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The last word on 'Tiger Mother' - a rant

Published on: December 30, 2013

wrongCan you stand one more post on "Tiger Mother" Amy Chua? OK, then.

Today, several ParentMap staffers were batting around ideas for editorial coverage, as we are wont to do. The topic: breastfeeding. Education editor Linda Morgan noted that, although there's tremendous pressure on new mothers to breastfeed, our society actually makes it very difficult.

I responded that there are parallels between how we treat nursing mamas and what we expect from mothers in general: at a time when most mothers of young children work, society's expectations of mothering have risen all weird-like. Forget shooing your kids outside to play all day (my non-stressed stay-at-home mom certainly did that without qualm). Today's mothers are expected to manage their kids'  lives the way you'd manage an actual career. If mothers (and it's always mothers) aren't working at all times to give their kids a competitive leg up, they're failing. You don't attend every soccer match or swim meet? You don't volunteer to make totally unnecessary goody bags for the class Halloween party? Bad mommy!

Never mind that they hold down jobs. We expect mothers to do something most of us never expected from our own mothers -- who did a fine job, by the way -- but we don't make it easy. School events are scheduled at times that are incompatible with work hours. Kids can't bike to soccer practice because it's unsafe. Workplaces don't understand unscheduled absences to care for sick kids.

What does this have to do with Amy Chua?

Maya Szalavitz at Time Magazine notes that Chua is a professor at Yale Law School, hardly a flexible, low-paid, part-time position. Read: all of that ferocious tiger mothering she claims she did was aided by an in-home childcare worker. Of course.

"The truth is," notes Szalavitz,  "that for mothers who don't have her resources, following her lead would be impossible." Of course. (Hello, Caitlyn Flanagan!)

We slacker parents let things go because of our temperaments, but also out of necessity: a single-parent (or dual-income) household is going to let things go because there simply isn't enough time -- or enough resources -- to go around. Of course we want our kids to achieve, to do their best, to develop their talents. But for most of us mamas, opting out of the workforce is not an option -- we may need our income right now, we may be afraid of what will happen to us in the future if we don't stay employed, or we may actually like our jobs.

So: we need to work. We want to work. But if we do, we're assaulted regularly by missives from the media about how we're doing it wrong. We're not giving enough. We're not there enough. We're ruining the children!

The problem is bigger than individual mothers' choices. We're doing the best we can by our kids -- we want the best for our kids -- but people with resources and an agenda are defining motherhood for us in a way that runs counter to our realities and our interests.

Szalavitz again:

Over and over and over, we debate the intricacies of the best way to raise our children without ever addressing the fact that much of the early-life care they receive is given by paid help, whether in day care or by a nanny. And it's not like women are suddenly going to quit the workforce; that horse left the barn decades ago.

Yet we remain in denial. The economic and emotional stress on working parents that results is overwhelming, but rather than concede that we have a big social problem on our hands or look for national solutions, we spend our time debating whether moms are doing their jobs right and seeking answers (or blame) in individual parenting styles.


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