A lot of buzz about the parenting style of Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-described “tiger mother.”
Amy claims to be raising her kids “the Chinese way.” She forced her daughter to practice the piano for hours on end until she got it right. She called her other daughter “garbage” after she behaved bad. She gives new meaning to the world “strict.”
But let’s be honest. Discipline isn’t easy. Maybe that’s why so many parents are curious about Amy Chua’s methods. Time Magazine goes into great detail about Amy’s parenting style in their cover story, Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?
Other columnists are reacting to Amy’s style. New York Times columnist David Brooks even calls her a “wimp,” claiming that she is taking the easy road.
I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.
Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.
So what’s the answer parents are looking for?
Most parents seem to float to one of two extremes: the ultra tough disciplinarian, or the “anything goes” parent. The tough parent wants to raise healthy, disciplined kids (plenty of research to back up setting the bar high). Sadly, a number of these parents get so focused on their child’s “performance” that they forget to reveal consistent love and nurture. So swings the pendulum to… the “anything goes” parent– a severe over-reaction. This parent feels that any discipline is lacking in love and nurture, so… anything goes.
I’ve seen kids from both extremes.
I’ll be honest. I’m biased. I’m a recovering “ultra tough disciplinarian. I was always very strict with my kids, all under the umbrella of love. That’s easy to “just say,” by the way. Many strict parents claim, “Oh, my kids know that the reason I am so strict is because I love them.” Oh, really? When is the last time you told them that. Better yet… when is the last time they perceived that?
I know this well, because at times, I was waaaaaay to hard on my son Alec. Yes, he was in need of discipline. And yes, I meant well. But the bottom line was, he wasn’t feeling very loved when Dad was always talking in harsh tones.
Sorry. Tough love expressed as just “tough” is not good enough. Love also needs to be expressed by noticing, listening, and investing. These activities might be as simple as hanging out with our kids and having conversations with them (not one-way conversations).
I’m still strict. But I’m also very relational with my kids now. Parents can’t expect to enforce rules without a relationship. It’s only out of the hours of time I spend with my kids laughing, talking, and just “hanging out” that I’ve earned the respect from them when I say, “No.” It’s a tough balancing act. And I’ve learned a few tricks to avoid always saying, “No.” Sometimes I ask them questions and lead them to discover the answer by themselves (I go into more detail about this in my discipline chapter in my new parenting book coming out this Spring).
Right now on our TheSource4Parents.com site we are featuring a helpful article about discipline from my friend Jim Burns.
Which way do you lean? Are you a tough parent, or anything goes?