I’ve been eagerly lapping up the controversy over Amy Chua’s new parenting book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I agree with much of what she says. My husband, on the other hand, is a much more Western-style parent, constantly mirroring the children’s emotions back to them and reacting with near hysteria to a bruised knee. We can’t seem to find our way to good parenting. Please help.
-- Caught between the Tiger and the Lamb
Dear Tiger Mom,
Now that’s an argument I don’t want to get in the middle of! I was advised by my teacher in our early parenting years that it’s not really a question of which is the better parenting strategy – stricter or more permissive. Most important for children is consistency. You and your husband need to be on the same page and present a united front.
Of course, if that were so easy, you wouldn’t have written this letter. As with almost everything, I believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Neither style of parenting is always appropriate in every situation with every child. Too much mollycoddling can inhibit a child’s sense of what he or she can accomplish, thereby inadvertently damaging their self-esteem and holding them back. And certainly, while high standards can in some instances be motivating, where mistakes or, as in Amy Chua’s case, second place finishes are punished, you get the same result.
Children need discipline and structure. They need reasonable expectations and confidence in their abilities. They also need empathy and understanding when they try their best and come in third or lose the race for student council.
Some emotional challenges need to be faced alone (don’t get between 5th grade girls and their friends!). Some are growth experiences (like learning to get along with incompetent, difficult teachers). And some need intervention (constant bullying perhaps). Some children need tutors to help improve their grades and teachers for music, dance or art lessons. And others are unmotivated, no matter how much time or money you spend.
Children are not a “one size fits all” proposition. That’s why the Torah admonishes us to educate each child according to his way.
In her book, Ms. Chua gets her comeuppance when her daughter begins to rebel with the onset of puberty. But don’t all of us? I think it would be a mistake to read that as a verdict on her parenting style. Hasn’t she noticed that teenagers raised in the more permissive fashion also rebel?
We are back to our initial points – consistency and moderation. And a healthy does of Divine Providence.
I am a newlywed male and feel a little shocked and disappointed by what I have discovered about my wife. When we were dating she seemed so independent and low-maintenance. Now that we’re married, she seems needy and demanding. What happened? How can I get back the woman I was dating?
-- Nostalgic Already
In a word, you can’t. There is no such thing as a low-maintenance wife (or husband for that matter), except in male fantasies. Women (and marriages) require attention. They require setting aside your needs to focus on someone else. They require adjustment to your schedule and your expectations about your time. Women (and men!) have needs – both physical and emotional. She hasn’t changed; you were just naïve about marriage. What is she really demanding? Time with you? Of course. That’s what marriage involves. She’s not your housekeeper or concubine or business partner. It’s not an employer-employee relationship with fixed boundaries and office hours. Its’ a ‘round-the clock venture and it requires a ‘round-the-clock effort. It’s unfortunate that you had an illusion about what you were embarking on and not a more realistic picture.
There is no such thing as a low-maintenance wife (or husband for that matter), except in male fantasies. Women (and marriages) require attention.
But I assume that you appreciate your new wife’s wonderful qualities and that you enjoy spending time with her. Therefore, now you need to stretch beyond your comfort zone in order to have that good marriage that both of you want. If you wanted low-maintenance, you should have gotten a cat. Or a goldfish.
My teenage daughter is always on the phone. I know it sounds like a stereotype but it’s true. From the minute she gets home from school until the minute she goes to sleep (long past my bedtime!), it’s glued to her ear. Sometimes she is even working two lines at once. It doesn’t seem like a productive pastime and my husband is very aggravated by it. How do we get her to stop?
-- Trapped by AT&T
I certainly empathize with your frustration and understand your situation. What can I say? Most girls like the telephone. Is it a productive use of time? Friendships are certainly productive and important but perhaps not necessarily requiring the amount of time on the phone that these ones get. And I have to vent my pet peeve about two lines here. I think that it is rude to put someone on hold and answer your second line. They can leave a message or someone else can get it. It is just not considerate of the person with whom you were originally speaking.
However, in general, when I see (hear), my teenage daughters on the phone, it doesn’t bother me. I’m happy they have friends. I’m happy with the friends they have. I’m happy they’re at home. I think of all the problems that teenagers could encounter, all the trouble they could get into, God forbid, and then I decide to be grateful that my daughter’s worst vice is to spend too much time on the phone. Take a look around you and see what adolescent girls are up to these days. The phone seems pretty tame. I would count my blessings.