Know Thyself, Hamster Mom

Several weeks ago, I made a solemn vow not to tread anywhere near the swirl of controversy surrounding Amy Chua and her latest contribution to the literary world, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Given the satirical flavor of my headline, however, it should be apparent to all that I fell short on that particular endeavor. Color me weak, yet again; having failed to resist said mother-of-all temptations (hangs head in shame).

For those unfamiliar with the highly publicized title and the wave of discontent it spawned among parents, journalists and bloggers virtually everywhere, Tiger Mom is a so-called memoir penned by a woman eager to share the secrets of raising hyper-successful children, warts and all. Children who weren’t allowed to attend sleepovers, to watch TV, to be in a school play, to get any grade less than an A, or to play any instrument other than the piano or violin. Children upon whom unreasonable—and some would argue, cruel—demands were placed relative to their studies and music lessons. Children reduced to nothingness during their formative years with hurtful words like “garbage,” “lazy” and “pathetic.” Children who have excelled beyond all imagining in the realm of academia and music because of, or perhaps, in spite of their harsh upbringing (i.e. At 11, Chua’s youngest daughter auditioned for the pre-college program at Juilliard School while at 14, her eldest daughter performed at Carnegie Hall).

Impressive, no?

Having read a fair number of slightly appalling excerpts from the book, various editorials and reviews (as well as Chua’s Wall Street Journal piece itself, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior), I’m not at all surprised by the uproar created in its wake. Who wouldn’t generate a frenzy of buzz with statements like “…Westerners seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly,” and “…the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.”

That said, Chua, a Yale law professor and mother of two, does not disappoint in the name of fueling the fires of dissent—nor does she fail to recognize that in the almighty book industry there is no such thing as “bad” buzz. No one said the woman was stupid—she just has a “different” parenting style, although I use the term “different” loosely here.

Given that I typify a “Western” parent, a term she claims to have used loosely to describe the lax methods that many Americans utilize in child rearing, I can’t help but dwell on how completely divergent our views are. It’s likely that my laissez-faire approach to raising a family would make her cringe—followed shortly thereafter by an overwhelming compulsion to light me on fire. Hypothetically speaking, if Tiger Mom herself were to step into my pathetic little corner of the world (which would never ever happen in reality because my ineptitude and proclivity toward namby-pamby-ism might then seep into her pores, rendering her tyrannical nature grossly and hopelessly impaired). But if she were to darken my door, I suppose I’d have to own up to who I am. To “KNOW THYSELF,” as the adage so boldly states.

Indeed, I’m no Tiger Mom. In actuality, I’m more of a Hamster Mom—fond of delicious wedges of sleep and given to cuddling (and likely coddling) my brood in lieu of demanding perfection from them 24/7. What’s more, I spend a large portion of my waking hours spinning my wheels and bouncing from task to task at a frenetic pace—never mind the often directionless and unproductive nature of such activities. Further, I’ve been known to shower my progenies with “feel-good” blurbages regarding both their extraordinary accomplishments and mediocre attempts to produce. And unlike Chua, I do concern myself with the nurturance of their psyches—when a certain someone’s clarinet squeaks and while another wrestles with long division. Perhaps, especially then.

Likewise, I let my children do a fair amount of that-which-is-deemed-enjoyable, to include climbing trees and whatnot (BEFORE) they complete their dreaded schoolwork. On occasion, I have even allowed them to skip (gasp!) portions of their homework because a) it was obscenely time-consuming b) my children were scheduled to participate in eleventy-seven other things that evening to include sporting events and play practices or c) the academic endeavor itself qualified as a bona fide project-from-hell and necessitated the summoning of a small team of marriage counselors in order to manage our collective frustration. What’s more, I permit my charges to attend sleepovers (with the very real possibility of encountering unmannerly children), to wile away the hours on Photo Booth (performing perfectly ridiculous skits), to become engrossed in the idiocy that is iCarly and Pokémon (even though I loathe both more than words can adequately express) and to play (oh, the horror!) kazoos.

It’s rumored I let them giggle, too.

No doubt, Tiger Lady would feel a niggling desire to rid me from the earth, likely branding me as a reprehensible creature that doesn’t deserve the opportunity to raise a child, let alone three.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (embracing my inner Hamster Mom).

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Know Thyself, Hamster Mom

  1. Although I agree with encouraging and helping a child to become competent, I cannot imagine a life worth living that entailed fascist-like parenting dictation for both my kid’s and my sanity.

    There is nothing wrong with being nice. The lack of it spawns bullies.

    You have claimed the throne of “Hamster Mom.” – Nice title for a feel-good book.

  2. Oh boy – I have four young adult children – by Amy Chua’s standards ours would have been a den of ‘kids gone wild’. My eldest – an artist now – took part in (heaven forbid – musical theater) , the next is now trying his hand at film making (he played baseball and snowboarded – tsk tsk), the third played on the school football team and went on to study philosophy, and our youngest, who we allowed to take singing lessons and had far too many sleep-overs, was in the fact the queen of sleepovers – is now studying the fine arts in university.

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