Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | January 20, 2011

We Made The New York Times!


Recently, Dr. Amy Chua‘s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has become the center of a debate about parenting. Chua contends that raising her daughters by a strict set of rules (no sleepovers, no computer games, etc.) is rooted in her Chinese heritage and produces a more successful person. She tells of not accepting anything less than an “A” grade, of making her kids practice their instrument (violin or piano only) instead of “wasting time” playing imaginatively, of having them complete thousands of math problems in their free time whenever anyone else in math class got a higher grade, etc. She berated them, denied them bathroom privileges, threatened to burn their stuffed animals, and much more, all while contending it was action borne out of her love for them.

New York Times columnist David Brooks, a man with whom I never agree, responded in a column that Dr. Chua totally misses the point that kids learn a great deal, maybe their most important lessons, from the very thing that Dr. Chua eschews, that is social interaction. He says that negotiating the delicate balance of a sleepover, for example, teaches kids a great deal about how to find their way in the world. I concur. And, I wrote a letter to the NYT which is being published today (1/20) about how these parenting methods and debates come and go tirelessly. We’ll continue to debate them ad nauseam until the next “expert” comes along.

If I had to pick the animal mother that most described me, it wouldn’t be tiger mom. I wasn’t fierce, and I don’t think moms should be. I’d say I was more like Koala Bear Mom. Much more pouch mom than punch mom, anyway. I believe that good parents nurture first and then support our kids to success. We do shine a light on what we think matters and we should hold up our standards for them to achieve. But, all the while, accepting who they are and allowing their natural abilities and desires to mesh with our desires for them.

Baby koala, captured at Currumbin Wildlife San...

Image via Wikipedia

Maybe I was too easy on the girls academically, but I believe that while education is important, there’s more to life than straight As in school. A study out just this week shows that kids don’t actually learn all that much in college as they spend 4 hours a day on academics and 14 hours doing social things. Yet, many of them, my kids included, go out into the world successfully. My girls chose people professions, helping professions, (they all teach) and it’s likely they did so because they learned that those connections are what matter most in life.

Was I too lenient? I still don’t think so, but maybe I was just lucky that my girls turned out so well.

Alexis Writes:

I think this book shows how desperate people are for answers on the right way to raise their kids, but the thing is, parenting is an art, not a science. What ever happened to simply teaching kids to treat others the way you want to be treated? I am sure this mother loves her children, but if she was so confident in her upbringing abilities why did she have to write a book defending her methods and insisting it was all out of love? She sounds completely psycho. I’m curious to know exactly what she’s a doctor of but whatever it is, I don’t think I’d go to her for any consultation.

From my experience in the classroom, kids really learn the most from playing with each other. They establish rules for games and decide what’s fair. They learn to work through and anticipate differences and how to handle them. Problem solving and social interaction are skills involved in every job and life experience. If we don’t give children the gift of teaching them how to handle those social situations now, we are putting them at a major disadvantage. We all know that regardless of your stats on paper, if you can relate to people it always gives you the edge in life.

By the way Koala Bear Mom…I’m not saying you were the strictest with academics, but are you forgetting when you insisted on tutoring me for the verbal SAT section? Or what about when you made me write every single paper for my English classes with you? I wouldn’t exactly say those were nurturing experiences, but I will admit you never told me I couldn’t go to the bathroom and you never set fire to Monk.

Tamra Writes:

“Tiger Mom” sounds more like “Asylum Mom”. I think Alexis is right. I do believe that parents are either looking for the “right” way to parent or aren’t looking for any way at all. Just like in teaching where all kids should be taught differently, different kids should be parented accordingly. Some children need a lot of structure or they will take advantage, and others will be much more successful when left to their own devices. I think it’s all about knowing your kids, and making mistakes, and then learning from those mistakes. And, like Alexis, I’m certainly not booking my next appointment with this Dr. Mom. God forbid you don’t follow her strict regimen and she’ll put a burning stake in your eyeball. Also, any doctor would know it is certainly not good for any of your systems to deny the use of the bathroom…

Kids need to interact socially. A lot of the problems we have now are due to the fact that kids and young adults don’t know how to communicate with people appropriately and they think they are entitled to things just because they exist. Socializing teaches children how to compromise, share, listen, imagine, and create things. There are too many kids that are focused on earning that A, but they could care less what they are actually learning. If that’s what this mother wants, that’s her problem.

I’d say Mom was definitely not Tiger Mom, but Koala Bear is a little too docile a description. I’ve definitely heard you speak with customer service people after being on hold for over an hour, and you did make that salesgirl at Neiman Marcus cry that one time…I don’t know any koalas that would make someone cry over a 99 dollar Nicole Miller dress…

I don’t really want to read her book, but I’m dying to read the book her children write: “How I Ended Up In Therapy,” or “Don’t Look in the Eye of the Tiger-she might burn you,” or even “Living With a Tiger Mom: Memoirs of Life in the Wild.”

Shira writes:

I agree with all of the above, mostly. This mother does sound a little bit psycho and I truly believe that putting this kind of pressure on children has a high risk of having the opposite effect. Forcing children to do something they don’t want to do, or telling them that perfection is the only way to succeed, can lead to some pretty messed up adults, and some really angry (though often fantastic) rock music.

I think everyone is right, that there is no one way to raise every child. Even within the same family, you can’t always use the same methods with one child that work with another. I deal with so many parents that expect their younger children to live up their genius older siblings’ successes and it just might not be possible. I’m all about high expectations, but they have to be reasonable. Yes, it would be nice to get As all the time, but in the grand scheme of life, who really cares what grade you got on your report card in Reading in fourth grade? No one.

As for the koala, first of all, koalas are actually really nasty animals. But since I think you were going for the warm fuzziness of a koala, I’m not sure I’m in total agreement there. It’s true that there was not a lot of pressure on us academically, but it doesn’t mean there was (or still is) no pressure about anything. For the sake of keeping the peace, I won’t go into more detail about that (cough online dating cough).

Ned writes:

I can’t believe Debby actually is getting her letter to the NYT published. You should be really proud of yourself! Nobody hit Debby with a big stick. And thanks to my good friend and neighbor, Shimon, who emailed the David Brooks article to me and said we should blog about it. That Amy Chua is making me look like the Prince of Parents. And my kids say they’re a little scared of me.

Yeah, I was all about the trophies for every kid who participated in the soccer league but really thrilled when my kids got a solo in the school play or scored a goal in lacrosse. I want the girls to have lots of success (who wouldn’t?) but I trust that with some common-sense guidance they will find their way. There are some really good life lessons to learn from losing and not being the best. I spared the rod but yelled sometimes and punished even less. Our girls were encouraged to do their best and the rest would take care of itself. I’m really happy with my work. Read our book “A Koala and a Labrador Retriever Raise Three Ducklings.”

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Responses

  1. Congratulations for having your letter published! Your letter is right on target. I suspect someone will turn her book into one of those Lifetime TV movies. I’m going to say my animal name would be gorilla mother. (Don’t they let their children ride around on their back for like three years?)

  2. Yeah, that’s the difference between us and the gorillas. We let our kids ride around on our backs pretty much forever!

  3. Stopped by from My Blog and I am thrilled to find such a well-written and thought provoking blog. You made my day.

  4. And you made our day taking the time to let us know you enjoyed ours. I’m off to check out your blog. Thanks so much.


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