March 23, 2011

The Kids Are All Right?

Don Shifrin, M.D. FAAP

Now that Amy Chua has tacked her parenting mantra to the church door, are we surprised the autobiographical view of raising her two daughters has culminated in her becoming more of a controversial cultural lightning rod than Sarah Palin?

I cannot imagine she would be blind to this, as any description of extremism sets its author up as a target. Thus, I feel marginally forthright in adding my modest commentary of the descriptive paradigms of her tome, which some are referring to as the definitive manual on überparenting. T. Berry Brazelton this isn't.

The book reads as a how-to manual for parents who want to help -- no -- make their kids succeed. At the very least, you have to admire Chua's veracity in penning this exposé. Her "Battle Hymn" reveals in graphic terms how she tirelessly compelled her girls to never be losers. The book's descriptive passages struck me as the parenting equivalent of Vince Lombardi's, “Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

She has opened up the floodgates of professional and parental scorn, ridicule, and vitriol. I have always acceded to the notion that the word, parent, is more verb than a noun, connoting what we do, not who we are. But, I would be reluctant to highlight Chua as the parent-model others would want or need to emulate.

A simplistic view of parental responsibility would include physical safety, emotional security, fiscal responsibility, as well as social, cultural, community, religious, academic, political, and moral role modeling. Most would agree to throw in more than a little unconditional love as well.

All parents, myself included, have, on more than one occasion, fallen way short of the mark. Granted, our children are subject to the whim and whimsy of quirky parenting styles. (I will confess to being a stickler for politeness and manners.) As a pediatrician, I have seen many parents step right across the egregious over-parenting line, where, it appears that the "Tiger Mother" has firmly planted herself, at least, until she was forced to realign when her youngest 'rebelled'.

The descriptions of her children's subsequent successes as a result of her parenting should not activate or relieve any of our collective parenting angst. Product development takes longer than 18 years. I would caution us to continuously monitor results, while consciously readjusting our outcome parameters. And, inadvertently, that maybe the best lesson from Ms. Chua's book.
Parenting is a challenge; it is not a war. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Children are human hard drives, with back-up programming that fortunately, or unfortunately, will last a lot longer than their parents.

So, I, for one, welcome her commentary, certainly not for her definition of success, but to motivate all of us to reexamine our parenting roles. Getting past all the obvious data points, the take away message is, perhaps, to redirect in a kinder, gentler way the burning passion all parents share: to balance nature and nurture in creating a childhood -- not an apprenticeship.
So, for all you Tiger Mothers (and Tiger Fathers) out there, a final note. Even with the best of intentions, parents that are rarely satisfied with their children, raise children that are rarely satisfied with themselves.