If you can stand to read more about the “tiger mom”…

Hello, Rocochet-ers (Ricocettes?). First, thanks, Ursula Hennessey, for nudging me to continue posting here. I’d like to say the reason I’m so lax is that I’m juggling a book deadline, a new e-letter project that will debut in February, the regular stuff I write for pay and a host of media appearances. I am, but the problem is actually (middle aged confession alert) bunion surgery. Who knew keeping your foot elevated would be so…time consuming?

Claire mentioned the hoopla about Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” when it was first excerpted in the Wall Street Journal. It’s been mentioned in a couple of other posts as well. In fact, in the ten days or so since that WSJ article appeared, the blogosphere has been consumed with this topic, including a defense of her mother by Chua’s elder daughter. (I wrote a column about it for today’s Washington Times, too.)

Oddly enough, I have some sympathy for Amy Chua. Her parenting memoir has stirred an unimagined negative response, though I’m not sure why she didn’t consider that comparing her “Chinese mothering” tactics to “Western parenting” wouldn’t create acrimony. She does call us Westerners lazy, after all.

But like I said, I feel for her a little bit. Back in 2008 when I released “Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-up-too-fast World,” I took a fair amount of heat for proclaiming loudly and proudly that I didn’t let my pre-teens have Facebook pages, cell phones, or movie dates with boys.

I advocated a stricter sort of parenting, in which mom and dad make rules intended for our children’s well being, and kids are expected to obey those rules…because we say so. I said parents ought to stop buddying up to their kids and instead, play the role that only they can play: mother and father.

I said family time was more important that a busy adolescent social life. I said too much media corrupts childhood innocence. I said the most important aspect of parenting is instilling values and virtues, not making kids happy or assuring their success in some field of competition or another.

I said parents needed to stop following the herd and instead carve the path that reflects their own values and beliefs. I said kids yearn for spirituality and it’s the job of parents to help them grow in faith –not mine – but whatever every particular set of parents happens to believe.

Frankly, I didn’t think any of what I said was rocket science. The whole “geek parenting” model is based on the common sense notion that it’s better for kids to be themselves and to grow up with limits and high expectations, than it is to help them climb the ladder toward popularity and social prominence. In short, I said it’s not good for kids to be too cool.

Still, I’ll never forget the person who called in when I appeared on NPR’s “On Point with Tom Ashbrook” and said I was a cruel, cruel woman for denying my children the essentials in life that allowed them to have friends and be accepted. I was condemning my children to a life of loneliness and isolation. Someday, assuming they hadn’t all jumped in front of train during high school, they would resent me. (They don’t.)

If you’ve followed any of the debate about Amy Chua’s parenting ideas, you know why I can relate just a bit to her experience. But only a little.

Like Chua, I’m not a child development or parenting “expert.” I’m a mother of four with an English degree, which means I have a lot of opinions and experiences, and a knack for writing them down. (Chua’s a mother of two with a law degree and an endowed professorship at Yale Law School, but in all honestly, I think two extra kids trumps a juris doctor. I’m just sayin.)

Unlike Chua, my book wasn’t a memoir but was, in fact, an attempt to instruct other parents in the common sense practices that work in my home.

Chua’s (fabulously successful and yes I’m jealous) book has brought to the forefront the subject of what constitutes good parenting, and that’s a good thing. For more than seven years, I’ve been writing and speaking about the connection between our society’s parenting skills (or lack thereof) and the end result – a generation without authentic good character or a moral compass to guide it. The consequences to our nation are becoming more obvious every day.

Unfortunatley, as I said in my column, her book has stirred the wrong debate. Instead of obsessing over our kids’ potential for success or their quests for happiness, we really ought to focus on the condition of their hearts. When developing the character of our children is our primary objective, the rest tends to fall into place.

