How many parents find a balance in their parenting that works. We seem to go through cycles, fads as it were. We didn’t like the autocratic parenting many of us were brought up with so we reacted and swung the opposite way being nice to our children, giving them all they want at the same time interpreting what they wants as what they need. Hard to get those two straight! We were all about raising our children’s self-esteem and thought we would do that by telling them how wonderful they are at everything they do. Trophies for every kid on the team, praise stickers and prizes for “good” behavior, telling children how special they each are…. Well, that backfired big time, but we hadn’t quite figured out what to do instead when along came Amy Chau with her new memoir, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother. Chau’s book shows us how Chinese mothering raises successful children (or that’s what she wants us to see), which is once again a swing in the far opposite direction. She chastises American parents for being soft and feeling-oriented and shows us how her harsh, autocratic style led to two very successful daughters – altho almost at the risk of losing one of them. By calling her daughter “garbage”, refusing the “lazy” efforts put into home-made birthday cards, threatening them with anything and everything to illicit perfect performances both academically and musically, she claims she boosted their self-esteem and takes full credit for their successes. As children’s failures are a shame on the family, she says that absolutely a child’s behavior is a reflection on mothering. Hmmm. Doesn’t that leave the child’s nature out of the picture. Indeed, her second daughter’s nature is what in the end broke Chau’s uncompromising severity-a little.
What a reaction in the press!! All the New York Times respondents to this top-selling book have criticized it’s draconian methods. While disagreeing intensely with her methods, one piece I do think we should take from it is her unquestioning faith in her children’s capability—so capable she believed they would not be harmed by the harshness she used to keep them at their tasks and away from any down-time. That was where she went off track.
I was left with the question: Why are we such pendulum thinkers and followers? We go with one extreme, find it doesn’t work, and swing to the other extreme in reaction. Where is the balance? Why is it so hard for us to be moderate in most anything we do. Chau did not mean to tell us Americans how we should raise our children, but she did make it quite clear that we are doing a poor job of it. I happen to agree. I also think she did a poor job with her extreme parenting. But can we not take the good with the bad? How about relishing in the cultural differences and learning from one another what might help, leaving what we think might hurt. Balance is what it is all about in my opinion. Balance of needs in the family means that everyone must understand that their needs are no more or no less important than anyone else’s. And that means that I demand that my needs get met along with the sacrifice I may need to make in order to meet my child’s needs. It’s a dance—a back and forth action, an understanding that we all matter—and every family must find their own dance. The first step is to know that we each deserve our own needs to be met. With that knowing we gain personal power. With personal power, we can maintain authority in our homes without the use of harsh measures that damage relationship.