Let’s start here: I am totally fascinated by Amy Chua.
No matter how horrified I might have been by her list of things she refused to allow for her daughters (sleepovers, school plays, any grade less than an A), my first response was intrigue. Other moms I know read the excerpt of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in the Wall Street Journal and were instantly appalled. Not me; I was too busy wondering how she got her daughters to practice music for that many hours everyday. And then I was busy envisioning what life must be like in the Chua-Rubenfeld house. Is it pristine and quiet? Do they yell? Make messes? Crack jokes?
Of course, eventually I balled up my (metaphorical) fists, assumed my (metaphorical) fighter stance and declared Chua’s ideas appalling. What can I say? It’s what we moms tend to do when our parenting style has been challenged.
Everybody has been talking about this book for a good two weeks now, and most of what I’ve heard and read has been pure outrage, with a little vitriol thrown in. Hollee made excellent points last week discussing Chua, her former law professor. I agree with all of them. Good Enough Is the New Perfect, after all, is like the opposite of Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother.
In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that Chua’s “Chinese Mother” parenting is … lazy. Aiming for a single narrow goal like perfection in grades and music is way easier than mastering the emotionally exhausting obstacle course that takes us to the New Perfect. The New Perfect is about finding happiness, defining our own expectations, and succeeding in seemingly contradictory areas of life. It requires constant recalibration, the ability to read cues and understand other people’s talents and viewpoints, and the ability to balance a waitress-tray of goals simultaneously. It means knowing ourselves. Yes, Perfect requires the ability to prioritize, but the New Perfect requires something even harder: the ability to re-prioritize.
That last point is crucial, because life pretty much never turns out the way we’d originally planned.
And, as it turns out, Chua eventually got that. She even admits it on the cover of her book: “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.” Like every single one of us, Chua isn’t perfect — and she knows it. She didn’t completely change course, but she does, for the record, confront this and make adjustments.
But that’s not why I like her and her book. I like her because she wasn’t afraid to share ideas that others would undoubtedly find controversial and extreme. And I like her book because it started a conversation. When someone promotes a philosophy that makes us bristle, that’s just an opportunity to advocate in the opposite direction. It’s a chance to reflect, to explore other ideas and, sometimes, to create new ones. Debate is good.
I’ve had fascinating conversations with other moms since Chua’s book came out. And, for that, I’m grateful.