In a word, “yes.” Amy Chua has been claiming that she’s not that bad ever since the excerpt from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was published on WSJ.com a couple of weeks ago. That article set off a firestorm of protests from parents, including my popular parody of it.
So, I went to see her in person last night at a bookstore in San Francisco. She had the mostly sympathetic crowd in the palm of her hand. Audience members guffawed and threw her softball questions and clapped politely.
I was not persuaded, though. She sugar-coated her Tiger Mother philosophy, but she didn’t back down at all. Remember, we’re dealing with a Yale law professor here, so we should expect a highly articulate, clever defense. Indeed, she made her brand of abusive, hyper-controlling parenting seem more palatable than it seemed in WSJ.com article.
Her response is that she was chastened by her 13-year-old daughter Lulu’s violent outbursts at her, and that she’s reformed her outlook. Here’s an interview in which she articulates this response.
So, how was she chastened? Does she now think that her Tiger Mother approach is wrong, or even flawed? Absolutely not. She still thinks it’s the best way by far. What she regrets is that she failed to tone down her abusiveness a bit before Lulu exploded. When this happened, she was fearful that Lulu might totally rebel against her – e.g. that she might start to do poorly at school, get into drugs, get depressed, etc.
In other words, Chua thinks that her overall strategy was the right one, but her tactics were flawed in some ways because they almost led to a rebellion. If Lulu hadn’t made her outbursts, Chua wouldn’t have backed off one iota. In fact, her older daughter, Sophia, never voiced a hint of rebellion, and Chua is completely satisfied with how she raised her.
Think of the message this sends to the millions (?!?) of parents who read the Tiger Mother book: go ahead and be as verbally abusive and controlling to your children as Chua, then watch them closely to see if they’re close to breaking. If they are close, back off a bit to avoid a total rebellion.
The problem with this amendment to the Tiger Mother approach in the WSJ.com article is that it won’t avoid most of the problems caused by verbally abusive, authoritarian parenting. There are literally thousands, if not millions, of depressed former “Tiger Children” out there who didn’t explode like Lulu did when they were 13. There are many others whose first explosion was something more drastic than Lulu’s outbursts, like depression, or even suicide.
In addition, while Chua was able to avoid a total rebellion from Lulu, Lulu may still be scarred. At least in her public comments, Chua hasn’t talked about any effort to really peer inside the mind of Lulu. There may still be a lot of damage to fix under the surface, but Chua is only concerned that Lulu still get “A’s” in school and practice her violin, albeit for less time every day.
The only way I could endorse Chua’s story to parents would be if she repudiated her Tiger Mother philosophy, but she hasn’t. She’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Be wary…