A recent article in Time talks about a new parenting book that has quickly risen to the top of the bestseller lists:  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The book is controversial but also provides some valuable insights from the East about the way we parent in the West.

Author Amy Chua is revered for instilling her daughters with ambition and self-confidence but reviled for doing it by creating an inflexible, no-holds-barred environment in which lack of effort from children can result in verbal humiliation.  Here are a few of Chua’s observations about parenting:

  • “To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting,” including “how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste — hours on Facebook and computer games — and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future.  It’s a tough world out there.”
  • When her husband defended one of her daughters for not being skilled at the piano:  “Oh, no, not this,” Chua shot back, adopting a mocking tone: “Everyone is special in their special own way. Even losers are special in their own special way.”
  • “I see my upbringing as a great success story,” she says. “By disciplining me, my parents inculcated self-discipline. And by restricting my choices as a child, they gave me so many choices in my life as an adult. Because of what they did then, I get to do the work I love now.”
  • American parents go too far in insulating their children from discomfort and distress. Chinese parents, by contrast, she writes, “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”
Hara Estroff Marano agrees with Chua. “Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don’t develop what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences,’ ” Marano explains. “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Children who have never had to test their abilities, says Marano, grow into “emotionally brittle” young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Of course, in Chua’s case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  This parenting style may seem harsh to us, but it is also the way she was raised.  “When Chua took her father to an awards assembly at which she received second prize, he was furious. “Never, ever disgrace me like that again,” he told her.”  Ouch.  But Chua defends her parents’ style:  “They didn’t think about children’s happiness,” Chua says. “They thought about preparing us for the future.”

Is Chua right that Westerners are too soft and touchy-feeling resulting in underachieving children who are almost universally behind Asian children academically?  Or are Westerners right with our participation awards, “A” for effort attitude, and seven “attaboys” for every criticism?  Is there truth to the notion that American kids can’t handle the truth, that their minimal efforts are simply not good enough to compete in a global market against countries with more at stake and significantly more work ethic?

It has been said that there are two parental philosophies:  the nurturing parent and the critical parent.  Often, parents will “tag team” in a sort of good cop / bad cop relationship.  If one parent is more critical, the other often compensates with a more nurturing style.  If either parent goes too far to the extreme, it can make the other one go far in the other extreme direction, resulting in a very lopsided, mixed-message parenting style.

Within our own minds, we also have an internal nurturing parent and critical parent.  The critical parent tells us when we fall short, when we didn’t do our best work, or when we have done something wrong.  The nurturing parent tells us we’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like us. Now let’s go get that ice cream because we deserve it!  Often parents who go to an extreme in parenting have an “internal” parent that is extreme as well.

How do you find balance as a parent, with or without your spouse?  If you are not a parent, how do you balance your own inner nurturing and critical parent voices?

Do you think Amy Chua is right, that Americans are falling behind academically because parents are too coddling and don’t expect much from their kids, so their kids only do the bare minimum required?  Are there benefits (the article suggests creativity and innovation) to our lax Western parenting style?  Do you think Tiger Moms are monsters or winners or something in between?  Based on a loose reading of the Old Testament, I suspect God may be a Tiger Mom.  Discuss.