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Today's jaw dropper: 'Chinese mother' article

Published on: December 30, 2013

She's a better mom than you are! Wall Street Journal photo

I was happily stapling up the hem of my son's cargo pants the other day when I first heard about Amy Chua, Yale professor and self-avowed superior Chinese mother. Chua is about to release a book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and so is suddenly everywhere explaining her formula for raising perfect kids.

As a self-avowed slacker mother (motto: "What? They're CLEAN yoga pants!"), I am always fascinated by those rare female beings who are wound up so tightly about mothering perfection. When these uber-moms are moderate, they can even prompt a little guilt in me: Of course my kids watch a tad too much TV. And I really should do something about that new pizza-for-breakfast habit (hey - it's all just carbs and protein, in the end). But my kids pull down great grades, and, even better, they're respectful, well-liked, athletic and happy. And - even better yet - our home is peaceful and happy.

But this Chua woman, she ain't even close to moderate, in fact, light leaving moderate right now will not reach her for decades. Her approach to child-rearing is a hard-core reading of traditional Chinese parenting. Strict doesn't even begin to describe it. You've got to read it for yourself. Meantime, here's a snippet: 

"Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • watch TV or play computer games
  • choose their own extracurricular activities
  • get any grade less than an A
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • not play the piano or violin"

It will be no surprise to learn that Chua's girls are paragons of success, drive and virtue. I won't presume to comment about their relative happiness or their bond with their mother. But Chua's controversial, in-your-face, arrogant style is prompting lots of reaction -- exactly her plan, one would suppose. A few highlights from the emails flurrying between ParentMap staffers this morning:

"I can't see how she appoints her self representative for the entire culture. Plenty of Chinese mothers will raise hell disagreeing with her." - education editor Linda Morgan

"I think this article is playing on parental guilt – and our comparison culture. Always trade-offs. These kids are great at following rules and pleasing and not rocking the boat – not necessarily thinking for themselves or encouraged to explore or develop entrepreneurially." - sales rep Anne Doss Hardy

Chua does make a few good points, or at least provokes reflection about American obsessions with self-esteem, among other things. Really, as infuriating as it is, the article has its merits:

"Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently."

I like the idea of assuming strength. Somewhere in this self-important, shaming tirade there lurks a glimmer or two which could be nursed to a flame if only Chua weren't so intensely unlikable. I'll give it some thought while cooking up those dinner waffles.

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