I am sitting back with a tiny bit of alarm and a ton of amusement watching the commentary world explode and dissipate into a thousand points of disagreement over Eastern vs. Western parenting and which is superior.
The conflagration was sparked by Yale law professor Amy Chua and the publication of her new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." In it, Chua argues that Chinese mothers are superior to Western parents because they are incredibly strict. Her two daughters have never been able to make sleepover or play dates, earn anything less than A’s in school or watch TV.
They are required to practice their musical instruments — one is a pianist, the other a violinist — at least three hours a day. Chua criticizes most Western parents as being too laissez-faire with their children. She contends that even white fathers can qualify as Chinese mothers if they adhere to similarly strict parenting rules.
What troubles me is Chua’s rash generalizations, because rash generalizations never prove true. I do not know a lot of Chinese mothers, but I have known plenty of extremely strict parents. And rather than being largely confined to Chinese or even Asian roots, most of the incredibly strict parents I know are immigrants from all parts of the globe.
I do agree with Chua that something has gone awry with American parenting. But I disagree with her over precisely what that is. She blames it on Western mothers’ lack of control, lack of discipline, even lack of harsh attitudes toward their children.
Our consumer-driven economy has created a materialistic culture that values financial success over inner peace and happiness. Materialism has persuaded too many American parents into showering their children with consumer goods instead of spending quality time with them.
My father, a very successful businessman, was the child of Russian immigrants, the first member of his family to go to college. When he grew up in Brooklyn, he said his father kept a cat-o’-nine-tails in the corner of the living room and did not spare the rod. But my grandfather’s cruelty was a product of his peasant upbringing and lack of education.
I agree with Chua that American kids are overindulged. I do not believe physical or emotional cruelty is the answer. I do believe there is a happy medium and that Chua can learn from Western mothers even as she tries to outdo them.
Mothers can be loving and kind (not a trait that Chua attributes to Chinese mothers) while impressing kids with the wisdom that material objects have little value. They can cut back on kids’ social events until they learn the emphasis should be on education and personal achievement.
Parenting, like life, is not an either/or proposition. An admixture of Eastern and Western values is the best recipe for rearing happy, educated, goal-oriented children.
TV host Bonnie Erbe writes a column for the Scripps Howard News Service.