One day, while driving through the suburbs of Los Angeles, my French husband noticed a bumper sticker on a car that read: “My child is a superstar at Kester Elementary School.” He turned to me and asked: “What’s the point of that bumper sticker?”
We’d just returned to Los Angeles after living in France for over ten years, where I’d had two children and become a French citizen. Somehow in that span of time, America had gone from being a culture of trophy wives to a culture of trophy kids. An unsettling but unspoken emotion seemed to float among parents. That emotion could be summed up in one four letter word: Fear.
Volumes have been written about that fear – fear, among other things, that in the global education race American kids will be left to bite the dust of Asians. No wonder Amy Chua, author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” is every American parent’s worse nightmare: a Chinese icon of steely perfection and punishing taskmaster whose obedient, high-performing uber-academic offspring seem poised to take on the New World Order. Chances are that New World Order speaks Mandarin. And chances are, your kids do not.
Chua’s celebration of Chinese parenting and her bizarre assertions fly in the face of everything beholden to Western parents. Take the notion that for kids “nothing is fun unless you’re good at it.” You can basically kiss childhood away with that statement. Ditto for the conviction that “the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.” And yet in being so ridiculously extreme Chua is, in fact, perfectly American, because in our culture of extremes — Extreme Politics, Extreme Home Makeovers, Extreme Sports, Extreme Cooking, Extreme Dating, Extreme Adventures (the list goes on) — we can thank Chua for ushering in a perfectly American new idiom: Extreme Parenting.
When Chua’s pre-book launch Wall Street Journal article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” went viral, countless parents the world over had something to say. One of them was French mother Elisabeth Guedel Treussard, whose piece “Why French Mothers are Superior” (in French) included a list of things her children, à la française, are never allowed to do:
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