Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

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15 Responses to “Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom”

  1. bandia17 May 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

    I haven’t read the book but I’d have to say I’m more of a tiger mom. My daughter (who’s 8)says all the time I’m “mean” to her. I have yet to figure out how I’m being “mean” by asking her to clean up after herself or take a bath but there you have it!

    • jmlindy422 May 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm #

      Making a kid clean up is baby talk for the Tiger Mother. The book is actually not a parenting book, but a memoir of a Chinese woman’s application of Chinese parenting to her two daughters, with radically different results on each child. BTW, even though I’m a pussy, my kids routinely tell me I’m mean. Sigh.

  2. keynoncoaching May 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    Go ahead and put me in the pussy brigade….but, I am happy to report that I have 2 grown children who have turned into normal, healthy adults capable of contributing to society. Sounds like being a Tiger Mother would have killed my spirit (and maybe those of my children)…..I’ll take my results;-)

  3. jmlindy422 May 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    “Pussy brigade.” I love it. I have a number of friends who are glad to call themselves “pussies” when it comes to parenting. I’m stuck with who I am and my kids seem to be doing ok. Thanks for chiming in.

  4. philosophermouseofthehedge May 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Read and seen the Tiger mom interviews. She’s got some issues – for another post.
    Kids thrive with consistency, firmness, high expectations(but we’ll help you get there), lots of hugs and smiles, praise when it’s deserved, and lots of sunshine and fresh air exercise.
    Tiger Mom stress does take a toll eventually.
    Sadly adult child of one such Tiger family blew her brains out recently since she felt she wasn’t successful enough in her job (traveling around the world first class – not too shabby)…shocking to all her classmates – that sweet kid we knew since kindergarten.
    Go hug your kids. now.
    We’ll be at the Dragon Boat Festival races this weekend – with Chinese kids adopted by Latino friends.
    Great post, Good Mom

    • jmlindy422 May 3, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

      I’ve heard so many stories of Tiger cubs feeling they don’t live up and killing themselves as a consequence. Definitely some issues going on with Ms. Chua. Denial much???? Thanks for the lovely compliment.

  5. keynoncoaching May 4, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    Janice, I have nominated you for the Liebster Blogger Award because I think your blog is awesome! You keep me laughing about life in general. Thanks! Check out your nomination: http://keynoncoaching.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-liebster-blogger-award/

  6. sukanya May 4, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Tiger Mom, Dragon Dad, French parenting…the list is endless. Next it will be Peacock Parenting -the Indian way to raise kids.
    As far as I am concerned this is just their idea of sensationalizing the notion of parenting. Why do we have to over complicate everything-parenting is already challenging, can makes us parents rather insecure about our capabilities. Books of this nature does nothing but feed to the insecurities. I am a pussy parent just like you and I have no motivation to change to something else at this time. I think as pussies, we are doing just fine.

    • jmlindy422 May 4, 2012 at 10:02 am #

      Amen. In Amy’s defense, her book is a memoir and, at the end, she concedes that the Tiger model worked with her oldest daughter but was disastrous with her youngest. Interesting note in the epilogue is that the oldest daughter believes Tiger parenting worked on her because she bought into it. Youngest daughter never did. I think the book was a brave one to write as Chua was laid herself open to some vicious criticism. I see Tiger parenting in my work as virtually all of my students are either Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean. I know many of my students are criticized and some are hit if they don’t perform as expected. My comments on Tiger parenting are not solely based on reading Amy’s book.

  7. Janelle Allee Baker May 4, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I’m sure I fall into the Pussy catagory. I believe children should enjoy what they spend their time doing. I think controlling children for controlling sake is terrible. An amazing amount of learning can be done through play. Imagination is underrated in our society…pressure to win or be the best has taken over. Failure can teach so much more than a “participation” or certificate. Children should be free to climb trees and run around and not be overly scheduled. There is nothing like free time (a.k.a. boredom) to fuel some amazing creativity. I try to not let what “others think” control me. Also, I know I’m a pussy because I have actually said this line, “sure have ice cream for breakfast…its way healthier than a donut.”

    • jmlindy422 May 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      I have told my daughter it’s ok to have ice cream for breakfast! She hates milk; how else is she going to get her calcium. Go, Janelle Allee Baker!

  8. The Waiting May 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    OK, that comment about floral shirts? Good to know! Totally taking that to the bank. Now onto the question at hand. China is obviously not Korea but they’re a lot more alike than, say, China and America. So having taught English in Korea and dealing first-hand with some pretty aggressive tiger moms and seeing the fruits of their labor when I interact with their kids, I am entirely conflicted over what kind of parent I’ll be once C is older. Some of the parents push them extremely hard, and obviously the kids often benefit intellectually from this. But at the same time, I had several students who were really aggressive and frustrated due to the amount of strain they were under.

    • jmlindy422 May 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

      I think one of the things I took away from the Tiger Mother book is that you have to parent the child, not make the child adapt to the parenting. I think Amy Chua had the same takeaway. It was painful for her, but she learned to let her youngest get more control over her life. I have had Asian student cry because they did not get every problem right and they aren’t getting a grade from me, just their parents.

  9. wisdomseeker1 May 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    Great blog! I love these topics as they are things I struggle with on a daily basis. I have an 8 year old girl (going on 20!) and a 6 year old boy (going on 50–old man in a little boys body!). When faced with these types of dilemmas I have turn back to the greatest parenting advice I got years ago from a wonderful colleague. She told me that no matter how much I tried to be a perfect parent, it was highly likely that my children would eventually resort to counseling so I shouldn’t stress about it. The key was not to worry about the fact that they had issues but to make sure that their issues were not that they didn’t feel truly loved by their parents. Since then, no matter how things get, I always make sure my kids know that I love them more than anything, no matter how much we fight, how mean I am or how easy going I am. I know I will have done a good job as a mom as long as when they go to counseling they share that their mom messed up in many ways but she always told them how much she loved them. Heck… I’ll even pay for the session if that’s the case!

    Happy parenting all!

    • jmlindy422 May 6, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      What a wise friend. Wouldn’t it be great if we could pick what drives our kids to therapy? Thanks for the compliment.

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