Last night I went to see Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother and Justine Roberts, Co-founder of Mumsnet, debate ‘Western parents don’t know how to bring up their children’. They were accompanied at the intelligence squared debate respectively by Theodore Dalrymple, the author of ‘Spoilt rotten: the Toxic Cult of Sentimentality’ and Frank Furedi, author of ‘Paranoid Parenting’. It was a fascinating insight into the world of two different parents doing their very best to bring up their children the best way they know how.
Both speakers were eloquent in their struggle to know what was best. They did not claim to have all the answers, and admitted that their parenting styles were based on trying to bring out the best in their children using very different methods. Both of them acknowledged that the other had important points in their parenting style. I admired this acceptance that theirs was not the only way of parenting.
Amy, who has attracted a great deal of negative press with her book, said she was surprised at the impact of the book. It was written purely as a memoir of her experience as a Chinese mother. She said that if she had to choose between her children being happy or being successful she said she would choose happiness…it was a no-brainer. That was a big shock for me. I have tried to imagine the early years of her children Sophia and Lulu. I still struggle with the accounts Amy has written of the battle of the wills, where Lulu especially was made to practice her violin for hours on end. Amy’s summed up her wish for Western parents to believe in their child more than anyone else and not letting them give up even when they want to. And helping them see that they are capable more than they think.
Justine on the other hand was advocating balance. She said a happy childhood is one of the best gifts we can bestow on our children. She quoted that of British teenagers 7/10 were very satisfied with their lives. She cited the mental and psychological harm parental stress caused in Korea –a tiger nation- Where the biggest killer of the 17-24 year olds is suicide. She argued about the importance of preparing our children for the future, and encouraging creativity, imagination, critical thinking and social skills. She strongly argued for authoritative parenting, encouraging our children to have manners, being diligent and help around the house, but accompanied by warmth and reasoning. Her biggest wish was for children to have a strong sense of themselves with confidence in their own worth. It struck me that both of them wanted a way to motivate their children to want success. Amy would do this through pressure and persuasion, Justine through building up their self confidence and esteem. Equally both wanted the children to be happy. Amy felt they would be happy when they mastered skills and Justine when they were confident in themselves. I have to say, at the end of the debate I was left feeling that Westerners and Asians have a great deal to learn from each other. I also wanted Amy and Justine to adopt the practices of ‘Descriptive Praise’ and ‘Reflective Listening’ as tools to motivate their children and encourage cooperation willingly. Both of these skills are foundations of the parenting courses run by The Parent Practice and The New Learning Centre in London. Parenting is challenging, but the more we have our children on board with our values and expectations, the happier everyone will be in the family –which has got to be good news!