Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Joan Crawford School of Parenting

   Dear God,
   Please make this woman stop. Please, before someone gets hurt. Thanks.
   Amy Chua is an Ivy League law professor and the author of the brand new parenting book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She discusses perceived differences in parenting styles between Chinese and Western mothers and why the former have high achieving offspring. Some of her points are valid, such as making school come first and foremost, and believing in a child's strengths.
     Some aren't.
     Ms. Chua doesn't see anything wrong with calling children names and berating them to bend them to the parents' will.  Or forcing them to practice an instrument for three hours a day, even on vacation, whether they want to learn an instrument or not. Or threatening to donate a beloved toy to the Salvation Army because one of her daughters struggled to learn a complicated composition, or refusing to let her go to the bathroom until she got it.
      It doesn't work.
      Now, granted that my background was a little different.  My parents both had serious struggles: Mom had an aneurysm the size of a golf ball at the base of her skull. It had started to impact her behavior and judgement. My dad was posthumously diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. He drank to control his symptoms.
      A call from my kindergarten teacher prompted IQ testing, which indicated that Both of them took it upon themselves to push me to live up to the expressed potential through threats. Until her death just after I finished fourth grade, Mom informed me that my math and spelling mistakes meant that I didn't love her and she was going to go stand on a street corner until she found someone who did. Dad held having the dog put to sleep or dumping me off on relatives or beatings over my head. Or called my grandmothers to inform in a very loud voice them everything that was wrong with me: that I was a fat, spacey, lazy, waste of intelligence.
      All that made me do was lie about my grades in high school to protect myself. The pathetic thing was that Dad never called the school or followed up with other parents about the paperless grade reporting system I invented. And put me a half-step from a full blown panic attack at all times.
      After, let's see, four years of counseling in in college, more work with a therapist and a lot of energy work, as well as a medical workup that diagnosed me with adrenal and thyroid problems, which can look a lot like ADD or ADHD, I finally realized that I wasn't such a waste of skin after all. Maybe I hadn't won a Nobel for something, but there were people and dogs out there who'd benefitted from my presence.
     The knowledge both of my issues and my parents' has made it easier to forgive--not excuse, but to let things go, knowing that they couldn't do any better.
     I hope Ms. Chua's daughters can reach the same place of peace someday.

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