Like most of America, I have been riveted by Amy Chua's Chinese parenting techniques described in the media over the past week. I've greedily followed the global debate about parenting methods--eastern vs. western.
The divorce lawyer in me, however, can't help imagining what Amy Chua's parenting experience would have been like, had she been divorced. Here's the scenario I envision:
Amy: "Jed, I'll be there at 11 a.m. to pick up the girls."
Jed: "Oh, I forgot to tell you--Sophia had a sleepover last night at a friend's house, so you'll have to pick her up there."
Amy: "What!? A sleepover? Are you crazy? I thought we agreed the girls would never do sleepovers!"
Jed: "Oh, and Lulu didn't practice her piano last night--she didn't have time because she and her friend Lucy played on the Wii all evening."
Amy: "What! She missed her two hours of practice? And a playdate? And you bought a Wii? Are you crazy? I'm calling my lawyer!"
This brings us to Rule #1 of divorce: No matter how you and your spouse parented while together, all bets are off when you split. In fact, you can be pretty sure your spouse will allow the kids to do anything that pisses you off.
This brings us to Rule #2: Anything you say to the kids is going to get back to the other parent, and it will show up in a court declaration or in oral argument someday. Here's what would have happened in Amy's situation:
Jed's lawyer: "Your honor, my client is requesting sole custody based on the mother's abuse of the children. She called her daughters 'lazy,' 'fat,' and 'garbage.' When Sophia came home with a B, she called her 'worthless, stupid, and a disgrace.'"
The Judge: "I'm going to order a full custody evaluation, to be done by one of our local psychologists, and I want it to include a battery of psychological tests. The parties will share the cost, which I estimate to be about $5,000."
And you can be sure that Amy's coercion of Lulu to master "The Little White Donkey" on the piano would never had reached fruition, had Amy been sharing custody:
Lulu: "I'm not going to practice anymore. Go ahead, give away my dollhouse to the Salvation Army. Daddy will buy me a new one. (And he would.) Daddy will give me a birthday party and Christmas presents. (And he would.) I'm going to call Daddy right now and he'll pick me up and take me to dinner when I tell him you are refusing to feed me. (And he would.)"
I guess the moral of the story is that divorce gives you a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. There's no way you could parent Chinese-style, even if you wanted to. Controlling everything your children do is just not a possibility. Instead, you get to enjoy--guilt-free--your long weekends off from the kids because, after all, didn't everyone tell you the right thing to do was let him have 50% custody? You get to hang out with your friends, you can focus on your own life and date and take trips, and--best of all--half the homework assignments and music lessons and sports games and academic drills aren't your problem.
So stop worrying about this one topic of debate. What you're doing as a divorced "western" parent is good enough. And the fact that neither parent has the opportunity to obsess over the child's every action is, at least, one nice thing that comes out of divorce.