Monday, January 17, 2011

The Tiger Mother

There is a huge public debate raging in New York about parenting styles. A few days ago Wall Street Journal published an article titled "Why Asian Mothers are Superior", an excerpt of an upcoming book that chronicles the very extreme Chinese parenting style of an American born Chinese mother, Amy Chua, or the "tiger mother". She advocates a very strict style that has been a norm in high aspiration, high achievement Chinese families. She eschews play dates, sleep overs, creative hobbies such as participating in school plays, team sports, camps, basically anything, it seems, that makes childhood fun. She obviously does not believe that children can learn valuable lessons via play, or that they need any unstructured downtime. No video games, tv, or anything other than academic drilling and piano or violin lessons and endless practice. I happened to read the article and was flabbergasted, mostly because she is so sure that her style is, well, superior.

I guess there are as many parenting styles as there are parents. The good thing about the "tiger mother" debate is that it is making people think about parenting. Being a good parent is such a huge and complex responsibility that nobody can be perfect. Parenting is wrought with guilt, and sometimes regret, but mostly it is a rewarding and wonderful job. I believe in balancing demands with fun. I love seeing my kids learn while having fun, as they did yesterday when we visited the Long Island Children's Museum (which, by the way, is a fantastic place). Life is very stressful, even for kids, and I am a big believer in downtime and having unstructrured time. Some kids get bored in a minute, but not mine because they have learned to play. If a kid never has time to just be, they don't have time to learn to play creatively and use their mind and imagination to come up with activities, plays and games. Balance is the key, though. Some kids have nothing but time and end up in trouble, or never experience achievements that can only come when you conquer and learn something that was hard at the beginning. Of course a good parent has to also teach kids the value of hard work and not quitting immediately when the going gets tough, or something feels difficult. But if a kid is consistently not into some hobby, and clearly will not be very good at it, whatever it is, it is ok in my mind to move on and try something else.

However good it is to analyze your own parenting style and think about how you can improve as a parent, I hope this debate does not bring back the age old "mommy wars" between working and stay-at-home mothers. I am so sick of that discussion. It has been proven that there is no one perfect recipe for well adjusted, happy children who will lead rich and successful lives.

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