I read in initial horror last week’s WSJ article from Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“. The article was part of an excerpt from the Yale Law Professor’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.
The title of the WSJ article was a sensationalist tactic more than anything that started a torrent of criticism from all sides. In the past week the article has received close to 6000 comments, and Chua herself has received multiple death threats.
There have been a number of articles written as a follow up including a New York Times piece earlier this week “Retreat of the Tiger Mother“. Then today comes a rebuttal in the WSJ from Ayelet Waldman, “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom“.
With all this backlash, Chua herself now admits the book is not meant to be used as a parenting book, but is more a memoir of her own life. I personally find these articles resonating with me. As a child of an old-school, strict Italian father, and a nurturing, Canadian elementary school teacher mother, admittedly I struggled growing up. I rebelled as a teenager and now have come to accept these two sides of myself. It is perhaps for that reason these articles have set off such a flurry of emotions for me. Additionally, having children of my own I also struggle with how to best parent them.
For example, last year when my oldest son was in fifth grade he had several tearful moments. He is a good student, with an amazing analytical mind and has already determined he wants to be a foreign diplomat. I remember one particular day he came out of class in tears because he didn’t do well on a spelling quiz and was fearful he would not get into Stanford. The pressure he put on himself was crushing, and I tried to reassure him that part of learning is making mistakes.
I believe we need to support children to be confident AND happy. That can only come from embracing their successes and struggles. It also means encouraging them to be socially, physically and emotionally adept, something that is missing from Chua’s position.
As a parent I understand wanting to have your children excel, whether it is academically, musically or in sports. However, the salient point missing from Chua’s position is the importance of teaching the more abstract components of human nature like compassion, joy, generosity, sincerity, creative thinking, and honesty.
Far too often I see children that excel academically but are socially inept. I see parents push their children to be the best, yet are themselves intolerant, quick to judge and afraid of diversity. Are we creating leaders that lack compassion and rewarding intolerance? Is our goal to build companies that put profits before employees? If you had to choose between two equally competent oncologists, would you choose the one who cares about your personal well being or one who sees you as just another patient filling his/her day?
In an increasingly competitive world it is easy for parents to focus on measurable strengths like academics and sports, but to do it at the expense of other humane experiences is not something I want for my children.