In response to Amy Chua’s declaration of Chinese maternal superiority (now partially retracted), author Ayelet Waldman speaks up for Nerf-spined Western mothers:
Here are some of the things that my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do:
• Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people’s precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.
• Sleep over at their friends’ houses, especially on New Year’s Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.
• Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.
• Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.
• Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.
Waldman admires Chua’s ability to pressure her children without guilt or regret. But her own mildly dyslexic child didn’t learn to read through maternal coercion.
For years I forced her to spell words in the bathtub with foam letters, to do worksheets, to memorize phonemes and take practice tests. My hectoring succeeded only in making her miserable.
Rosie insisted on trying a four-hour-a-day reading program that drilled in letters, sight words and phonics. It was exhausting.
We begged her to quit. Neither her father nor I could stand the sight of her misery, her despair, the pain, psychic and physical, she seemed far too young to bear. But every day she refused.
. . . At the end of a grim and brutal month, Rosie learned to read.
She came out of the ordeal with confidence in her strength and tenacity. Her parents were “stunned with pride.” It was Rosie’s victory, not theirs.
Roaring like a tiger works for some children, but others need a different sort of tiger mom, Waldman writes.
There’s an inherent flaw in the insanely perfect parenting styles of the educated classes: You drive yourself crazy or you drive your kids crazy. Or both. It’s not worth it.
Update: In a letter to the New York Post, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, the elder cub, writes about growing up with a tiger mom.
Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.
For Sophia, living life to the fullest is “about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential,” she writes. Her mother taught her to go all out.