Joanne Palmer: Confessions of a teddy bear mother
February 2, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Thanks to a controversial new book, motherhood is in the news. The book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, sings the praises of "tough love" Chinese parenting. "Tough love" seems a generous term for the kind of extreme mothering Chua practiced and surprisingly admits to. Chua forbade her daughters to attend sleepovers, have play dates, be in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin. She once forced her 3-year-old daughter to practice a complicated piano piece without food or bathroom breaks until she mastered it. Her daughter left teeth marks on the piano.
The single worst thing she did was to reject homemade birthday cards from her two daughters because they were not "good enough."
I can't imagine.
Chua has received hundreds of e-mails and a few death threats. Some critics have accused her of child abuse, and others think her style of parenting is right on track. Chua is, as you might suspect, quite accomplished. At 48 she is a Yale Law School professor, and her book, frighteningly, is a best-seller. Every magazine I open has a profile of her, and TV shows, websites and blogs have followed suit.
Here in Steamboat Springs, I discussed her parenting style with a dad at the gym.
While we huffed and puffed on the elliptical machines, he said: "These are the children our children will compete against."
I guess so.
While the news media has trumpeted the book, shown the spotlight on Chua's unorthodox parenting practice and bestowed her 15 minutes of fame, they missed the most important point. Buried in one of the dozens of articles was one of the most heart-breaking quotes I've ever read. Chua admits she is "not good at enjoying life."
Those are five of the saddest words I've ever read.
I am proud to be a teddy bear mother.
I believe in raising a happy child, not a robot or accomplishment junkie. I believe all children deserve a childhood filled with lemonade stands, dress-ups and hot fudge sundaes. Afternoons digging for buried treasure and building igloos in the backyard should be given just as much respect as practicing the piano.
The heart of the matter is exactly what matters. It is important to raise three-dimensional children who are compassionate, caring individuals who won't star in a sex scandal. Or grow up to be heartless CEOs who spend over $1 million to decorate their offices while their employees are struggling to hold on to their jobs. Or a person who profits at the expense of someone else (think subprime mortgages). In our struggles to get ahead and leapfrog over one another, we so often forget to extend a helping hand. Sure, we need doctors, lawyers and engineers, but we also need poets, preachers and players in the Super Bowl.
Parenting should come from the heart, not the end of a bullwhip. Teach your children to care about the footprint they leave on the earth, digital and otherwise. Teach them to enjoy the life they have — the squeaky sound of snow underneath their boots, the sight of the alpenglow on the mountain, the thrill of a first kiss.
Life is a daily gift, meant to be unwrapped and enjoyed. Isn't that the most important accomplishment of all?