JUNE CLEAVER SHE’S NOT
There’s no time this weekend for my customarily lengthy blog post. I’m off in a few minutes to Philly to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of art. And when I return tomorrow afternoon? You guessed it – the NFL playoffs.
But before heading up I-95, I wanted to say a few words about the book seemingly everyone is talking about this week, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” by Amy Chua. Admittedly, I may be a tad biased, since I’m good friends with the author’s sister, yet I truly believe that my general attitude about this book is unaffected by that relationship. Instead of reviling the book’s author, as many are doing, I praise her. She has written a candid and courageous memoir about a topic that this country had better start confronting: how the hell we should be raising our children.
I have found nothing in life, and I mean NOTHING, more challenging than being a parent. You approach the job thinking that your kids are as malleable as clay, and then at some point, you realize that some of them are more like rodeo horses, and your job is simply to hold on and pray. At least that’s the way it feels sometimes, when you learn the extent to which teenagers are capable of acting like jerks or idiots.
In light of that fact, I can fully appreciate why Amy Chua would be tempted to steer away from the rodeo metaphor and break her kids down so that they more resemble race horses who needed to be whipped by a jockey in order to reach their greatest speeds. Her style is not exactly what I would advocate, but I’ll tell you this – it’s sure preferable to the opposite approach, which is often affectionately known as the “Cookie Mom.” I’m referring to the laissez-faire style, in which parents are satisfied with being their kids’ friends, and don’t bother to instill much discipline or push their kids to realize their potentials.
Chua and I agree that it is a parent’s job to push our kids – and I mean push hard. Where we differ is on the destination. I want my kids to develop moral and social skills every bit as much as intellectual skills. And while I, like Chua, also want my kids to achieve artistically, I don’t believe that you can do that by coercing them to practice, practice, practice (whether they want to or not). Real artistry requires creativity, which is based on freedom and an attitude best expressed by the French phrase, joie de vivre. Stated simply, creative people need to have plenty of down time – time to hang out with friends, sit in front of a mindless TV show, or just plain lie in bed and day dream.
The fact is that we’re not race horses – or if you prefer a different metaphor – we’re not rats racing each other in a maze. But I’ll tell you this much. I may chuckle when I see parenting styles like Amy Chua’s, and yet at least I have a modicum of respect for the product of such styles. At least I see these kids growing up so that they’ll make something of themselves. The far bigger problem with our society are the parents who set LOW expectations for their children. And when those kids grow up, all they can do is eat, drink, passively entertain themselves, and do an uninspired job at work. When we have our national debate on parenting – that latter approach is what we really need to put on trial, not the style illustrated by Amy Chua.