no truce in the Tiger Mother wars yet

Despite Obama’s stirring call for civility this past week, the battle rages on: those who are aghast at the Tiger Mother, and those who defend her principles at all costs. An anonymous commenter appeared on this blog just yesterday to throw down this gauntlet:

Say what you want, but the fact remains, asians score higher SAT scores, achieve more in college, and have a lower level of serving prison terms than most other “cultures” in America.

Taking personal responsibility for ones own success, as well as failures, certainly is almost unfathomable to the typical american mindset, and that’s why the asian stats will remain superior to all others in the foreseeable future….

Having a fat kid should be the same as having a kid who is smoking pot, since the eventual rendevous with a brick wall by the addict, is essentially the same. Parents who consistently “break down” and buy their kids happy meals are weak…. You’re weak. Your kids are fat. Your kids are mediocre in school. You don’t have the will to make it change. Just be honest and say you’re overwhelmed, or deal with it.

Don’t point fingers at your betters and say, “well, they aren’t as happy as we are,” because on closer, honest examination, this will be a lie, and as many of you have experienced, families that lie, eventually disintegrate.

Support your family. Stop lying. 

OK! OK! *sob* I have been lying. My kids are weak, fat, and mediocre in school. 

Kidding. Actually, my 8-year-old can do 20 perfect pushups, my 6-year-old is so skinny you can see through him, and my 3-year-old runs her preschool (and the Upper West Side) with an iron, princess fist.  All three of my children are strong, intelligent, and just-so sized. All of this has happened without me calling them names or depriving them of joy. All three of them are exactly where they should be, neither pushed nor pulled (except when it’s three minutes after eight and they don’t have their coats on). 

Here’s what I don’t buy: I don’t buy you either have successful, berated children, or loser, well-loved ones. I was the valedictorian of my high school class, and I have the softest pillow of a mother. I never strived to do better because I thought she’d break my dollhouse if I didn’t. I was  self-motivated. I was happy. I believe kids can be both. 

I also don’t buy that having a kid who plays Carnegie Hall, or goes to college when he’s eight or whatever, is ipso facto better than having a kid who doesn’t do those things– and that is where the Tiger Mothers and the rest of us will probably never see eye to eye. 

Ms. Chua has spent the last week furiously backpedaling on this essay, claiming that the excerpt is not the whole story of the book, and that some of it was meant to be a joke. I know too well what can happen when a news agency gives something you wrote a way-off, sensationalist title and throws you to the wolves. But when that happened to me, and I started getting the hate mail, I didn’t try to argue “you didn’t get it, I was just kidding.” For better or worse, I figured that I wrote what I wrote. I needed to let it stand as is and take the heat. Saying “I was only joking,” as the  inimitable Seth Godin has explained, is “an incredibly lame excuse for a failed interaction.” Plus, as Kate Zernike pointed out in her overview of this whole kerfuffle in the New York Times this past weekend, Ms. Chua’s writing doesn’t actually sound like she’s kidding, and in interviews, she has seemed “unresolved” at best. 

Part of me feels sorry for Ms. Chua, since she’s apparently getting death threats, and part of me thinks she is crazy like a fox, since her book is currently #5 on Amazon.  We’re all talking about it, clearly people are buying it, and that conversation would not have happened if she hadn’t thrown a grenade into the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal. Anyone who writes about parenting can tell you that such writing usually gets the eye roll.  It might get a nod in the family section, but it’s not going to be reviewed, and it’s certainly not going to be given such prominent real estate in our nation’s leading financial newspaper. The sad takeaway from this controversy, for authors, is that if you want to sell a book, you have to dial up your rhetoric, scorch the earth and point fingers, sensationalize and create controversy. The opposite of what all of us should want. If Chuck Schumer and Tom Coburn can sit together at the State of the Union, then mothers should be able to feel good about their parenting priorities without ripping down someone else’s to get there– or to get their book read.

(I must add a side note here to Ms. Zernike, should she read this: please acknowledge the authors of the blogs you quote in articles like this. Yes, they’re great punchlines. But someone worked hard to write them. They’re not anonymous scribblings, there for the taking. In fact, they’re probably copyrighted.)