Parents will be parents. Regardless of culture, regardless of religion, regardless of politics, we can say with certain confidence that because of our very nature, parenting trends will always be a topic of considerable concern.
The latest ebb, of course, is Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which declares the superiority of the Chinese-parenting model. The model emphasizes a severe form of discipline over the more flexible nurturing common in Western households. Chua writes about her own parenting style, which involved not allowing her two daughters, Lulu and Sophia, to choose their own extracurricular activities, go to sleepovers or get anything less than an “A” in their classes (except for Gym and Drama). Chua’s extremely critical micromanagement of her daughters’ lives has led parents across the United States to question their own methods of child rearing.
Not that the parenting manual sensation is anything new: There have been plenty of studies that try to pinpoint the best ways to raise successful offspring. Steven Dubner and Steven Levitt, co-authors of the book Freakonomics looked at data to determine that the smartest children are those who grow up in households that have books and educated parents – mostly likely because the value of books and education will be emphasized in their lives. What doesn’t matter are how often parents take children to museums, read books to children, the neighborhood they live in, elementary private versus public schooling, spanking as a form of discipline or even if parents are together or divorced. This model stands in stark contrast to Chua’s insistence on the micro-managed, regimented upbringing of her own daughters.
As someone who has experienced parenting only from the receiving end, it seems to me that there is too much hoopla about the business of proper parenting. If we looked at every parent with an equally critical eye (excluding cases of extreme abuse or neglect), we’d find a staggering number of instances where adults acted in ways or made decisions that were either too harsh, too lenient or even a little dangerous for their children.
When I was 11, my mother insisted I play tennis with a hairline fracture because she thought I just didn’t want to play when I complained it hurt. There was the time my hand was slammed in a car door; I would have gotten stitches, but my parents didn’t think it was bad enough to take me to the hospital until a day later, by which time it was too late to reattach the flesh. Before that, they led me to believe that trick-or-treating on Halloween was getting in costume and going to only one house on the street. They did, however, emphasize that I had to pick carefully.
Looking back, my parents probably could have made some better choices in these particular instances. But, on a whole, they raised me to the best of their ability, teaching me to be kind, grateful, persistent and patient and, of course, to put forth my best effort. The values they insisted upon are of real importance, not the singular moments of my childhood. I highly doubt any moments of misjudgment intended to have negative effects; they were just mistakes, like the ones I make from time to time on my economics homework or when I’m choosing between watching “Grey’s Anatomy” or getting ahead on reading for the coming week. Nothing of grave importance that will later make or break my life’s prospects.
Endorse her or condone her, Chua did what every parent tries to do: raise healthy, smart children who grow into functioning, successful adults. She raised them on a set of fixed values, and regardless of whether you agree with her methods, she stuck to them. I can’t speak for Lulu or Sophia, but I assume they’re grateful for the lessons in discipline their mother bestowed upon them. The simple truth is that Chua gave everything she had to prepare her daughters for the world.
The more I have grown up, the more I recognize that my parents did the best they could, though they certainly didn’t follow a strict manual. In fact, it’s clear to me that a lot of times they didn’t know what they were doing. They started with a set of values they felt were important for my brother and I to follow and let life play out from there. Though we certainly can’t play the violin like Chua’s daughters, my brother and I have definitely had different successes and accomplishments. At the end of the day we’ve been taught to be good people who can function without our parents, and that’s what really matters.
Katherine Foley is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service and deputy editor of the Opinion section.