I have to admit, I feel sorry for Amy Chua. Chua is the author of a new book called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," in which she gives readers a vivid picture of her life as a strict, driven Asian-American mother.
Less than two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt from her book and poor Chua has been front-page news ever since.
The initial article garnered more than 7,000 comments, and counting. In a follow-up interview in the Wall Street Journal, Chua reports that she has received countless e-mails, even death threats, in the wake of the initial article.
What Chua knowingly or unknowingly tapped into is the turbulent undercurrent of parenting: fear. Chua critiques the parenting philosophy that stresses self-esteem over achievement. But she would have caused a similar outrage if she'd confessed to bottle-feeding her babies or not vaccinating them or spanking them or going back to work when they were 6 weeks old or deciding to stay home with them for the first 10 years of their lives.
When it comes to parenting, it doesn't really matter what you say, you've got a battle on your hands.
The paranoia we feel as parents is never so fully on display as when someone questions our parenting decisions. We dig in our heels and we refuse to accept there is any way but our own.
We have to. To admit we might have made a less-than-ideal choice is to listen to that not-so-little voice that tells us we are ruining our precious children.
So when Chua lets us know that her parenting style is sending her kids to Carnegie Hall and ours is sending our kids to a nice job handing out Slurpies at the gas station, that voice starts yelling. Loudly.
Letting Go of Fear-Filled Parenting
Even though our fears of wrecking our children run deep, I believe we can push past them and stop living in this defensive mode. Here's how:
Ignore sentences with the words "you should" in them.
If ever there were words that defeat a parent, it's those two. They're code for "you don't know what you're doing."
I don't know what I'm doing all the time -- or even most of the time -- but when someone "shoulds" on me, I feel myself getting defensive.
Chua's whole essay read like one big "should," hence the backlash. Still, I've found that if I ignore the "shoulds" and carry on, the fear of messing up my children starts to fade.
Parenthood is a steep learning curve and I am on the uphill climb. But I'm much more motivated to keep moving forward when I'm driven by what works for my kids rather than some other mother's need to turn her children into piano prodigies.
A few weeks ago, I was mean to my 10-year-old son. He'd gotten up to get a cup of water in the middle of the night and spilled it on his bed. So he was up changing the sheets and making a ruckus.
Waking up from a dead sleep, I stormed into his room and proceeded to scold him for about nine things that had nothing to do with water or beds. This was not my finest moment.
After five minutes or so, I stopped talking and looked at him. He stood there, fighting tears, telling me he was sorry for spilling. Coming to my senses, I pulled him onto my lap and apologized. Several times.
Fear turns us into defensive parents who can't admit our mistakes. But humility pushes fear aside. It lets us recover from our mistakes and, more importantly, lets our children recover from them as well.
Focus on your hopes, not your fears.
So much parental paranoia is based in our worries about what will become of our children if we don't do everything right. So some of us drive our kids to get A's because we're afraid they won't get into the very best college.
Others rail against parents who drive their kids to get A's because we're afraid we've been too lax. But the flip side of fear is hope, hope that our children will grow up to have healthy relationships and satisfying lives. When we parent out of those hopes instead of our fears, even our missteps become opportunities to help our children thrive.
Fearful parenting can look like a lot of things, from the "tiger mother" with huge expectations for her daughters, to the defensive reader who needs to shout down any model of parenting that puts her way into question.
But when we turn away from fear, parenthood becomes what it was meant to be; an imperfect, ever-changing, deeply satisfying relationship between a parent and a child.