Tiger Mom Meets Dolphin Dad

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January 17th, 2011

I know I’m coming late to the game, but this Tiger Mother thing has really been bothering me. For those of you who aren’t as immersed in the daily throws of media and pop culture, writer and professor Amy Chua recently penned an article for the Wall Street Journal headlined Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. It’s an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Any article that starts out, basically, “I’m better than you” immediately gets my dander up. Want to see her list of the things she never let her daughters do? Check this out, they are not allowed 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

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

It gets worse: she says it’s okay to call her children “garbage.” She also said Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty — lost some weight.” If I didn’t know better, I’d think she was joking or just trying to get a rise out of us. But she’s been all over the TV and radio saying she’s learned a lot over the years, has changed her tune in some respects and has even married a Western man, Jed.

I think part of my disgust with her is that I’ve seen these traits in my daughter’s Asian friends. Obviously not all of the ones above are prevalent but the lack of sleepovers, the extreme emphasis on grades and the lack of “frivolous” extracurriculars have made my wife and I wonder if there’s any fun or warmth or spontaneity in their homes.

http://www.readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcBodyPainting.jpgThank goodness Chua’s been answered by a flurry of criticism as well as alternatives like Erika Christakis of Harvard who advocates the Dolphin Mother approach. She says threats, shame and physical punishment have no place in a kind and loving home.

Christakis played with her children, Chua berated them. The choice is simple.

Ever since our daughters were infants, we talked with them like they understood what was going on. People would give me second and third looks as I strolled the grocery aisles conversing animatedly with them in the shopping cart about what type of cereal to buy or rhetorically asking them if they thought Sunny D was better or worse than High-C. They and their wide open, knowing eyes simply loved being engaged — our little babies, not the passersby.

All my pants, for the first several years of my daughter’s lives, had holes in the knees from me messing around on the floor with the girls. I don’t think we ever had a lousy, boring day and I was amazingly grateful that my wife and I shared a single photography job for the first three years of parenthood out in New Hampshire. It gave both of us plenty of time with the girls while the other was out scrounging a living.

How does that impact our relationships today? Just now, late on a Saturday night, I type this after finishing a movie with Skye and her buddy Jon who came downstairs to watch a 30-year-old Close Encounters Of The Third Kind instead of something newer, and separate from the stodgy grownup. Marci just came home from helping chaperon a party because Taylor wanted her there and now Skye and Jon have been hanging out in the kitchen with Marci for the past half hour.

Take that Chinese mom! I’ll bet your daughters are doing anything they can to escape your Gulag of a home on any given Saturday night.

Now that gets us to the dicey question of friendship vs. parenting. Everyone always says you can’t be a friend to your children; you have to be a parent. Right, got it. We’re parents first for sure; we have rules, responsibilities and regulations. But we are also really close and, gasp, even friends with our daughters. Uh oh, how could we do such a thing? How outrageous. How non Tiger of us.

And that’s where our victory lies. Anyone who knows our teens says they’re sweet, compassionate, fun — and according to Jon, they actually talk to their parents. Yes, there may be some drawbacks to being so close with your kids. If you feel like berating them, you should probably think twice. And when your eldest reads a blog posting right over your shoulder, you’ll have to put up with her grammatical suggestions.

Anything else you want me to write here, honey?

We love our daughters fiercely. And I have no doubt in her own misguided way Amy Chua loves her daughters too. But actions scream louder than mere words. Telling a kid they can’t be in a school play or have a play date is wrong. Calling them a fatty or garbage is mean and even diabolical.

We may not be raising our daughters the best way possible but …

Wait, yes we are. 

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