Parent, Thy Name is Love

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Much slinging about of parental nicknames lately. You’ve heard them: Tiger Mother, Helicopter Parent, Absent Dad, Permissive Mom, Checked-Out Parents, Home-School Geeks, Ivy League Pushers and so on. This label fest comes courtesy of the pithy and profound mother of all Tiger Mothers, Amy Chua, and her ubiquitous book detailing her controversial perspective on parenting. It’s a big topic, Miz Chua’s book, and everyone and their mother (pun intended) has weighed in on it.

My turn.

Amy Chua is a child abuser. I don’t care if her girls are now the ace students of her dreams, first chair in every orchestra in town, well-adjusted, widely admired and deliriously happy, Amy Chua is a child abuser.

Whether or not we get good intel from a guy we’ve waterboarded, waterboarding is still torture. And Amy Chua’s method of parenting, regardless of her browbeaten children’s supposedly sunny survival, is still child abuse. That her girls now claim to not only agree with their mother’s methods but intend to implement them with their own future children (God forbid!) sounds suspiciously like Stockholm Syndrome, “a phenomenon in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor, essentially mistaking a lack of abuse from their captors as an act of kindness.” That Passive Dad stood around and allowed all this Mommy Dearest activity to go on for as long as it did sounds like…well, Passive Dad. Was that nickname on the list?

As for the parents, critics, bloggers, pundits and columnists who find themselves equivocating here and there about Miz Chua, I must question their own philosophy of parenting. To use one of Miz Chua’s words, don’t be lazy, people. It’s one thing to view something retrospectively and make judgments about the ultimate outcome in hindsight but go a little deeper. Forget for a moment the pictures of those smiling older girls standing with their smiling mother, all love and no regrets and she made me who I am today. Go back in time and put yourself in that room with Miz Chua and her sweet-faced seven year old daughter sitting at the piano, repeatedly pounding out “The Little White Donkey” and picture this scene: “I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts. Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it.”

Hooray, hooray…success for Miz Amy! Her sweet little girl was finally broken down, browbeaten, tortured, insulted, abused and “motivated” enough to get with the program, even “beam” at her own accomplishment. I bet she hugged her mommy after that horrible night of no food, water, rest, or bathroom breaks and felt a rush of both relief and love…so happy and proud to have finally pleased her snarling, gnashing Tiger Mother. Stockholm Syndrome, I tell ya.

Now, as you were imagining yourself in that room witnessing this harangue-fest in real time, how did you feel? Did it seem like good parenting? Was the outcome worth the abuse? Could you look at that beleaguered child and feel she was being properly mentored, loved and cared for? Or as you listened to Chua screaming so loud, hour after hour, that she lost her voice did you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach and a desire to grab her by the throat and give her a taste of her own medicine? Call Children’s Services and demand that they intervene on behalf of these two little girls? Maybe it’s just me.

Abuse as motivation never worked for me. It made me hate the person abusing me and did not make me want to please them. I had my own sense of accomplishment, and a drive for my personal best in most things, and the kind of hysterical, rageful, depriving, psychotic methods Miz Amy attributes to herself is the exact behavior that would shut me down and send me out the door. I’ve worked with directors and choreographers who tried it on me, teachers who seemed to think it was useful; dealt with a mother who, though without so defined a philosophy as Chua’s, was often abusive in her own ways, and I ultimately came away with the crystal-clear understanding that abuse will always be abuse and it’s a chicken-shit way to achieve your goals. It may elicit the desired result and there may later be smiling all around, but not too far below the surface, conscious or sub, will lie anger, resentment, rage, and a profound sense of negation. A disassociative response is not uncommon and I question the smiles and nods of Chua’s two girls, wondering if therapy will be in their future once the Tiger has finally unhooked her claws and they experience enough of life without her to take stock of the damage. God, I hope so…it would be better than continuing to believe they deserved that kind of heinous parenting.

