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.