I read Jeannette Wall's The Glass Castle when I was pregnant with Munch. Not since Sybil (which I guess was actually made up?) had I read a story of such unfit parents. I thought to myself well hell's bells I can do better than this and lost no further sleep fretting over my potential inadequacies as a mother.
(That last part is 100% not true)
A year after its controversial debut, I finally picked up (or rather downloaded the audiobook) a book on the opposite end of the motherhood spectrum, Amy Chua's The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. This book was a hot topic of both the media and blogosphere last year and I am very late to the table. But I just finished listening to it and find myself saddled with all manner of weighty thoughts, so I'll share too.
When I first heard about the book I wrote this snarky blogpost and anticipated, that while listening to the account of how she tortured and berated her daughters into achievement, to be awash in that warm, fuzzy feeling of moral superiority.
So I was surprised by how much I initially agreed with Dr. Chua. I also believe that children don't become competent or confident by being praised, they do so by proving to themselves they can achieve at a level they previously thought impossible. If your mom isn't able to tell you that you can do better, no one will. I think the idea of "natural talent" is utter nonsense. Talent is practice. And I loved that she taught her daughters to never mock a foreign accent because an accent was a badge of courage.
Even though her writing was bombastic at times, I definitely understood where she was coming from. I looked up the Suzuki method and thought about getting Munch started in piano lessons. She stayed home from school in the morning so we could go over numbers.
My feelings towards Dr. Chua changed the more I listened. I got annoyed when she described, quite proudly, how she would ruin family vacations when her daughter didn't practice their instruments with the same intensity and duration as when at home. The part about her tearing up homemade birthday cards and the description of her behavior on the day of her mother in law's funeral were pretty bad. The treatment of her younger, more rebellious daughter, actually made me nauseous. Ironically, the more Dr. Chua tried to explain the difference between how she was raising her children as compared to how she was raising the family dogs, the more obvious the similarities became. Or even worse than dogs, she was raising circus animals.
To her credit, Dr. Chua doesn't try to make herself look good. She includes every detail of her cruel behavior and specific insults she inflicted upon her daughters. The story concludes on a conciliatory note- the rupture of her relationship between herself and her daughter over the issue of the violin causes the author to rethink her parenting strategy (I refuse to call this "the Chinese method" as Dr. Chua does as that seems insulting to about a billion rationally minded people). But whether she would have second guessed herself has she not been forced to flee a cafe in Moscow when her daughter started throwing glasswear is not entirely clear.
So, she went too far. Just like my 5% parenting rule, although it's obvious to anyone who knows me that I was kidding. But it's fair to point out that at least she was honest about how important her children's achievement was to her, whereas I have a tendency to pretend I am more laid back than I actually am. I'd like to say I came full circle with Dr. Chua, that, having temporarily expanded my thinking on the subject of extreme mothering only to have it exposed at the thinking of a soulless control freak, I've retreated on my Tiger Mom efforts. No piano lessons. But that wouldn't be as honest as she was towards the end of her book.
Perhaps I should admit to having just purchased this and this for Munch's upcoming third birthday.
Ahhh. There it is..... warm and fuzzy moral superiority.