Personally, I excelled in my life despite bouts of abusive parenting, not because of it. Some of the most brilliant successes we know of would say the same: Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Tyler Perry, to name just a few. Additionally, some of our most world-changing, innovative thinkers didn’t graduate college, much less with straight As or at the top of their class: famously, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, Steven Spielberg, even Mark Zuckerberg. Clearly the formula for success is not carved in stone whether you’re Western or Chinese. Nor will the desire for a child’s success ever be reason or justification for child abuse. It remains child abuse, test scores notwithstanding.

Chua relies on ethnic generalities to excuse her behavior as well as to demean that of Western parents, but frankly, I think that’s a smoke screen. She herself is a lazy parent. She accepted the tired and true methods that had been inflicted upon her without question; she didn’t demand of herself to get creative and innovative to come up with something different — maybe even better — to achieve her goals. Here in the West many of us learned from the bad parenting we received and worked hard and long to educate ourselves and find more evolved ways to motivate, discipline and mentor our children without abusing them. It can be done. I know many families, parents, and children who are proof of that. Children who actually had playdates, enjoyed slumber parties, chose their own extracurricular activities, watched TV, experienced a school play, lived life as an inquisitive, exploratory child and still excelled in school, have tremendous work ethic, deep morals, heartfelt empathy and compassion, and unquestionable integrity. Yes, some of them did get Bs now and again, maybe an occasional C (the horror!!) but they worked it out, are now in excellent schools, pursuing majors in science and math, have sharp ambition and will, no doubt, enter the world as adults that any parent, Western or otherwise, would be proud of.

I know. I have one of those kids. Could he compete with Amy’s? I don’t know. Probably not. I don’t care.

At the heart of this debate lies two questions: what do you think a child is and what is your role and goal as a parent? If you believe a child is a blank, malleable entity whose identity is at the mercy of your view of what they should be, and your paramount, non-negotiable goal as a parent is to crank out someone who has been molded and shaped to be THE BEST AT ALL COSTS, well, Amy Chua’s prescription of long-term, unremitting, soul-crushing abuse as motivation may be the way to go. It worked for her and apparently many other Chinese families and, come on, just look at those test scores!

But if you believe a parent is a sacred and in some ways temporary role, a precious conduit designed to facilitate the bringing into the world of a bright individual whose destiny — with your loving care and guidance – is to find their passion, their voice, their truest self and, most importantly, evolve with a wholeness of spirit, a desire to learn and accomplish, and the unequivocal urge to be the most honorable, compassionate, and meaningful version of themselves, put the book down. You won’t find the answers there.

There are all kinds of bad parents; Tiger Mother doesn’t have the monopoly. There are the Helicopter Parents who won’t let their child breathe or try on their independence, the Overachiever Parents who are convinced (too often wrongly) that their child is gifted and advanced beyond their years; the Delusional Parent who risks their child’s safety for fear of limiting them (think Abby Sunderland’s parents). There are the Scared Parents too afraid to discipline or communicate for fear of alienating or overwhelming their child. The Detached Parent who thinks daycare, the nanny, the school or…someone, anyone else will get their child into adulthood. The Uneducated Parent who relies on antiquated methods “because that’s what my Mom and Dad did and, look at me, I’m just fine!” I could go on…we’ve all seen versions of most.

But good parenting is a wonder.

When I look at my boy’s face – open, loving, vulnerable and so ready for me to be someone to look up to and depend on, whether at 8 or 18 – I know exactly what a good parent is. Love. Respect. Trust. With a deep understanding that the younger person standing before you is as much his or her own person as you are. That despite a child’s need for discipline, mentoring, guidance and the accrual of wisdom that comes only from living longer and learning more, even at the moment of their most innocent they are unique individuals who deserve a life bereft of abuse, disrespect and coercion. Good parenting is grounded in love. And when you truly love someone, you do so without rigid agenda, delusion, or the imposition of your preordained version of them. You can and should push, you must set necessary boundaries; encourage, demand, raise your voice, even make mistakes from time to time. But you also listen, bend when necessary, and know when to change course. And if they truly don’t think “The Little White Donkey” is the soundtrack of their life, the good parent knows to be gracious and loving enough to let them find their own music.

All photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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39 thoughts on “Parent, Thy Name is Love

  1. This article really hit home for me, not because I am a Tiger Mother, ,or was raised by a Tiger Mother, but because I seem to find these Tiger Mothers drawn to me. I am enjoying raising my children. Some days are harder than others, but mostly, it is a wonderful experience. One of the hardest parts is dealing with parents who feel the way they are choosing to raise their child/children is the right way, and I can only imagine how Ms. Chua sounded in the school hallway at pick up time. I have a very hard time with the competitive side of parenting. I don’t care if your child is in the Gifted Talented program, reading at a tenth grade level at age 8, or any of the other achievements parents like her share. I am not a bad mother because my child sometimes eats candy, plays video games, and gets a grade B. I’m not looking for ‘perfect’, I’m looking for happy. These Tiger Mother parents are often the first to share their ‘expertise’ and let you know that you are letting your child down because you are not pushing them to be the best at everything. I have learned to walk away now. I would rather have a happy, comfortable B average child, than a stressed out miserable straight A student.

    LDW Reply:

    ” I’m not looking for ‘perfect’, I’m looking for happy.” You’re singing to the choir on that one, Maddy! I share your take, obviously, and it’s good that you and others who refuse to make parenting a competitive sport speak up and push against the sometimes relentless tide. When I think of the browbeating that goes on with children – either to compel them to excel or to discipline them into compliance – it’s not hard to imagine how we end up with the kinds of disturbed and unenlightened adults we read about in the papers every day. It sounds to me like you’ve got your priorities straight…I commend you. And I’m sure you’re children are or will be grateful! Thanks for reading and weighing in! LDW

  2. Terrific job here. I genuinely enjoyed what you had to say. Keep posting because you absolutely bring a new voice to this subject. Not many people could say what you’ve said and still make it interesting. Cant wait to see more of this from you.

    LDW Reply:

    Thanks, Pauly…appreciate the comments! LDW

  3. Thanks for your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will come back later in life. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great job, have a nice day!

    LDW Reply:

    Thanks, Albert. I will continue writing and you continue coming back, OK? :) LDW

  4. well written article, i just finished bookmarking it for future reference. i would love to check on future articles. how do i set the rss reader again? thanks so much!

    LDW Reply:

    Thanks, Myra. The RSS feed link is at the bottom of the Home Page…shouldn’t be too hard to find. Appreciate the visit. LDW

  5. An impressive share, I was just sent this by a colleague who was doing some evaluation on this whole crazy Tiger Mother thing. Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about this whole subject of child raising and love and thought this woman sounded crazy. reading your thoughts on this topic was good for me. If doable, if you develop more thoughts on it, would you update your weblog with more particulars? It is extremely useful for me and others. Massive thumb up for this weblog post.

    LDW Reply:

    Thanks, Marshall. Glad my perspective had a positive impact on you. I think whenever you have doubts about what you’re doing as a parent, you look into the face of your child and rely on the love and sense of protection and concern you feel for that person. The rest becomes about parental competition. I cringe when I continue to hear people defend Miz Chua’s method of parenting; the continued lack of empathy that exists for how children are treated and respected. Or rather, disrespected in this case. As I often reiterate when people start getting defensive in their support of her: if you have to abuse someone to get the results you want (and not necessary what this person who happens to be a child wants), you have done no one a service. Abuse is abuse, regardless of its intent. So thank you for reading and commenting. I wish you well in your own parenting journey…you sound like you have a good heart. Just hold onto that! LDW

  6. There are some attention-grabbing points in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There’s some validity to your argument about how to treat children in general but I’ll withhold from expressing much opinion till I think about it further. Good article though. Thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner.

    LDW Reply:

    I understand your reticence and I certainly agree that this entire debate is attention-grabbing, but I think everyone, particularly those that have children, really do need to come to some sane and hopefully respectful conclusions for the sake of their own children, their own parenting. But I also realize the subject of parenting is very personal and sensitive so I certainly respect your desire to give it all more thought. Hopefully what I’ve had to say will contribute to your own conclusions. I wish you the best and thank you for your comments. LDW

  7. Dang i thought your blog was killer, gave me a car load of of insight i can’t say i ever thought about. thanks blogger.

    LDW Reply:

    You’re welcome, reader!

