Friday, February 10, 2012

Oh, Baby, Baby, Baby

Credit: Deb Murphy
Child-rearing terrifies me as well as inspires awe for the parents I've met who have done it well.  My parents, specifically my mother since my father wasn't that active in my upbringing, followed Dr. Benjamin Spock's advice on child-rearing.  They also firmly believed in the rule that children were to be seen, not heard, especially female children. They also drew a thick, solid line between adults and children.  You would not catch either of my parents playing with us, being silly, or in any other way stepping into our world.  We were expected to stay out of theirs, too.

Credit: Wikipedia
I noticed the hoopla over Amy Chua's child-rearing memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother last year.  I have not read her book, but from all the interviews or reviews I heard or read, I understood Chua's methods to echo Dr. Spock's with a cultural twist courtesy of Chinese custom.  If my parents were alive, I believe they'd look upon Ms. Chua's methods as quite appropriate.  But what a hue and cry in the American media over that book!  Weren't there any sections of her book that described her love and compassion for her children?  Her dedicated support for their well-being and success?  Her own fallibility?

Credit: Alessandra Montalto/NYTimes
This year, the new parenting book comes with a French twist.  Earlier this week, I happened to catch an interview with Pamela Druckerman, wearing an unusual beret-style hat, on The Today Show, talking about her new book, Bringing up Bebe. As I listened to the things Ms. Druckerman had observed the French do, I was again reminded of my parents teaching us manners, good eating habits, and how to behave in public, as well as how to treat each other with respect.  The French seem to be doing a lot of the same things my mother did.

As anyone else noticed the increase of children misbehaving in public spaces?  I must admit, from what I've seen in the last ten years, young parents now seem to believe it's OK for their kids to misbehave in public as long as their kids don't interrupt what they're doing.  That's a broad generalization -- I have seen parents on city buses who handle a tired child, a squirming child, or a loud child with impressive expertise and consideration for the other passengers.  I've seen also other parents behaving just as badly as their kids when the kids misbehave -- yelling at the kids, grabbing them, belittling them, calling them names, sometimes even slapping them.  It's painful to witness it.  I'm surprised when someone younger than 30 gives up her bus seat for me, holds open a door for me, or does some other respectful courtesy because it is so very rare nowadays.  I miss courteous people and children who behave well (quiet, polite, obedient) in public spaces.

I don't think Americans, as a group, like for people who are not Americans to tell them what to do.  Have you noticed this too?  We don't take criticism well from other countries.  So it's interesting that both Chua and Druckerman are Americans drawing on the child-rearing customs of other cultures.  Child-rearing is the hardest, most challenging job a human being does in life and we probably need to welcome all the help we can get, no matter from where.  The American way is not the only way. 

So while book reviewers may savage (or not) these two parenting books, I support them and will suggest them to my friends.  If I had kids, I'd be reading them.  What about you? 


1 comment:

Daughter Number Three said...

I've got mixed feelings about what I know of Chua's book, having not read it (here's what I had to say), but my favorite parenting advisor during Daughter Number Three-Point-One's younger years was John Rosemond.

If you look him up, you'll find he's not the type usually associated with lefties like myself. But I always found him a good source of tips on authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) parenting. He also emphasizes that the parent couple's relationship is primary and the children are secondary.

My reading of Judith Rich Harris lately has reinforced that approach. Given the evidence, it's hard not to think that as long as children are fed, sheltered and not abused, their experiences outside the family will have more effect on them than the ones inside the family.