Friday, January 14, 2011

File Under: Come On ....Really?

This week, the blogosphere was all a-buzz over a Wall Street Journal piece called, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." In it, author Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, argued that tough love was the key to raising successful children. Her parenting methods included never allowing her two daughters to "attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A."


We live in impossibly difficult times. I don’t think I need to make a list. And bringing up children is hard enough without adding a draconian regimen to the mix. But no sleepovers? No play dates, computer games, or state-sanctioned extra-curriculars? What the hells, I'm raising kids here, lady, not Romanian gymnasts!

Lose the fear.

Raising kids is hard work but no regimen, regardless of its strictness, we can prevent our kids from hurt, harm and disappointment. It’s a fantasy of control and protection in times that seem, well, out of control and scary. Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and not let your expectation for them rule the day. And, for good or bad, you have to let your kids make choices on their own. Let them play Wii on a Tuesday night every once in a while. Let them pick their nose in the car and hide it under the seat for you to find encrusted six months later. Let them spend their allowance on nine dollars worth of Silly Banz that will make their rooms smell like the Goodyear Tire plant in Altoona, Pennsylvannia.

I know why she wrote the piece, though. She, like me, is looking to correct this culture of parenting that says that all of our children are geniuses, that their art work is on par with Picasso and their soccer trophies are an example of potential World Cup greatness. This is as crazy as the Yale professor's parenting methods, to my mind. But how about this instead:

Why can't we all just do our best?

My advice to all parents who are afraid that they are going to screw it all up for their kids is to buy them a pair of fake glasses. That's what I did for mine. They make them look and feel smarter AND, as an added bonus, prepare them for a world that is constantly telling them - in one way or the other- that what they choose to do for a living (and not how they treat those around them) will ultimately define who they are. Right, Professor Rea?


  1. Great post and WOW That woman's on quite a trip! List of rules? You kidding me? How 'bout just be consistent, firm and present.

    I massively agree there are WAY too many 'participation' trophies floating around these days. Everyone ISN'T a winner, the world wont treat them this way, dont know why we do.

    Love the glasses idea!

  2. Completely off topic, there ANY of Tim's DNA in that child? Do you have some kind of replicator in the back shed?

  3. Her farts smell exactly like his. That's...something.

  4. Laura - I'm not sure I have a right to post on this know, not being a parent and all...but I feel compelled to say that I had quite a few Asian friends in my first year of university whose parents were (and probably still ARE) like that. I say 1st year because they were the kids who, when living in residence and were finally in control of their own lives, drank themselves to stupidity, ended up going home with creeps at the bar and flunked out or were pregnant by the end of first semester. We never saw them again.

    I'm not saying that they aren't all, 8+ years later all doctors, lawyers and astrophysicists, but the fact remains that when they were given freedom, they had no idea what to do with it. Is THAT good parenting? I'm thinking not.

    My parents were not that strict - and I have, so far anyway, turned out fine. I hope I do as good a job someday as they did. Was it perfect - no. But I haven't murdered anyone yet, so I'd say we're doing just fine.

  5. "...a fantasy of control and protection..." says it all. Seems there are a lot of ideas that keep us parents sleeping at night (whether beneficial to the child or not).

  6. Stephanie, Jeremy and Tracey, Hear! Hear!

  7. Wow. My adult daughter sent me an e-mail with a link to the article. I copied this directly from the e-mail: Subject: I have proof of my Blackanese-ness. Seems she thinks I raised her the same way. BTW, she has two degrees, is rather successful, lives in another state, (We thought she'd never leave home! LOL!)

    She is an only child and yes, she thanks me for not being too strict, for encouraging her every single time she wanted to try something new, for reading to her while she was in my womb. She could read and write at the age of 3.

    She rolled her eyes every time she asked how to spell a word and asked, "Why do you think we own dictionaries," or I'd tell her, then ask, "Now how do you I spelled it correctly? Taught her not to be lazy but smarter.

    This only child of mine goes off to Greece and Paris (2x and is planning a third) for vacations on her own, speaks French and Mandarin, tossed a degree in piano performance to become a pastry chef. I know, I know. Sounds like I'm bragging, but I happen to agree with Amy on several points. Children need direction. They need to be taught that giving up is often the easiest thing to do. It is our job as parents to teach our children, prepare them for success and failure, determination, choices, how life isn't fair. Telling them "Well, you tried," isn't good enough. We do our children a great disservice when we cheat them my coddling them. We teach them how to be slackers when practice really does make perfect.

    So, I raise my hand somewhere in the middle of both sides.

  8. Limner, your daughter sounds like a wonderful and successful person. She is fortunate that you were there to encourage her interests and challenge her towards her goals. You had her interests at heart which is probably why she has turned out as great as she has.

    I think that is, fundamentally, why I have a problem with the professor's child rearing approach is because her one-size-fits-all , "my way or the highway"-type of regimen leaves no room for nuance, makes no place for failure and doesn't encourage creativity in finding solutions when you get blow back (which is, by the way, the entire reason she wrote the book, I have since learned). We can learn from failures as much as successes, can compromise and still come out on top, can find a more creative solution when the standard way isn't always applicable.

    I'm with you. I don't want kids who don't work hard or have an entitled sense of what they feel they deserve. But a tree that bends in the wind can withstand the pressures of life far better that one that has been staked to one place and expected to stay rigid.