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Tiger Mom controversy and a Tiger dad

Chris Erskine and the Tiger mom controversy

January 22, 2011|Chris Erskine

I am such a Chinese mom. I mean, I'm a man, but a mom. A manly mom to be sure, heavy of beard, full of uncontrollable appetites and a love of anything that flies: planes, baseballs, superheroes. But I am a Chinese mom to the core.

Chinese moms like me expect the best out of our kids and won't settle for anything less. In pursuit of scholastic achievement, we prohibit our children from:

— Attending birthday parties

— Going to sleepovers

— Appearing in school plays

— Watching TV

— Petting the dog

— Opening the fridge

— Complaining about not being able to open the fridge

— Sleeping

See, all that stuff merely gets in the way of getting straight A's, which is what it's all about, Alfie. Unlike these Western moms, we don't simply insist our children do well in school; we make it happen. We are more than happy to give up a few frivolous social engagements in quest of such.

Last week, for example, my kid got a B. Can you believe it? For Western moms, that is a cause for concern. For a Chinese mom like me, it is Defcon 4. I didn't sleep for days.

As I was abandoning my child on a remote road near Victorville, urging him to watch out for trucks and not to eat litter, I felt a twinge of regret.

But it was his fault, really. Bs don't cut it. Banishment was the only solution.

::

OK, if this cheeky rant is making any sense, you must've seen last week's Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua, whose book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" takes Western mothers (and fathers) to task for what she views as lackadaisical parenting.

In the ensuing firestorm of criticism, Chua backpedaled on her message and blamed the paper's headline writers for being overly provocative. But her Journal piece does say that in the minds of many demanding mothers, things like sleepovers, school plays and play dates are American indulgences. Chinese mothers like her almost never permit such distractions, for they take away from a child's focus on academics and music.

Chua also says, "Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight A's. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best."

That's not true. I also order my kids to get straight A's. When they don't, we abandon them at the side of that dusty road near Victorville. You might've spotted them wandering aimlessly on your way to Vegas.

Whatever you do, don't feed them.

"Did you get straight A's, Dad?" one of them asked when I dropped him off.

"I want better for my kids," I explained and zoomed away.

Sometimes, I'm such a Chinese mom it's ridiculous.

::

Such debates probably call for more nuance than I can usually muster. They need to be attuned to historical influences that shaped unconventional behavior. They also need to recognize that, for centuries, immigrant mothers — Italians, Jews, Germans, Poles — have pushed their children extra hard to achieve the American dream.

I've known Irish mothers who could kill you with a single wince.

And I'll tell you what: Overeager moms aren't the only ones jeopardizing balanced and healthy childhoods. You want tyrants? Go to any American suburb and you'll find overzealous coaches pushing 7-year-olds onto travel teams that turn youth sports into warfare.

Such a gift, childhood. We only get one, you know. And if you don't use it well, wisely and with a certain amount of gusto, it often catches up with you later (Tiger Woods, Michael Jackson). They didn't get to behave like kids when they were kids. So they behaved like kids when they were adults.

Should we eliminate outside activities such as sports, theater and sleepovers in the interest of economic success? No, because learning to interact with others is a life skill more important than calculus. Strength of personality — indeed, strength of character — is a workplace advantage in whatever field you choose.

To my mind, childhood shouldn't be career training. It should be childhood. It should be school work, rope swings, skinned knees and compassion.

It should be Saturday movies, or hide-and-go-seek in the yard till dark.

Yep, such a gift, childhood. Perhaps the greatest gift. And if mothers won't protect that, who will?

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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