  1. Lucy Pevensie

    Well, I loved your book (long before you were on Ricochet), and I have shared it with friends, not all of whom were conservative.  I’m sorry if it hasn’t had the wide readership that Chua’s book has had; it deserved more attention than hers.  She’s got some good ideas, but some very bad ones, I think; I like all of your ideas.  One of my friends (a staunch liberal) is raising five girls very much along the lines you describe, and they are fabulous kids.  

  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Marybeth Hicks: Hello, Rocochet-ers (Ricocettes?).

    The Ricochetoisie?

    Marybeth Hicks: Instead of obsessing over our kids’ potential for success or their quests for happiness, we really ought to focus on the condition of their hearts. When developing the character of our children is our primary objective, the rest tends to fall into place.

    I tend to agree. Yet sometimes parents try to “develop character” at the expense of happiness or talent development in a way that does not in fact develop character, and the child’s unhappiness or lack of talent development may be a symptom of this spurious type of “character development”:

    My parents tended to take childrens’ unhappiness or lack of “parental pushing” of childhood talents as a sign that character is being developed. That is, they got cause confused with effect. Good character formation means sometimes being unhappy and having your ambitions frustrated. But being unhappy and having your ambitions frustrated is not always a sign of good character development.

  3. Denise Moss
    C

    Marybeth, I totally agree with you.

    I have spent years immersed in a world full of Chinese (Korean, Vietnamese) parents…staking.  I’ve seen the tears and the terrors and the parking lot screaming sessions.  The couches I know say they don’t neccesarily make for better, more successful skaters, but it can make for crazy adults later in life.  On the other hand, I agree with Ms. Chua that self-esteem comes from accomplishment, and I’m all for gently pushing your kids over a hump when things get difficult, but for a different reason…not success, but character.

    Kids with strong character are going to be successful anyway, and they’re going to succeed for the right reasons.  Not pleasing their parents, but pleasing their inner voice. And by doing the right thing. 

  4. Trace

    I’m pretty sure I agree with everything you’ve said Marybeth, except that a lot of the character instilling that we practice as parents is tied up with achievement. Declaring it unacceptable to blow off a team practice once you’ve committed to the season because you don’t feel like it, nagging for instrument practice, the insistence on one more essay draft because “good enough” isn’t — at the end of the day all that is about teaching values of hard work, determination, follow-through and is really not about the achievement at all, (though that is often a nice by-product.) We are far from being tiger-parents, but like Denise, I agree that the character lessons often take the form of pushing… and sometimes not so gently.

  5. Marybeth Hicks
    C
    Lucy Pevensie: Well, I loved your book (long before you were on Ricochet), and I have shared it with friends, not all of whom were conservative.  I’m sorry if it hasn’t had the wide readership that Chua’s book has had; it deserved more attention than hers.  She’s got some good ideas, but some very bad ones, I think; I like all of your ideas.  One of my friends (a staunch liberal) is raising five girls very much along the lines you describe, and they are fabulous kids.   · Jan 19 at 8:54am

    Lucy, this is so kind! I’m quoting the whole thing for an obvious reason — so it will appear on this thread twice! No…that’s not really why. I want to note that my “geek parenting” theory is quite well tolerated on the right and the left. In fact, some of my favorite geek moms and dads are lefties and parenting is a place where we find lots of common ground.

  6. EJHill

    Ricocettes? Aren’t they a bunch of long-legged Amazon women that dance at Radio City?

  7. Caryn

    I can’t comment as a parent, but as a friend who has watched a great deal of parenting among my contemporaries over the years, I think your method, Marybeth, is spot on.  The best kids I know–the ones I’d stay with for days or take shopping or just enjoy being around–were brought up as you describe.  The ones who immediately come to mind were in religiously pious families, one joyfully born-again Christian and the others Orthodox Jewish.  The focus on values development was/is paramount in those families, as is good discipline.  So the kids have grown into young adults with a lovely combination of decency, piety, joyfulness (related to happiness), and high academic and/or professional accomplishment.  The parents certainly pushed the kids over those humps Trace mentions, because that’s what good parents need to do sometimes.  And Denise’s concluding paragraph sums it all up nicely.

