Parenting Controversy Ignites Debate on How to Raise Kids Best

By Marijo Tinlin January 20, 2011 3 Comments   

The past couple of weeks have given rise to an internet firestorm of debate around the proper way to raise our children after a feature appeared in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”

The story included excerpts from Amy Chua’s memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” which details her experiences as a parent.  As of this morning, it was ranked the number 4 book on

Many have taken exception to Chua’s approach as nothing short of abusive, according to authors Ayelet Waldman and Randy Rolfe.  Waldman is the author of The Mommy-Track Mystery series of novels. Rolfe is the author of several parenting books including “You Can Postpone Anything But Love,””Adult Children Raising Children” and “The Seven Secrets of Successful Parents.”

According to Chua’s Wall Street Journal article (which has garnered over 7,000 comments), her children Sophia and Louisa have never been allowed to:

  • Attend a playdate or a sleepover
  • Be in a school play or to “complain about not being in a school play,”
  • Watch television or play computer games
  • Pick their own extracurricular activities
  • Bring home any grade less than an “A”
  • Be anything less than the best student in every class except gym or drama
  • Play any other instrument than piano or violin

This parenting strategy is what she calls being a “Chinese mother,” which she points out, can be done by people of any ethnic or cultural background, and is also not adhered to 100% by those of Chinese decent. In her experience, this parenting style has produced two children who are “math whizzes and musical prodigies” that many people often stereotype Chinese children as being.

Waldman penned a piece over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal in response called “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.” In the essay, she details some of the things her four children of a Jewish mother are always allowed to do including:

  • Quit the piano or violin, especially if that decision coincides with a recital and thus, saves Waldman from listening to what she calls “hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.”
  • Attend sleepovers especially if they fall on New Year’s Eve or her wedding anniversary and thus, save her from paying for a babysitter.
  • Participate in any extracurricular activity as long as she doesn’t have to drive for more than 10 minutes or sit outside on a field for longer than 60 minutes.

She goes on to express her gratitude to Chua for finally getting Waldman’s two eldest children to read the newspaper. Her teenagers both found their own voice of dissent against Chua’s parenting practices after reading the aforementioned “Chinese Mother” article themselves. This being the first known incident of either of her children reading a newspaper that Waldman is aware of.

Author Rolfe also took exception to Chua’s parenting practices in her own blog entitled “The End to Fear-Based Parenting – The Middle Way.” Rolfe, founder of the Institute for Creative Solutions near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is also an attorney, national speaker and family counselor.

In her lengthy and contemplative piece, she writes about finding the happy medium in parenting. While she absolutely agrees that many children in the past 15 years have been excessively indulged by their parent and are or will suffer for that, she absolutely disagrees with Chua’s approach. She calls it “Draconian” and notes that even Chua has admitted to moving away from the approach as time went on.

The suggested approach Rolfe advocates is one of finding the middle ground of love, respect and discipline.  She proposes that while a child’s job is to push the edge of the envelope, “they absolutely count on there being an envelope!” That’s our job as parents – be the envelope. Set limits on things such as computer time, television viewing and inappropriate behaviors.

The most important illustration of proper behavior, according to Rolfe, comes from a role-modeling parent. Without parental involvement and a parent’s modeling the proper behavior, a child will never learn what is expected of them in life. We can yell and scream as much as we want; if we don’t show our children how to behave, they are left to their own devices. That’s not parenting. That’s abandonment.

So it’s up to us, as parents, to decide what approach works best for our families. Chua’s “tiger mother,” Waldman’s “ambivalent preoccupied mom” or Rolfe’s happy medium – you decide.

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3 Comments to “Parenting Controversy Ignites Debate on How to Raise Kids Best”
  1. tarot says:
    find that too many people haven't read the actual book, instead drawing conclusions from the terrible newspaper article. Thanks
  2. Jay Banks says:
    First of all the book and the way it has been promoted is a perfect marketing tactic and Amy's only goal is to earn a lot of money by promoting these oppressive methods that can only threaten the natural development of every child.
  3. I find that too many people haven't read the actual book, instead drawing conclusions from the terrible newspaper article. Yet another reason newspapers will soon become a thing of the past, they simply can't be trusted. Anyway, I've read Amy Chua's book and it is NOT a child-rearing manual. It is a memoir of Chua's attempts at replicating her own strict upbringing and how that, in many painful ways, fails in modern America. The lesson, I believe, is that there are some excellent things to take away from the Tiger Mother method and some things to reject. Even Amy Chua ultimately regrets many things she did or didn't do.

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