachieving Asian kids, but I just chalked it up to gene pools. I am thrilled to learn it isn’t all that easy. If that sounds hateful, then you aren’t a mother.
It’s a rare mother who doesn’t want her child to be the one getting all the awards at the graduation assembly, but the vast majority of us do not make that list. Instead we settle for the glee of rolling our eyes and dishing about this child who walks off with all the medals but probably has no friends and no real fun. Now, it turns out, we were sort of right.
There are a thousand strata of mothering styles between Chua and some of the nonchalant moms out there. I like to think I, and most of my friends, adhere to the Golden Mean. I have been known to shout at and bully my children to get them to accomplish one thing or another, but far more often I opted to just let them be children.
Chua would drop into a faint at my attitude that kids only have one chance to be kids, with all the attending freedom from worry and work that allows. I believe firmly that there is fun to be had as a child that you can never, ever recapture later in life. You can always take up piano, advanced math or pursuit of a PhD as an adult, but staying up late sharing laughter with best girlfriends, grabbing a sled and hitting the fresh snow, building a potato gun with your buddy, or simply playing kick-the-can at twilight will never come again — not with the blissful, carefree enjoyment of childhood.
This leads to an entire ongoing debate on how accomplished our children really need to be when they hit their 20s. I think you know where I stand, and there seems to be a growing number in my corner.
And I absolutely applaud Chua for being willing to be her children’s mother, rather than their pal. Even the most relaxed parenting absolutely requires someone to make endless hard decisions and be the heavy on a regular basis.
To all you Tiger or Kitty moms who are still in the midst of it, all I can say is bon chance and, above all, let them know you love them.