  8. StickerShock

     Marybeth, I agree 100% that character and a moral compass should be the top priority for parenting.  That’s why I found Chua’s methods so repugnant.  Abusive and nasty treatment of her children is immoral.  Great message — I’ll love you conditionally.  She’s raising performing seals.

    Our kids are going to stray from time to time.  I’d  worry about a kid who never pushed boundaries.  But imagine how frightening it must be for kids without any boundaries!  I’m older than you, but I never had trouble saying no (and still do) to inppropriate requests.  No, you can’t watch Friends or The Sopranoes.  No, you can’t have a Spice Girl doll (her best friend received one as a First Communion present — can’t make that stuff up.) 

    When my daughter was 11, a mom called from the sleepover party she was attending because my daughter said she wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies and the girls were planning to watch one of those Austin Powers films.  I’ll always remember how proud I felt & reassured that at least some of my preaching and nagging and being the mean mom was sinking in.

  9. Margaret Ball
    ~Paules:   the coddling they get at school 

    Schools must have changed a lot in 15 years. When my girls were younger I didn’t pressure them to learn a musical instrument or anything else – much as I wanted them to have early music experience – because they had homework from first grade on, an obscene amount of homework from third grade on, and when they weren’t wasting their time on monumentally stupid assignments I wanted them to be free to run around and play in the woodsy area behind our house.

    Despite the masses of homework, they weren’t introduced to long division until fifth grade; I had it in third grade. All that busywork didn’t teach them anything, it just soaked up so much of their time and energy on shoebox dioramas and cutting words out of newspapers that I didn’t have a chance to teach them anything either.

    I just had to give the Fashionista, who is not at all stupid, a quick tutorial in multiplying fractions. I suppose you could call giving them high school diplomas without requiring basic arithmetic skills “coddling,” but I call it EPIC FAIL on the part of the school system.

  10. Ursula Hennessey
    C

    Yay! Marybeth! Welcome back. 

  11. Marybeth Hicks
    C
    StickerShock: …I’m older than you, but I never had trouble saying no (and still do) to inppropriate requests.  No, you can’t watch Friends or The Sopranoes.  No, you can’t have a Spice Girl doll (her best friend received one as a First Communion present — can’t make that stuff up.) 

    First of all, StickerShock, you’re not older than me. I’m certain of it. I had bunion surgery. Also, my kids are now 21, 19, 16 and 13. So while I’m not going to actually say how old I am (as if you couldn’t figure it out), I will say that we also said no to Spice Girls locker decorations and PG-13 movies at birthday parties. (My daughter loves to tease me and say she’s forever scarred from a party when the group watched an inappropriate film in one room while she read a “Dear America” book in another. Whatever.) I also meant to affirm Trace earlier. In my house, we’re all about encouraging our kids to do hard things and stick to it, especially when it gets difficult — this is how they develop authentic self-esteem. 

  12. Marybeth Hicks
    C
    Ursula Hennessey: Yay! Marybeth! Welcome back.  · Jan 19 at 1:34pm

    [blushing] Thanks! I’ll try to be more participative!

  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Margaret Ball

    …because they had homework from first grade on, an obscene amount of homework from third grade on, and when they weren’t wasting their time on monumentally stupid assignments I wanted them to be free to run around and play in the woodsy area behind our house.

    All that busywork didn’t teach them anything, it just soaked up so much of their time and energy on shoebox dioramas and cutting words out of newspapers that I didn’t have a chance to teach them anything either.

    I just had to give the Fashionista, who is not at all stupid, a quick tutorial in multiplying fractions. I suppose you could call giving them high school diplomas without requiring basic arithmetic skills “coddling,” but I call it EPIC FAIL on the part of the school system.

    Amen to that.

  14. StickerShock

     Marybeth, you are either using a really old profile picture or you are remarkably well preserved.  I am 52.  My daughter loved Dear America books, too, but she wanted those Spice Girl dolls so bad………….

