Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fierce puma

Discussion of Amy Chua's book >Battle Hymn of Mother Tiger is flying fast and furious all over the web. The excerpt on the Wall Street Journal (here) is eliciting gasps of horror from just about everybody in the West, and, I can imagine, nods of approval from just about everybody in the East. I should probably toss in a disclaimer of sorts about the excerpt for my European readers, then--something about reading at your own risk, Jules will not be responsible for any deaths due to the shear weight of one's disbelief at the tactics a "Mother Tiger" uses on her kids, etc.

I've been refraining from commenting on this, because a) it's not really relevant to the blog, and b) it touches a rather raw nerve for me. My parents were the "lite" version of Amy Chua's over-the-top pursuit of perfection--our saving grace, as kids, was that they were woefully ignorant of how things actually worked and didn't have the wherewithal to look things up themselves. But the irresistable questions are: did it f*ck me up at all, and would I do the same for my kids?

As for the first question: I feel perfectly normal--your perception of me might be otherwise. I'm not sure if I would have been famous by now if I'd done a creative writing major--I'm not sure if I would have been any less miserable if I'd pursued my medical career (probably not). Would it have taken me until the age of 26 to figure out that I was fundamentally unhappy in medicine if it weren't for my parents? Probably not. But it doesn't mean that I wouldn't have done it anyway, becuase I really had no idea what else I would have done. That's the thing that people don't understand: if you embrace the identity that your parents have foisted upon you, then it is you, and there is no conflict. If you don't, then, you have issues. I didn't--but I also didn't have any idea of who I was. I'm a little slow when it comes to self-discovery.

Would I do the same for my kids? I don't have kids just yet, and plus they'd be going to Dutch schools, where the norm is to blend in and just be one of the sheep in the flock. I'm not sure about this--I mean, I want everything for them--that they be super-high achievers and popular (not impossible)--and I don't think any self-respecting parent would want any less. I'm pretty sure that I'd have to go about it a different way, though. But I'm pretty sure that my kids, if or when we have them, will have, if not a Mother Tiger, at least a Fierce Puma to contend with.


  1. Hello - my mom was just telling me about this book - I knew kids with parents like this growing up. It would be interesting to know how much more "successful" they are than I am (wouldn't be hard).

  2. @ Julia: Well, success is relative, but making lots of money certainly seems to help :-)