February 21, 2011
Book Club: The Challenges of Parenting
Posted by Michelle Harner

Parenting is hard. It is by far the most challenging (and most rewarding) thing that I have ever done. It makes billing 3,000 hours per year at big law look like a walk in the park. So I am not in a position to critique any parenting techniques or decisions that are based on love, compassion and concern for the children.

And regardless of what you personally think about Amy Chua's parenting style, I think her love for her children comes through clearly in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. You can question her methods and tactics, but not her love or devotion to her children. Yes, the cynic could say that her children are not her primary concern; rather, she is living through her children and hoping to shine in the light of their successes (even Chua acknowledges this cynical perspective in the book). But I find it hard to be cynical about a parent who spends so much time interacting and working with her children and who, in the end, modifies her approach to preserve that fragile parent-child bond.

I will admit that my parenting style is very different from that portrayed in the book. I will also admit, however, that I was not surprised by the explanation or adoption of what Chua refers to as the Chinese way of parenting because, having participated extensively in a competitive activity during my childhood, I experienced some of those techniques. I am incredibly grateful to my mother for all of her love and devotion.  And although I am raising my children differently, I do not think my parenting philosophy is better or worse--it is just different.

Nevertheless, I recognize that we as a society do judge parenting techniques. As I was reading Chua's book and thinking about this forum, I was reminded of another parenting book, Bad Mother:  A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Moments of Grace, by Ayelet Waldman. The Waldman book is an interesting review of the challenges of parenting, particularly when the "Bad Mother police force" is watching your every move. The motivation for that book also is interesting--the author was criticized heavily by other mothers after publishing an essay in the New York Times about loving her husband more than her children (see, e.g., here and here).  (Notably, Waldman commented on Battle Hymn, see here.)  Chua likewise has apparently received death threats over her book.  Moreover, I suspect many of us have experienced or heard horror stories about the often judgmental cliques that develop among mothers, starting with the preschool crowd.

This harsh criticism of, and resulting guilt inflicted on, undeserving parents bothers me more than whether we let our children attend playdates and sleepovers. This conduct is even more troubling when you consider how children may mimic the conduct of their parents (see, e.g., here, here and here).  As such, I suggest a battle hymn for civility and support among parents.

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