Tuesday, August 02, 2011

An Open (Love) Letter to Amy Chua

I’m so late to the party it’s frightening, but I JUST read The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua yesterday. I could not put it down -- and I was reading it on my phone. It was SO GOOD.

So, first of all, after the poor woman has been excoriated and vilified in the press, its really important to start where she started. She started writing this book at the moment she thought that everything she had done -- the very fiber of who she was as a parent -- had backfired on her in the worst way possible. She had, if you will, hit rock bottom. Her younger daughter had rejected her wholly and completely (it will probably not surprise you to learn that her daughter was 13 at the time) and Amy was devastated.

From that place of devastation, of questioning herself, of pain, frustration, and probably anger, Amy began writing. And the beginning of the book is laugh-out-loud funny. She makes fun of herself. She admits that she may not have chosen the best path for parenting, but like all of us, she started with what she knew. Who you are as a parent is shaped so much by your own experiences as a child. Maybe you swing completely the opposite way, maybe you follow your parents’ lead exactly, and maybe you take what worked and change what didn’t.

I think that my parenting style is very different from my own parents -- and because I am a genius and the best at everything in the world, my way is better. If you ask my parents, it is entirely possible that they will tell you that my children are feral animals over whom my husband and I have no control. This, in stark contrast to the docile “seen and not heard” children my siblings and I were (although I seem to remember my fair share of terrible behavior as a child). And there have been perhaps a handful of times that I questioned the wisdom of my parenting and wondered if I should maybe knock some respect into my kids. Metaphorically, of course.

Anyway, Amy started with what she knew, and it worked. Beautifully! Her older daughter followed the rules and excelled and sparkled. And then her second daughter came along. And everything Amy thought she knew turned out to be wrong.

Amy’s book is about her flaws as a mother. Anyone who reads it and comes away thinking that Amy is telling every parent everywhere to follow her methods with every child has a serious reading disorder. There are several moments in the book where Amy tells you what she was thinking -- and what she said out loud. Because -- and perhaps this has never happened to you, because I am sure that YOU are perfect, because you read my blog and I AM PERFECT -- sometimes we are stubborn. And sometimes admitting a mistake is really, really hard.

The crux of Amy’s argument, as I read it, is that good parenting is HARD. Guess what? IT IS. It is damn hard to parent effectively.

My youngest is two years old. If I worked a little harder, he could be toilet trained. But that would require a lot of effort on my part. Right now, we have a system where, when I remove his diaper and free his baby manhood, Baby A. grabs himself and shouts “Peepee! Peepee!” and then runs around the house screaming maniacally and laughing.

I follow him around for a few minutes, regularly scooping him up and taking him to the toilet, where he does not pee. Then, I either put a diaper on him, or go do something else -- whereupon he pees on the floor.

I am lazy.

Amy would never do that.

My daughters took music lessons. And like most Western parents, I settled for MAYBE half an hour of practice daily. Currently, neither of my daughters takes lessons. Amy’s daughters are concert-level musicians, and they are grateful. Yes, both of them.

Anyway, all of this is to say, if your only exposure to Amy Chua is what you’ve read ABOUT her, you should read her book. And Amy, we should really have coffee.

P.S. I JUST read Amy's web site now, and it made me laugh a lot because she basically says exactly the same thing about her book that I just said.


Tori said...

Great post about the best book I've read in a long time! I laughed and cringed (from looking at my own very few imperfect parenting moments). Will certainly come back to read your blog as well now, thanks!

Kristen said...

I am really surprised that you felt this way. You seem to have bought into Amy's theory that anyone who doesn't parent like her is lazy. I think missing from most discussions of Amy's book is how privileged you have to be to even attempt her patenting style. It takes a lot of money to pay for those lessons and instruments. You need even more money to pay someone to get your kids to the lessons or have a very flexible job. Finding a flexible rewarding job is not easy, and not available to everyone. Moreover, I thought her parenting and her life in general showed a complete lack of creativity. Yes, being a parent is hard and there is no right way, but Tiger Mom left me feeling empty, like she had nothing to offer.

WriterGrrl said...

Tori -- thanks!

Kristen, I really didn't get that from Amy's book. I definitely did not think she was calling other parents lazy. And yes, it costs money to pay for lessons, but I think we all make choices about how we spend our money. And Amy seems to have made parenting her priority over the job -- she describes racing home from office hours to sit with her daughters at lessons. I don't know, I really liked the book, and I think it takes a certain amount of courage to look at what does and doesn't work, as Amy did here.

Anonymous said...

Great posting bro, keep up the good work! Had a great time in your site.

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