  8. Kudos to you! This is a really good blog here, this entry on parenting a really important topic, and I love your style of writing. How did you get so good at blogging?

    LDW Reply:

    I just keep doing it, Ben, and I write about the things I feel passionate about. Glad it strikes a chord (that’s the idea, after all!) and I appreciate you reading and taking the time to leave a comment. LDW

  9. Beautifully put, as always. I just love your turn of a phrase. Thanks for putting into print what so many of us would say if we had your gift!

    LDW Reply:

    Thank you, Kim. So appreciate your kind thoughts and the fact that you take the time to read and leave a comment. Really means a lot…LDW

  10. Beautifully said, Lorraine. I only hope to aspire to all those wonderful things you feel parents can be.

    And, you know how I feel about Amy Chua! LOL.

    LDW Reply:

    Thank you, Jennifer. And I have no doubt that you embody all the best things parents can be…I’ve met your kids and they are proof positive!

  11. i always bristle when encountering regimented parenting–the kind that seems more about the parents than the kids. sort of like a test tube experiment. we don’t let our ashley watch tv. we don’t let our jason eat candy. we’re tiger moms–our kids are special and we bask in their reflected glory.
    think about it. 30 years ago, “parent” wasn’t even a verb.

    LDW Reply:

    Verb or noun, Parent to me is one of the singlemost amazing jobs we human beings are offered and it gets my goat (or Tiger?) when someone manipulates it into something akin to dictator, torturer, abuser. It doesn’t matter which form of grammar you assign, but it needs to be wielded with love and wisdom…I don’t see or hear too much of that coming from Miz Chua. Thanks for weighing in, Art.

  12. Bravo, Lorraine. As a single mom of two fantastic girls who I consider my best friends and greatest accomplishment, I applaud you wildly! From my perspective, our children face a world that has chosen to “let it all hang out”. Everything goes. They are regularly exposed to the underbelly of humanity, because train wrecks and reprobates are todays’ celebraties and heroes. That’s scary. Important values like empathy, kindness, loyalty and honesty are commercially boring and have given way for more “compelling” goals such as fame, victory at all cost, acquiring fortunes, being loved (as opposed to loving) and more importantly, being admired. It’s a fact that the YouTube phenomenon is singlehandedly responsible for turning out a generation of chock full of narcissists. I’m not saying that education is unimportant, hardly! However, if we follow Miz Chua’s lead, we risk raising future generations severely deplete of the qualities that make life worth living and that give it purpose and meaning. Legacies we must pass on without which we’ll have contributed to a world full of selfish robots or worse…aimless, apathetic and eventually despondent people searching desperately for a reason to carry on. LOVE. It truly is the foundation we must have before anything else can stand strong. xoxoxoSusie

    LDW Reply:

    Susie – you make some very critical points. The world our children live in is so complex and confounding, it always amazes me that myopic viewers such as Miz Chua break it all down to test scores and report card grades, as if those markers are the only things our children need worry about or use as acknowledgment of their worth. Are her girls living in a box, completely untouched by culture and media? Perhaps. But as they get older and become enmeshed in society – whether their mother approves or not, they’re going to find a world that judges them on more than how well they play the piano or test out on memorization tests. Like you, I’m all for rigorous education, the push to excel in that quest, the ever-present reminder of the value of doing well in school, but to turn learning and excelling into do-or-die torture?? I cannot even fathom how ANYONE, much less the Chinese, believe this is an inherently moral or empowering way to go. Yet after Time Magazine ran an article about Miz Chua, I was stunned and deeply disappointed to read the number of people who supported her abusive views. Only one letter was published that agreed with my stance that what was being perpetrated was abuse. Shame on any lazy, uncreative parents who believe abuse is ever a way to achieve your goals.

    As to your other point, about passing on children whose robotic, self-obsessed worldview leads the way, I absolutely agree. We’re already seeing evidence of that in children who’ve had the misfortune of being raised by parents in one or the other of the “bad parenting” columns – Detached Parent, Helicopter Parent, and so on. Tiger Parenting takes it to a whole other level of narcissism and misplaced priorities, deficit in the truly valuable commodities such as creativity, individuality, spontaneity, flexibility, humility, etc. Even just the ability to shift gears, grab life by the tail (and not the Tiger’s!) and simply have unmitigated, unplanned, and truly exhilarating FUN!! Wonder of Miz Chua ever had any of that in her regimented life?

