My right wrist continues to be tender and sore. In fact, it is in a smart, black sling with the words McDavid inscribed in white. Farhad T. a supremely capable orthopaedic surgeon has given me a week to get my act together and rest the blessed wrist .... or else!! As you can tell, there's no off- day for either my poor over-worked wrist or my restless brain. I am at it ... relentlessly. Stupidly. Like Bryan Adams, I 'll be singing "18 till I die" !!
This appeared in The Week.....
I am convinced Amy Chua, the Chinese- American author of this season’s best seller, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, wrote the book to make other moms insecure and jealous. Well, she certainly made me wonder where I’d gone wrong raising my six children.Amy, a Yale professor , married to an American-Jewish husband who is a novelist, has come up with a theory about parenting that is not just daunting but positively terrifying! She has a one point mission: to make her two daughters into super achievers, no matter what it takes. Amy was raised by exceedingly frugal Chinese parents who stressed on the virtues of hard work – well, the results are there for all to see. The reason why her book has generated so much heat is because of her contention that American parents are a bit too laid back and liberal with their own kids. The typical American style of parenting , she argues , leads to the kind of self-indulgent children who take life for granted and willingly settle for second best . Her own daughters were raised in the ‘traditional Chinese’ style, which involved a punishing regimen bordering on the cruel. She did not allow them to watch television, access computers, go on dates or participate in plays or sports at school. Instead, they were forced to practice music and slog over their text books , with Amy unwilling to settle for anything less than A+ grades. Amy criticizes the ‘Western’ style of parenting, which only fosters mediocre thinking that leads to self-esteem issues in later life.
Since the publication of the book, mothers the world over are asking themselves where they have failed and which category they belong to. After digesting the contents of Amy’s memoir, I dealt with my own self esteem issues, I figured I fell into the Pussycat category of mothering. Or worse, the benign cow. My own mother would have been a meek lamb. Both of us were naïve enough to believe all that a child ever needed was an abundance of love and understanding - that’s it! Advocating achievements came really low down on the parenting scale. If the children did well at school and college ( surprise, surprise – they did!), then that was a huge bonus. But we weren’t there to either push or judge them. I remember attending all those dreary Open Days at school and meeting parents who knew every half-mark lost by their genius child. They’d aggressively demand an explanation from the teacher as to why that measly half-mark was cut. I’d be the one who’d spend no more than five minutes per teacher and ask breezily, “Any serious complaints? No? Oh good! Have a great day.” If the kids wanted to spend hours and hours learning something thoroughly ‘useless’ ( according to other parents), I’d encourage them to pursue that passion till they tired of it and discovered another. Exams? Well… so long as they got through and enjoyed their studies, I left them alone. Their adventures on the sports field interested me much more, and I liked their flirtations with music, movies, singing, art. Amy would have thoroughly disapproved of my casual behaviour and accused me of being ‘brainwashed’ by the Western pattern of parenting. Her own rather extreme responses to her children’s lapses ( she threatened to burn all their soft toys for a minor lapse) are honestly documented, which is what makes it such a compelling book. She is honest enough to admit one of the girls rebelled openly and got into tennis. Her husband’s reservations clearly didn’t count since Amy was so certain about and hell bent on her mommy objectives. She may be bang on, given the stupendous track record of Chinese-American kids in the U.S.
Another book that is also creating waves by taking an entirely different route to parenting is ‘Love in Two Languages: Lessons on Mothering in a Culture of Individuality’ by Bonnie Ohye. Now this one seems more in tune with sensible parenting as opposed to tyrannical. Ohye talks about non-verbal communication, which according to her ( and I entirely agree), is far more significant to understanding children than anything they say. Ohye’s Japanese upbringing focuses more on a child’s psychological needs, which are subtle, fragile and delicate. She talks about the power of a glance, a touch, gazes and gestures that often convey much more than the Western habit of mechanically repeating, “ I love you.’’ The language of silence can be potent and comforting at the same time, for through silence one appreciates serenity and grace. Ohye writes persuasively and convincingly. I recommend both books…brute force wins wars but loses battles. Peace and love foster trust over a lifetime.
Sigh! I confess I’ve failed the Tiger Mum test. But there’s hope for me as a Pussycat whose kittens aren’t faring too badly in the big ,bad world out there. Meoow!