    I thought Austin Powers was an outrageous choice, but a friend reported that her daughter was at an 11 year old’s party where Texas Chainsaw Massacre was shown.  Her daughter didn’t have the backbone to object, watched it, & wound up having nightmares for an entire summer.  Don’t know if it was the violence or the necrophilia that kept her up.  Can you imagine?????

  15. Palaeologus
    Marybeth Hicks(My daughter loves to tease me and say she’s forever scarred from a party when the group watched an inappropriate film in one room while she read a “Dear America” book in another. Whatever.)

    When I was about 9 we got some new neighbors, with a boy a year younger. I was invited for a sleepover and a trip to the movies. My folks were quite laid back about what I could watch, but they put their feet down at the choice: Sudden Impact. My parents had seen the film, and I still remember my dad saying:

    There’s some bad stuff in that movie that you don’t need to see.

    Since that was nixed we saw Uncommon Valor instead. Hardly age appropriate, but on balance, less inappropriate I think. Anyhow, while most of the grownup stuff went right over my head, I did take a lesson from the film: in the adult stories the good guys can die too.

    Of course, I remember this because it was exceptional. I hope my childhood friend hasn’t been warped by his (very bright, not so wise) folks’ indiscriminate consumption.

  16. The Mugwump

     Here’s what I mean by coddling.  I was subbing the other day for another teacher.  I began the class as I always do:  ”Sit up straight and prepare to take notes.  Gentlemen will please remove their hats.”  The kids at this particular school know me by now.  I usually get immediate compliance.

    Last week I had a boy refuse to remove his hat.  I responded with a short lecture on the reciprocal nature of respect.  The kid still wouldn’t comply.  He got angry and marched off to complain to the counselor which at this school is a “student right” when someone disagrees with a teacher.  Gah.  The kid returned with the counselor in tow.  I explained that I hadn’t thrown the boy out; he was welcome to take his seat as soon as he removed his hat.  Eventually he complied.  But why did I have to go through the song and dance?  This is what I mean by coddling.  A student’s rights trump a teacher’s authority. 

    Any questions why I’m leaving the profession?      

  17. J. D. Fitzpatrick

    I was a geek from birth (took my nursery rhyme books into the tub with me at the age of three or so), so my parents had to push me in the opposite direction. But my sisters were not born geeks; here are some memories.

    Mom paying money we didn’t have to send the younger one to Catholic school for 8th grade when her peer group in the 7th grade public school said that doing HW wasn’t cool. The new kids said NOT doing HW was uncool; my sister started doing HW. 

    Mom telling the middle one at 16 that she could not attend the concert of an indie musician that she had become enamored of. 

    One day when she was in middle school, my younger sister and her friend asked if they could do something (I forget what). Mom says no. She overhears the friend saying “can’t you just work on her for a bit?” My sister replies, “No, you don’t understand; when my mom says no, she means no.” 

    Not that it’s been roses in our family since growing up. But I think tough parenting saved my sisters from themselves. 

  18. StickerShock

     Paules, sounds like hell.

  19. Marybeth Hicks
    C
    you are either using a really old profile picture or you are remarkably well preserved. 

    One should never stand too close to one’s retouched photo. :-)

    Great insights, all. I have to say that my geek parenting concept never fails to strike a nerve. In my house, we decided long ago that geek is the new cool. And yet… the tiger mom will have the best seller. Sigh. Such is life.

  20. The Mugwump

     One of the reasons I’m getting out of teaching is that I have to deal with so many kids brought up by lax parents.  Add to that the coddling they get at school and you get a recipe for epic failure.  In New Mexico the state lottery guarantees a free college education to all qualifying students.  I’ve known hundreds of former students who enrolled at UNM.  Ninety-percent drop out or get kicked out after their freshman year.  They return home, take a job at Starbucks, and hang out with other slackers.  Pathetic.   

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