Edgy Mama: Eastern versus Western parenting — just laissez-faire it

A recently published memoir by Asian-American Amy Chua about raising her kids in the traditional “Eastern” parenting style has sparked heated parental debate.

In my 13 years as a breeder, parents have cycled through a number of kid-raising trends: from attachment to helicopter to free-range. Now we’re all talking Eastern parenting, which, as far as I can tell, is quite similar to the mid-century Southern “speak only when spoken to or you’ll get switched” parenting (in case you don’t know, “switched” is a verb for getting whacked across the buttocks or backs of the legs with a very thin, supple stick).

All this advice and “to dos” have made me want to create my own school of parenting, which will henceforth be called the laissez-faire model.

Despite the fancy French name, laissez-faire parenting basically refers to those of us who sit around worrying about our kids while drinking beer.

Here’s how it’s different from those other kinds of parenting.

Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, explains how Eastern parenting promotes performance, perfectionism and respect for authority. Laissez-faire mms don’t have the energy for the Eastern model (or the borderline personalities), but we do have some envy when we see all those super successful Asian kids running the world. As a Southerner who grew up in a household where rules weren’t supposed to be questioned, I wonder if I was raised, in part, with more of a Tiger model. Though for some reason, I don’t seem to be running the world. What’s up with that?

Eastern parents are the extreme opposites of our adorable, if sometimes smelly, free-range parents, who put their kids on subways by themselves when they’re 3 and send them off to sail around the world at 8. Laissez-faire parents, on the other hand, teach their kids how to open beer bottles as soon as they can understand the beauty of the fulcrum (usually by 5). 

Helicopter parents, who have proliferated in recent years, are those who hover protectively, flapping their wings manically, over their kids. Ultimately, helicopters tend to crash and burn from sheer exhaustion. Laissez-faire parents may spend their extra energy worrying about their kids, but that’s not enough to get them off the couch.

The attachment parents are those of us who were told to nurse and sleep with their kids until it became kind of obscene. (No wonder I often refer to my son as Oedipus Jr.) While Eastern parents minimize individuality, Western parents often prize individuality to an extent that our kids turn out to be self-aggrandizing brats. Laissez-faire parents like to snuggle, but we’re not above kicking the kids to the floor when it’s time to stretch out for a nap.

Despite the debates, I think most parents run the gamut of styles. I’ve had one or two Tiger moments where I’ve yelled at my kids to pull themselves together, though, unlike Chua, I’ve never thrown handmade cards back in their faces and told them they could do better (I’ve saved boxes of those handmade cards). I’ve also had helicopter moments, where I’ve been overprotective when I probably should have let the kid learn from the experience of getting hurt. But mostly I’m just plain inconsistent, which seems to be the most consistent trait of parenting. I might rush to grab a toddler walking on a high wall one day, and the next day decide to wait and see what happens if she falls.

Laissez-faire parents, just like those crazy French Revolutionaries, do want change. We certainly don’t want to become our parents. Chua wanted to emulate her parents by making her girls practice the piano for eight hours a day instead of playing with other kids, but us laissez-faire types? No way.

“I don’t want to become my mom” is an exclamation I hear again and again. Not that our moms were bad parents. They weren’t. But who wants to wear polyester pants, head kerchiefs and chase kids around with a wooden spoon in one hand and a smoke in the other yelling “Wait until your father gets home”?

Here’s the truth of the matter. No matter what style of parenting you choose, at some point, your kids are going to accuse you of screwing it up. Parenting isn’t a game you play to win. There’s no winning, really, though there are a lot of ways to lose. Even Chua’s younger daughter rebelled, throwing a plate in a restaurant and yelling, “I hate you!” at her mom. Ask anyone, regardless of who they are and where they grew up: “How did your parents screw up?” If they don’t have an answer, it’s only because they’re too embarrassed to say.

So just give it up, accept your destiny, pop open a beer and let’s laissez-faire together. First one to get stomach ulcers loses.


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10 thoughts on “Edgy Mama: Eastern versus Western parenting — just laissez-faire it

  1. I do, indeed, spellchecker. Thank you.

    Editors, can you fix this, please?

    Also, remove the “to” from this sentence in fourth to last graf: “…making her girls to practice the piano for eight hours a day…”


  2. brebro

    Also, in this sentence:

    “Despite the debates, I think most parents run the gamut of styles”

    …you spelled “diabetes” wrong.

  3. Jackie Rio

    Regarding parenting skills, I always think if your kids get grown having felt loved with a minimum of hang-ups, you did a good job. Both my kids feel loved. At least one has a minimum of hang-ups. Ask yourself, “what is my goal?”. Sometimes that goal is to simply stay sane.

  4. Tracey

    Jackie, one out of two aint bad. Hang ups like Colin Firth and Diet Coke are terrible. Praying for Rio.

  5. betterworld

    I loved your article………. until the “I don’t want to be like my mother” thing

    As a mother I have bounced from “nursing and sleeping with them to absurdity”, like you mention, then I go back to the “let them learn for themselves” My home is “Bi-cultural” and it is more than a language issue.. also the issue of religions

    So I enjoyed it but YIKES!!! What is it with this culture and not praising moms?? I HOPE I can be half of the mother my mom is. My mom, at her 80 yrs old would starve before seeing me lack anything. Yes , she deprived me of many things or experiences I would give or are giving my children the liberty to explore…. but isn’t it kind of century past to blame our parents? To recent them? To look down on their actions?

    After all, aren’t they part of what we are right now, “wonderful edgy mamas, cool goddesses,artists and wild women? Even if the forbade us to believe in a Goddess, their action had a reaction on us, and made us what we are today.

    Now that I am a parent I see how much you have to put into it, not only waking up early, depravation of sleep, driving and running around like crazy, cooking and washing dishes non stop….but then come all the ethic and moral issues, the important stop.

    I think it is up to us to end this degradation. Do y’all really want your kids to say “I do not want to be like my mom?”

  6. BigAl

    Parenting has no manual and people are individuals, not cogs in a bigger machine, so I think the diversity/gamut of styles is appropriate. I would offer one guideline that I learned from my parents: parental unity and discretion.

    I once asked my parents why they never fought or argued. They replied, “We did, you just never saw it”. When disagreements arose, especially concerning how they raised me, they always took the discussions away and in private, only returning to give an answer that had been MUTUALLY agreed on.

    While such arguements are unavoidable in the most perfect family (as if…), consciously agreeing to discuss parenting decisions in private and presenting the results as a unified front denies children the opportunity to play one parent against the other to get what they want. In mental health settings, this is known as staff-splitting.

    So long as both parents agree to unity and discretion in the implementation, any “style” of parenting should work as well as another.

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