Mama Grisly and the Composure Class

DONGGUAN, CHINA - OCTOBER 18:  A worker and he...
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A couple of weeks ago one of my closest friends expressed concern over the message in Amy Chua’s memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” My friend, who is really Chinese from Hong Kong and speaks Chinese and teaches her children Chinese –  as opposed to Chua who is of Chinese descent and grew up in the Midwest and hired a nanny to teach her children Chinese – was aghast that Chua was dictating how she should be raising her children as a “real” Chinese mother, or that anyone would think she is as self-absorbed as Chua. Then ofcourse we all found out the details – how Chua yelled and browbeat her children into being her image of perfection – and I told my friend not give Chua the satisfaction of buying her book. Chua is no more Chinese than I am. What she really is is a second-rate mother.

Look I am guilty of some obsessive helicopter parenting. It’s my generation – my three year old goes to preschool, ballet, gymnastics, music, yoga. I use the time out, I take the toy away (and sometimes threaten to throw it in the garbage when things get rough), and sometimes, yes, I raise my voice. Parenting = tough. But you have to want to be a parent to be a good one. Clearly Chua is missing that gene.

Then I read David Brooks’ brilliant essay in the New Yorker about his so-called, Composure Class. He writes, “They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to things that matter most. The young achievers are tutored in every soccer technique and calculus problem, but when it comes to their most important decisions-whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise-they are in their own. Nor for all their striving, do they understand the qualities that lead to the highest achievement. Intelligence, academic performance, [and playing instruments to perfection is something Ms. Chua would probably add if she were writing], and prestigious schools don’t correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. The traits that do make a difference are poorly understood [Ms. Chua pay attention I say!], and can’t be taught in a classroom, no matter what the tuition: the ability to understand and inspire people; to read situations and discern the underlying patterns; to build trusting relationships; to recognize and correct one’s shortcomings; to image alternative futures.

Mr. Brooks, forgive me for the long quote but in case there are those who don’t get the New Yorker, don’t read your column in the NYT or won’t buy your book, I really feel this should be read. People skills. That’s the ticket. Life is about people, about family and friends. It’s a wonder Chua has any left.

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