Recently, a debate has been raging in the pages of my former employer, the Wall Street Journal, about mothering. The debate started with a Chinese-American mother writing about the supposed superiority of the Chinese “Tiger Mother” who screams at her children if they do not get all A’s, makes them learn musical instruments even if they have no interest or talent, will not let them go on playdates or sleepovers, and makes them do immense amounts of housework.
This was answered with many letters to the editor pro and con. Then it was answered by an essay from a Jewish mother with the interesting name of Ayelet Waldman. She alleged herself to be indulgent and accommodating, but she also admitted belittling and needling her daughter to tears because the daughter did not get all A’s.
Possibly, Ms. Waldman thought she was being cute and funny in saying that she only restrained herself from screaming at the daughter because of her husband’s admonitions.
Frankly, I don’t think any of this is funny. Screaming at children over their grades, especially to the point of the child’s tears, is child abuse, pure and simple. It’s not funny and it’s not good parenting. It is a crushing, scarring, disastrous experience for the child. It isn’t the least bit funny. People who do it belong in prison, not lauded as supermoms.
Nor does it work. I never saw a child who could be tortured into doing better work in school. If such children exist, and maybe they do, they are far more to be pitied for the lifelong scars their confused mothers have inflicted than envied.
Interestingly enough, I will add another caveat: I have never seen a wildly successful adult who got there because his mother made him cry over his grades. Men and women succeed because they find a field of endeavor that matches their interests and abilities. It’s that simple. They then motivate themselves and achieve.
I’ll go even further. I don’t believe the most successful people are the ones who got the best grades, got into the best schools, or made the most money. The most successful ones are those who find peace of mind. If they can do it with mothers who manufacture self-loathing the way Ms. Chua or Ms. Waldman do, it’s despite those Moms and not because of them. This whole idea that there is something noble about browbeating your own children is just plain sick.
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