    You made single-mothering your most heartfelt passion and you’ve raised two beautiful girls who have hearts, minds, and souls of their own. From my way of thinking, the best possible gift you could’ve given them. Bravo to you too, Susie.

  13. – Good parenting is all about understanding children rather than expecting them to understand you. Try to be a child’s friend rather than bullying around him/her to fulfil your expectations out of them. Remember disciplining children does not mean forcing them to oblige all your wishes.

    LDW Reply:

    Obviously I agree. Though I personally believe being a child’s “friend” doesn’t preclude wearing your “parent” hat at the same time. Unfortunately, some parents abdicate their role of “parent” out of fear of alienating their child and friendship overrides their authority. But there’s no reason you can’t have both and to my way of thinking, that’s the best combination. Thanks for reading and weighing in on the topic…it’s an important one!

  14. Lorraine,
    Finally, after all the preposterous posturing, carefully arranged product placement, and purposeful support from her friends at the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Chua has just dropped in to NPR for an off the cuff interview to preciously aver that it’s such a shame,ha-ha!,that so many people actually took her article in WSJ “seriously” when it was meant,chortle chortle!, as an amusement!, oh my goodness! Oh well…

    Can you say over the top book sales? I knew that you could.
    Write a book Lorraine. Don’t let your deft and elegant personal power deter you from entering a marketplace awash with chameleons like Chua who coyly change color at will and at the ka-ching of millions of cash registers.
    Be assured I’d accompany you leading a Million Mother March
    any day of the week. You truly represent.
    Thanks Lorraine for taking the integrity of both good parenthood and good writing seriously when they appear to be threatened and coming out in defense of both!
    You are a real tiger, Mama.

    LDW Reply:

    Donna: That NPR story? Wow…says a lot about the integrity of the woman behind all this hullabaloo. Odd that she felt misunderstood, considering how “seriously” she seemed to take herself in the WSJ. Book sales is right. It’s a sorry state of affairs when someone of such dubious principals can affect such a widespread conversation, but the conversation itself is good. It’s needed. Anytime the collective is examining and assessing its philosophies of parenting, the hope is there that wisdom will win out over madness. Incendiary figures like Miz Chua leap out of the landscape from time to time as some sort of karmic reminder of how misguided we humans can get. A bell rings and we stop to take a look at what has become routine. Which is when we hopefully realize that when it comes to our children we are obligated to see beyond our ethnicity, our acculturation, what’s familiar from our own childhoods. And haven’t we all been talking up a storm! :) So maybe she’s done us a favor!

    And thank you, Donna, for suggesting I write a book! I’ve got a novel ready to go and I just might find a non-fiction topic to sink my teeth into. I appreciate your support and if I ever sponsor a Million Mother March, I’ll look forward to seeing you at the head of the pack!

    That you stop by to read is lovely, that you take the time to leave a comment is doubly appreciated. Thank you for your kind words, Donna. I’m grateful for the support. LDW

  15. Imposing a parent’s idea of “perfection” on a small vulnerable human is inhuman and ultimately stultifying. The parent feels a burden to be a perfect parent; the child suffers from a distorted version of what the perfect child is. Will be back later with more thoughts.

    LDW Reply:

    Yep and yep. Will look forward to your upcoming wisdom. LDW

  16. Well said. Somewhere down the line parents will find a balance between a child’s humanity and the demands of making it, or just surviving, in today’s world. We can’t ignore what’s out there any more than we can ruin a kid’s right and ability to live free from tyranny (from any source).

    LDW Reply:

    Thanks, Pete. Good to get a father’s perspective on the topic. The ability to “live free from tyranny (from any source)” – well said – IS the right of any child and if each of us assures that our own children, as well the children we can possibly affect, have that right honored, it’s a step against the madness perpetrated by too many others. You’re one of the Good Dads! xxoo LDW

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