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Battle Hymn of the Western Mother - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A recent best selling book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, illustrates how fundamental parenting strategies can be so violently misunderstood. Written by an Asian American Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua, the book argues that western mothers are undisciplined, over gratifying and only care about their children’s individuality. She predicts that most western children never reach their potential and live a directionless life of non-achievement.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Here are the myths perpetuated by the author followed by reality:

Myth: Parental Authority is Supreme

The premise is that children require micromanaging and constant direction that includes fear based parenting. Chua argues that kids are unable to grow without being controlled. The mother must be in the middle of their lives and has the final word, always.

Reality:

When kids are over-controlled by a parent, they learn to deny their own wisdom and intuition. Often, they become great achievers but are stunted emotionally. To survive a controlling parent, you learn to focus on the parent’s perceptions of you instead of your own thoughts. You miss the vital lessons of taking calculated risks in relationships, achievement etc. and then recalibrating your behavior based on what happiness.

Myth: All That Matters is Compliance

The child is an extension of the mother and must be commandeered into compliance. Nothing matters but the outcome and the child must blame only himself if the goal is not achieved.

Reality:

When you are over controlled, you over-emphasize how you are perceived by others. You pursue activities that will result in high achievement, praise and applause from others. However, you pay an enormous price for this. You don’t learn the basic tenants of emotional intelligence that can only be mastered by years of having a separate experience from your mother where you figure things out for yourself.

Myth: Nothing Matters More to Child’s Future than Achievement

Chua conjectures that all that matters in the world is achievement that in turn, honors the sacrifice of the parents. The parent’s duty is to financially facilitate opportunities that they choose for the child.

Reality:

Achievement creates self-esteem, but there are many valuable ways to define what achievement is. Emotional stability based on a well-developed and accurate view of yourself is invaluable in the world. Navigating the world without emotional stability is like sailing on a ship without a rudder and a compass--you could end up shipwrecked before you know it. Childhood should equip children with the following capabilities:

Failure: The ability to fail and bounce back from a setback

Self-management: A willingness to disappoint authority figures if you disagree with them

Decisiveness: Making the best call with the information you have even if you discover later you were incorrect

Understanding of Others: Emotional perceptiveness of others based on your own keen understanding of yourself

Self-confidence: Kids build an inner strength from thousands of experiences in which they made a decision on their own, self corrected and did better the next time.

Self-effectiveness: This is an essential part of managing in the world since it’s hard to assert yourself if you see yourself as ineffective and helpless.

Myth: Verbally Berating A Child Is Helpful

Chua argues that kids must be threatened to perform, which is the top goal in her parenting model. Calling a child, “lazy, cowardly, self indulgent and pathetic” somehow is motivating according to the author. She justifies her strategy by the achievements of her kids—if she hadn’t verbally assaulted them, she predicts they wouldn’t have achieved.

Reality:

There is no psychological research in the world that supports verbal humiliation, name-calling and threats as a viable parenting technique. The constant contempt of a parent out of control is damaging. The younger the child, the greater the emotional damage.

Myth: Parents Should Micromanage their Children’s Emotions

In Chua’s paradigm, there is minimal instruction in handling the inner dialogue in our heads that all children have. That inner dialogue doesn’t matter since it’s not something Chua is thinking.

Reality:

Longitudinal research shows that emotionally dismissed kids grow into adults who cannot articulate what they feel or how to manage it. They are often exquisitely sensitive to others, since they had to be that strong to survive in childhood. They tuck their feelings away and they dismiss their normal reactions. She insists that the child should meet the parents’ demands since they know better. Focusing on the parent handicaps the child’s need to measure his own reactions, learn to manage his own behavior and monitor his reactions.

Myth: No External Activities

This model of parenting rejects the usual features of Western childhood—weekend sleepovers, play dates, TV, video game, choosing their own extracurricular activities, and any grade less than an A. The child must conform, at all times, to the desires of the parent.

Reality:

Childhood is an extended practice arena for adulthood during which the child learns how to effectively communicate, to navigate conflict and to fail and bounce back. Parents need to provide the optimum environment for these skills by helping the child learn about himself and his own interest.

Myth: Western Mothers Are Slackers And Over-Indulge Their Children To Meet Their Own Needs.

Western mothers are relentlessly devoted to their children and buffer them against all forms of stress, adversity and failure.

Reality:

America has been the strongest country in the world for generations due, in part, to the work ethic and fortitude of American mothers.

We have taught our children how to fight against their fears, how to join with others against tyranny and how to accord all Americans the same civil liberties and rights. Such virtues require enormous courage and strength which are found in a people reared to define themselves as individuals, not as extensions of others. Obedience to authority at all costs, which Ms. Chua celebrates, can only get you so far. Our dedication to individuality, independence and creative thinking built this country and will continue to shape the world.


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