I’m a big supporter of globalization but this new trend of publishing competitive Parenting-By-Country books has got to stop. Violin-wielding Chinese mothers vs. “Manners matter” beret-clad Frenchies? What’s next? The Siberian Guide to Raising Independent Children? The Hunter-Gather Model of Masai Mothering?
For those of you who live on deserted islands, I’m talking about Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and Pamela Druckerman’s “Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.” They are all the rage in the Wall Street Journal.
Je repete. Enough already!
Stop with the stereotyping. Stop with the fear-mongering (oh yeah, like there’s not a mother out there who isn’t scared to death she’s raising her kids wrong?) And stop telling me, categorically, how others are parenting better than Americans. That’s like saying Americans don’t dance as well as Australians. It’s unprovoked. It’s unscientific. And it’s really starting to piss me off.
Good (and bad) parenting isn’t bound by geography. Some mothers are amazing and some mothers suck. Some mothers get walked over, some are mean and domineering, and some listen to NPR in the carpool lane. Some get drunk at VIP parties, some hand-sew Halloween costumes and some are suspicious of sleep-away camps. You get the drift, right? No? Not to worry. I’m on a roll. There are moms who hate being woken at night, moms who love to do algebra problems and moms who believe potty-training should begin in the womb. Some moms let their kids play in the mud, some take them out for overpriced sushi, and some leave the house without wearing a slicker or boots in a downpour. Some follow in the footsteps of their parents. Some buck every trend. Some of the patience of saints and some do unthinkable evils. Some live in Scottsdale. Or Manhattan. Or Russelville. Or Lyon. Or Guangzhou. You get what I’m driving at now, right? Parenting is hard and variable and everyone does it a little bit different.
The idea that one culture – or one woman representing a culture — has “nailed it” means I should be working at a travel agency selling one-way tickets aboard the HMS Delusional. No more Tiger Moms. No more Francophiles. No more American Mom bashing. Don’t get me wrong. I dated a hot French man for three weeks after college and my children are taking Chinese lessons on Saturday mornings. It’s nothing personal. And I do agree that there are a lot of lame American parents… but this isn’t the Olympics. Nationalism has no place in the discussions of responsible, effective parenting.
You want my credentials for writing about parenting? Eight years of in-the-field data, a case study of two participants, no control group and a fair amount of a white wine spritzers. You don’t want me telling you how to parent any more than you want Ms. Druckerman or Ms. Chua. Just because I’ve been to my gynecologist’s office every year for the last 25 years doesn’t mean I’m qualified to comment on your vagina (oh yeah, I said “vagina”… that’s how worked up I am right now). Ms. Druckerman and Ms. Chua are clearly intelligent women who can write well and who are actively thinking about parenting but just because you can pitch in a publisher’s office and you take a real nice publicity photo does not mean you’ve earned the microphone.
It’s all in the Marketing
If you’re going to write a book that claims to set a standard in cultural differences, you should have some credentials. An Anthropology or Sociology degree? A few classes in Childhood Development, maybe? Being born in China or living in a pied a terre in Paris does not count. I’m wearing socks but no one is calling me a cotton expert. I know how to operate a Cuisinart but you don’t see me teaching a class at the Cordon Bleu (seriously, I could go on for days…) I’m all about writing a personal memoir and yes, I do love to give my opinion about things but I’m not trying to represent a culture or pitch that certain cultures do things better. For goodness sake, Ms. Druckerman wrote a story in 2008 for Marie Claire about the ménage a trois she gave her husband for his 40th birthday. Yes, I couldn’t make that up. I pass no judgement on her sexual or marital behavior (those are private matters) but when you write about it publicly, it begs a few questions about the writer’s motivation for fame. ”Sensational” is clearly an well-entrenched adjective in her stable of life. But parenting guides (even if written in an accessible “I’m your best friend” voice) get our blood pressure rising and I am tired of the cadre of writers who are taking advantage of our needy vulnerabilities. It’s driving thoughtful mothers to the brink.
Confucius says, This Lady is Nuts
As for Ms. Chua, if you read the entire book (rather than just the reviews of her book), you would see that her initial thesis on “Chinese Parenting Values” are worthy of discussion but her application of them is anything but disciplined. Pardon the personal attack but Ms. Chua, based on her own editing choices of what to include and not include in her book, parents in the lunatic fringe aisle of life. The book is a wonderful train-wreck analysis of an insecure, externally-focused, define-your-success-by-the-approval-of-others, status-obsessed, middle-aged-woman. If you want to argue with me, just read the sections deep into the book on her dogged pursuit to find pianos in church basements or empty hotel ballrooms so her daughter can practice while on European vacations. This, of course, is driven not by her daughter’s desire to tickle the ivories but rather by Ms. Chua’s rational that other daughters, who aren’t on vacation with their families are at home practicing, getting ahead.
I know this blog rant will do nothing to slow the continued onslaught of international parenting books written by self-loathing, marketing-savvy American slash Other Culture moms. As I said, we’re a vulnerable group looking for guidance and assurance and we’ll keep buying the books and creating parenting blogs. So what do I hope for? A new metaphor for good parenting. I want a new crop of popular parenting authors. I want teachers to write books about how we should raise our kids.
Think about it. American teachers have years of parenting experience under the belt. They’ve worked with 20+ students, 7 hours a day, for 156 days, year-after-year. They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. And they know how to get results. The good ones (and I mean, the good ones…) strike that perfect balance between tenderness and firmness, encouragement and discipline, affection and respect. The best advice I’ve gotten (whether it be to “don’t worry, it’s totally typical, you can relax” or “yes, there is a growing problem and we have some suggestions for you”) has come consistently from my children’s teachers.
Hopefully, the market for stuff-yourself-sick International Buffets is on the wane. Let’s bring back those shiny, sleeve-polished apples, please.