For the past few weeks the blogosphere has been abuzz with passionate reactions to Amy Chua’s new book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which the author argues that Western parents are far too lax with their children and should instead look to Asian mothers who push their children harder.
In a piece for the Washington Post entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Chua explains how her children were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, watch TV, choose any of their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, or play any instrument other than piano or violin. She reports calling one daughter “garbage” and proudly relates an incident in which she forced the other to practice a single piano piece for hours without food, water, or a bathroom break.
A lot of people were shocked by Chua’s attitude of superiority and seemingly cruel parenting tactics. Nasty comments rolled in. Ugly tweets went out. Angry blog posts made the rounds. I just stood back and watched from my littler corner of the blogosphere thinking to myself, “Uh oh. They’re at it again.”
At 29, I’ve been hearing a lot about how it’s time for me to have children—a prospect that both terrifies and thrills me, especially as the ticking of my biological clocks begins to sound more and more like a gong. Fortunately, I like kids. I want kids. I look forward to raising kids with a man who is sure to make an amazing father. It’s really not the kids themselves that make me the most nervous about parenting.
It’s the moms.
Chua is just an extreme example of a phenomenon I continue to encounter both online and in conversations with friends—the fundamentalizing of parenting.
Having been exposed to the religious fundamentalism of Bible Belt culture all my life, I recognize the symptoms: the pride, the fear, the huddling together, the ostracizing of the “other.” From cloth diapers to attachment parenting to vaccinations to sleep schedules, the fundamentalist sees parenting decisions not as preferences but as absolutes.
It’s not enough that Chua forces her kids to play instruments; she believes that every“responsible” parent should force their kids to play instruments. It’s not enough that one mom chooses a home births; every “educated” mom should choose a home births. It’s not enough that some Christian families choose homeschooling; every “faithful” Christian family should choose homeschooling. It’s not enough that some moms stay at home; every “biblical” mom should stay at home too. Put these attitudes in the context of a religious environment and you can multiply the fervor about a hundred times, for the will of the parents translates into the will of God.
Not all moms are this way, of course. In fact, I’ve noticed that most of my friends and favorite bloggers stay pretty mellow about their own parenting decisions until they feel they’ve been judged or threatened. I suspect that like a lot of things, the tendency to fundamentalize motherhood springs from insecurities. We are blessed to live in a culture where women have a lot of options, but sometimes a lot of options can be paralyzing, and the quickest way to feel better about the decisions you’ve made is to look down your nose at someone else’s.
I’m susceptible to these insecurities myself, which is why motherhood scares me sometimes. If I spank my kids, I’ll be called abusive. If I don’t, I’ll be called permissive. If I get an epidural, they’ll think I’m weak. If I don’t, they’ll think I’m masochistic. If I vaccinate my kids I’m a slave to the system. If I refuse, I’m a danger to society. If I wait a few more years to have a baby, I’m trying to control the future. If I get pregnant before I’m “ready” I’m bowing to peer pressure.
And I know from experience that it’s not so much the accusations themselves that will trouble me, but the fear that maybe they are true.
Moms , you already have the hardest job in the world. How on earth do you deal with all the advice, judgment, and fundamentalism that comes along with parenting?