Weeks later and we're still talking about her. Letters to the editor, articles popping up online... it was even the main topic at the weekend gathering I attended. Everyone and their mother (pun intended) want to weigh in.
My turn: the parenting methods that Amy Chua espouses in "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" are tantamount to child abuse.
Whether or not we get good intel from the guy we've waterboarded, waterboarding is still torture. And what Chua describes, regardless of her children's seemingly sunny survival, is still child abuse. That her girls now claim to not only agree with their mother's methods but intend to implement them with their own future children sounds less like success than Stockholm Syndrome. I suspect therapy is in their future.
As for the parents, bloggers, pundits and columnists who find themselves still equivocating: to use one of Miz Chua's favorites words, don't be lazy, people. Forget for a moment the pictures of those smiling older girls standing with their conquering mother, all love and no regrets and she-made-me-who-I-am-today. Go back in time and put yourself in that room with Miz Chua and her sweet-faced seven-year-old daughter sitting at the piano, relentlessly pounding out "The Little White Donkey," and picture this scene:
I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts. Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it.
Hooray! Success for Miz Amy! Her sweet little girl was finally broken down, browbeaten, tortured, insulted, abused and "motivated" enough to get with the program, even "beam" at her own accomplishment. I bet she hugged her mommy after that horrible night of no food, water, rest, or bathroom breaks and felt a rush of both relief and love, so happy to have finally pleased the snarling, gnashing Tiger. Like Stockholm Syndrome, I tell ya.
Now, as you were imagining yourself in that room witnessing this harangue-fest in real time, how did you feel? Did it seem like good parenting? Was the outcome worth the abuse? Could you look at that beleaguered child and feel that she was being properly mentored and cared for? Or, as you listened to Chua screaming so loud, hour after hour, that she lost her voice, did you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and the desire to grab Amy and give her a taste of her own medicine? Maybe it's just me, but I come away with the crystal-clear understanding that abuse will always be abuse and that it's a chicken-shit way to achieve your parenting goals.
At the heart of this debate are two questions: what is a child, and what is your role as a parent? If you believe a child is a blank, malleable entity whose identity is yours to manipulate, and your non-negotiable goal as a parent is to crank out someone who has been molded and shaped to be the best at all costs, well, Amy Chua's prescription of long-term, unremitting, soul-crushing abuse as motivation may be the way to go. It worked for her and, as she points out, many other Chinese families, and come on, just look at those test scores!
But if you believe being a parent is sacred and, in some ways, a temporary role, that a parent is the conduit for bringing into the world a bright individual whose destiny -- with your loving care and guidance -- is to find their passion and their voice and evolve with a wholeness of spirit and a desire to learn, accomplish and be the best version of themselves they can be, then put the book down. You won't find the answers there.
When I look at my boy's face -- open, loving, vulnerable and so ready for me to be someone to look up to and depend on, whether at eight or 18 -- I know exactly what a good parent is. Love. Respect. Trust. With a deep understanding that the younger person standing before you is as much his or her own person as you are. That despite a child's need for discipline, guidance and the accrual of wisdom that comes only from living longer and learning more, even at their most innocent they are unique individuals who deserve a life free of abuse, disrespect and coercion. Good parenting is grounded in love. And when you truly love someone, you do so without rigid agenda, delusion or the imposition of your preordained version of them. You can and should push, set necessary boundaries, encourage, demand, even raise your voice from time to time. But you also listen, bend when necessary, and know when to change course. And if they truly don't think "The Little White Donkey" is the soundtrack of their life, the good parent knows to be gracious and loving enough to let them find their own music.