Author Amy Chua has taken a lot of flak recently for her rigid rules of traditional Chinese parenting, as described in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. All the controversy has made us, two Jewish moms, wonder: If she’s a tiger mother, what are we?
We could be kangaroo moms, because we’ll do whatever it takes to get the kids fed. Kangaroo moms produce two different kinds of milk, one for the joey developing in the pouch and one for the toddler who’s out of it. Most nights, we, too, make multiple meals – for the daughter who’s suddenly a vegetarian, for the fussy one who eats only chicken nuggets, and for the teenage son who wants dinner plus the leftover spaghetti, a side of mashed potatoes, and a slice of pie for dessert.
We could be peacock moms, because we’re very proud of our kids. Maybe that was me flaring my tail feathers and strutting up the aisle at the National Honor Society assembly when they announced my child’s name.
Or we could be octopus moms, because we hug, help, and nudge our kids, which would be much easier to do with eight arms. Did you know that the octopus is one of the smartest creatures in the sea? It teaches its children to play, solve problems, and develop skills. Those skills will come in handy for “my son the doctor – you should see him in surgery with those eight arms.”
The Talmud charges Jewish parents with providing shelter, clothing, and food for their children. Strangely enough, it also obliges them to teach their children to swim – thereby helping them become self-reliant and independent. That’s why we’ve taught our kids how to dump in the detergent, twist the dial, and throw in a load of laundry – though, in truth, we still do most of their laundry for them.
Chua also made us think about our own parenting rules. Her version of Chinese parenting prohibits extracurricular activities. We say, “Please don’t join the football team. I don’t want you playing any game where hitting is part of it – you could get hurt. Try out for soccer or the track team. They’re nice boys, too.”
Chua also claims to forbid play dates. Why would she do that? We say, “You have such a beautiful room, filled with so many wonderful toys to share with your friends. And I would love to meet their mothers!”
Chua says, “No TV.” We say, “Please don’t watch that terrible Jersey Shore. First of all, no one on the show is a member of the tribe. Second, we don’t drink like that. Those girls’ parents must be ashamed of them.”
Chua demands carefully constructed, thoughtful cards from her kids. We don’t care what it looks like “as long as you send that thank-you card to your Aunt Sylvia soon. I know you’ll never wear the purple acrylic sweater she sent, but she remembered your birthday and she’s counting the days till she gets your note.”
Nothing less than an A? We’ll take a B as long as they learned something. “Was the teacher good? Did you enjoy the class? And did you ever get a study group together with the cute boy two rows over?”
Sure, Jewish mothers like to nag and give advice, but we’d never forbid our children to follow their dreams, even if that means clown college instead of Yale. Amy Chua might say we indulge them and fail to demand excellence. But we believe (kineahora) that our kids are excellent.
(This article originally appeared in The Phialdelphia Inquirer on 1/28)