Gentle soft touch

Amy Chua, a Harvard Graduate and Yale Law Professor seem to have created quite a stir among parents. Her book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ seems to be getting rave reviews from few Chinese families who can identify themselves with her, and equally criticised by the western and some Indian parents. The book talks in length on how strict discipline, hard work and draconian house rules, what the author calls “Chinese Style of parenting” made her two daughters excel in maths and music.
An excerpt for her book review says “Prof. Chua’s methods of parenting are extreme. When her elder daughter came second in a maths competition, she made her practise 2000 sums in a single night. She made her younger child, then 7 practise a difficult piano composition without food, water or even toilet breaks till it was perfect. She suggests that Chinese parents are able to raise “stereotypically successful” kids — math whizzes and music prodigies — by following a regimen that includes banning social interaction (play dates, sleepovers) and nonessential activities (TV, videogames, sports, arts other than music, music other than piano or violin). She asserts the value of rote repetition and strict discipline; dismisses concepts like fun, self-actualization and self-esteem as fraudulent distractions; and advocates absolute and unilateral parental control, without concern over whether kids are happy in the here and now (because true happiness only comes when one has accomplished long-term goals and achieved lasting success).”

Yes, these methods perhaps bring out excellent rote learners but what about a thinking mind? What about emotional intelligence? After all, in today’s world, it is not only IQ that matters and is a measure of success but equally important is EQ. Education is not meant for only bookish knowledge after all. Will these rote learners be able to come up with any meaningful invention for the betterment of mankind, which surely requires a thinking mind; While US and the western World have been criticised by Amy Chua but let us not forget that they also have contributed numerous inventions and advancements in the field of engineering, medicine or IT. I loved Rancho’s prophecy in the movie 3 Idiots “Make passion your work. Then you will not feel you are working but working itself will be gratifying.”
When my 4 year old son does not quite get it (I mean letters and numbers) instead of saying ‘No you are wrong’ his teachers and I say ‘Honey you are almost there’. Just a bit of push rather than rebuke is what they need. Mothers like me are softies who care for the child’s self esteem. It is about respecting him as an individual and teaching him to be responsible for his actions and encourage him to pursue his passions. My little over 4 years of motherhood has at least taught me that you show your love and affection and they will love you in return by many folds. Psychologists believe that children upto 7 years are like sponges; scream at your child and you raise a screamer, hit your child and you raise a hitter. You try to be a tyrant; they will do everything for you, not out of love and respect but out of fear. And once they grow up, the fear goes away and so does the parental control, perhaps at a time when they need the most. Discipline is very important for children and I am a big believer of that, especially in today’s world where the exposure to unnecessary information is at galore, but I am a bigger believer that it can be done with positive reinforcement (‘How to talk so kids will listen and Listen so kids will talk’ is a great book which reinforces positive discipline)
All mothers perhaps aspire to have trophy child(ren) who excel in whatever they do. But if bullying is a way to achieve it, frankly I am happy to settle down for a less than perfect A. Above all and most importantly I want my son to be honest, decent human beings. May be that is why, yesterday when I told my son to write 9, he wrote 6 and turned the page upside down and showed me, I had two options. Amy Chua’s parenting way that is to say ‘What! You can’t write 9? That’s disappointing and shameful’ and then make him write pages after pages of 9 till he wrote it perfect.
OR my way, the one I chose, i.e. ‘Son, you are very smart to recognise that 9 is actually 6 upside down. How about trying to write 9 now? Let’s do it together in a team!’
Motherhood has given me the greatest joy but it is also the most challenging task I have ever done. I don’t say I know the mantras for successful parenting but I have faith in my son and in me as a mother; and I know as I go along the way, some answers my child will himself show me. After all I have learnt a lot from him. I am sure Amy Chua would disapprove coz learning from one’s own child and respecting them are not her ways of parenting. But then, I am glad she is not in my household!
What do you all feel? Feel free to share your thoughts and feedback.

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  1. Neelam

    Hey Indrani,
    What a timely post!! A lot has been said about Amy Chua’s book and parenting ideologies and I wondered what Indian parents thought of it. I agree completely with your approach! But after reading some of the excerpts and discussions on her book, I also realized that ‘softies’ such as us are rewarding mediocrity way too much which may turn our kids into under-achievers. I would never subscribe to or condone Chua’s demeaning ways of parenting but I do believe there is a balance to be sought between ‘strict’ and ‘soft’ parenting.

  2. Khushi

    I was thinking along the same lines. I think sometimes its good for extreme books like this to come out, if not for any other reason than just to get us thinking. I also think if your mom doesnt reward mediocority, who will 🙂 I am a softie too in many ways.

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