Before you read another word, you must understand one fact: I am the World’s Greatest Dad. I got to be the World’s Greatest Dad because I have a huge advantage over all the other dads in the world – I don’t have any kids. Remember this. It’s extremely important. Anyway, because I don’t have any kids, I don’t read a lot of books on parenting. It would be like a guy with no arms reading books about finger painting (get over the imagery; it’s true.) However, I was intrigued by the firestorm generated by Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and decided to give it a lash. Wow! All kinds of things are going on here: first of all, for a best seller, it isn’t a very good read. Secondly, it’s been wildly misinterpreted. Thirdly, Chua is dead wrong, and finally, I agree with most of what she says.
In the book, Chua basically comes out of the closet and says, before God and everybody, Western (read “North American”) ideas about child raising are stupid, and Chinese (read “immigrant”) methods are far superior. The majority of the book is actually about Chua, and most of the rest of it is about music lessons. Those parts are boring. However, when she talks about raising her daughters, it’s absolutely fascinating. Chua says that kids need direction, they need structure and they need clearly-defined goals. She goes on to say that, in order for children to become well-adjusted, successful adults, they need to be taught to pursue excellence. She uses music and academic achievement as the models. Then, (here’s the best part) she says parents are not doing their job unless they demand absolute excellence from their children and (it just gets better and better) that by rigidly imposing discipline on them, parents naturally give their kids the gift of self-discipline, which is essential to personal success. Heady stuff!
Legions of Blogging Moms read the reviews of Chua’s book and went into apoplectic shock. When they got up off the floor, they ran to their own children, did a group hug, recited six I-love-yous, and assured them, in a comforting, nurturing way, that the bad lady was merely challenged and could not hurt them because mommy was there. Then, they went back to their computers to put a stop to this blasphemy. Momma Bear was pissed, but Amy Chua was unrepentant and pointed to her own daughters to prove her argument. Blogging Moms would have pointed to theirs but they were busy playing video games at the time. (You can kinda see where I’m going on this can’t you?) I don’t agree with Ms. Chua’s methods and for the most part I think somebody should have ratted her out to Child Services years ago. But I can’t argue with her assessment.
Children are ignorant savages. If you don’t believe me, take a Google on Lord of the Flies. They are conceited little monsters who think the world runs on cute. In order for them to survive outside the family home, they need parents to protect them, guide them and teach them all the junk they’re going to need to know when they hit 18 and nobody loves them unconditionally anymore. Like it or don’t, there are some pretty serious predators out there who feast on young adults. Unfortunately, most parents see themselves as mere cheerleaders, dedicated to ego-building in their sons and daughters. They believe that self-esteem is the single most important thing they can give their kids; it’s sort of like The Force in Star Wars. Yoda tells Skywalker that if he just believes, he can levitate rocks and such. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard parents say, “If you believe in yourself, you can do anything.” That’s crap! You can believe in yourself all you want, but without the basic tools of life, you are doomed to failure. Faith does not move mountains; hard work and self-discipline do.
The problem is that most people don’t see the simple connection between material success and this self-actualization hocus pocus everybody talks about. Again, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard parents say, “I don’t care what my kids do, as long as they’re happy.” Once again, this is crap! I’ve been poor and happy, and I’ve been rich and happy; take a wild guess which one I prefer. The simple fact is that young adults without marketable skills (or the ability to acquire them) don’t have the option of realizing their true potential and pursuing happiness. They’re stuck with doing whatever they can — just to survive. And self esteem is not an asset in this situation; it’s a liability. In the real world, there’s a huge slap waiting for every kid who doesn’t understand that praise and rewards are not automatic — even when they’re deserved. If that isn’t a nuclear kick in the ego for young people just starting out, I don’t know what is.
Parents are not doing their children any favours by shielding them from our nasty little world. They need to prepare them for it and give them the skills they need to survive. They should demand their kids strive for excellence and force them into the habits that increase their chances of success. Amy Chua may not be mother of the year, and there may be madness in her methods, but as the World’s Greatest Dad, I can see her point.