Call it the backlash to the backlash or just a need to play Devil’s advocate, but I have to speak up for embattled Amy Chua, author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. There’s no way I’m endorsing the kind of strict child-rearing model that she’s espoused. And I know it’s hard not to resent her seeming sense of moral superiority or her status as a Yale law professor and a mother of near prodigies. But it’s frustrating to see the usual dogpile on message boards and from pundits as those who have not read the book chime in to castigate her. And to be honest, I haven’t read it yet either, but I’ve watched this woman on talk shows and read her comments defending herself and affirming that she’s not saying this method works for everyone or even that it works with every child — or even every one of her own children. You can always debate her sincerity that this is simply a tale about her journey as a parent or her surprise that it would ignite just this kind of book-selling firestorm. But I don’t believe that anyone can doubt her desire to do right by her children.
It’s every parent’s fervent hope and desire to do the best for their children, men and women alike. But the burden on mothers — self-imposed or societally drawn — can be crushing. There’s hardly anything else in life that you will feel the full weight of responsibility for than the way your children turn out. And the quest to find all the right pieces of the puzzle to create a well-adjusted and accomplished adult has helped fuel the child-rearing and self-help industries for years. Chua is only adding her voice to the chorus of those who think they’ve found the magic bullet.
Much has been made of some of the acts she cops to in the book that can be deemed cruel. Yes, the thought of a mother telling her child that her handmade card isn’t good enough pains me. But I challenge any mother to tell me that they don’t have at least one parental moment that they are ashamed of. One that they would not want the world to see because it does not show them at their best. One that they would take back in a heartbeat, whether it was words spoken in anger, or a punishment (or lack of one) that did not serve the cause of molding these little people. And every adult can reach back to such moments with their own parents. But barring a truly abusive environment, which it absolutely does not seem like Chua has created for her kids, or any inherent mental/emotional issues, we all work it out and it gets folded into the tapestry that we call our family lives.
Women in particular will feel a strong desire to rail against Chua but we cannot do that to each other. Disagree with her, argue the merits of her position but do not dismiss her as someone who does not care about her children. We cannot afford to attack each other when we are each just struggling to find our way.