The XX Factor

Amy Chua’s Husband Isn’t a Tiger Dad, He’s a Western Mom

In my family, whenever a stranger is spotted behaving badly, my mom shakes her head and mutters, “Where is his mother?” Reading about Amy Chua’s exceptionally well-behaved daughters, it’s hard not to think, “Where is their father?” Jed Rubenfeld is largely absent from the pages of his wife’s parenthood polemic, so the Daily Beast collected some friends and colleagues to speculate as to what sort of dad he is. It’s a fool’s game, but let’s play!

By all accounts (except Chua’s) Rubenfeld isn’t an absent father. He reads Tolkein out loud to his daughters, piles into bed with the girls and the dogs for family movie nights , and takes them to water parks (after piano practice, one assumes). So if Rubenfeld’s parenting style is so different from his wife’s, why didn’t he have a bigger influence on the way their daughters were raised? There were definitely conflicts: Chua told the New York Times the first draft of her book had page after page about fights they had over their girls. But, with the exception of the occasional pancake breakfast, he lost those fights. Why? At least in part because he has something in common with a lot of Western moms: ambivalence. “He had a lot of anxiety,” Chua said. “He didn’t think he knew all the right choices.”

Not so his wife; as Ann Hulbert pointed out , the most astonishing thing about Chua isn’t her philosophy so much as how strongly she believes it (or appeared to in the WSJ excerpt). There are a lot of western moms gaping at Chua who don’t have a piano in their home, let alone want their kids in Carnegie Hall. But they would very much like not to be wracked by guilt and indecision about every parenting choice they make. (On the Motherlode blog yesterday, Lisa Belkin said the vicious comment wars that erupt on mommy blogs are a measure of mommies’ insecurity ).

If outsiders are amazed at Chua’s attitude, imagine how her husband feels. Friends told the Daily Beast parenting isn’t the only area in which Rubenfeld seems uncertain of himself; one said his “bravura style comes also with a lot of self-doubt.” It’s completely unsurprising that a talented but insecure man with a strong-willed wife would cede parental decision-making to his spouse. As KJ points out , it’s women who shoulder the bulk of the parenting burden anyway (the New York Times ’ blog about “Adventures in Parenting” is named “Motherlode,” for crying out loud). And if a woman is intelligent, ambitious, and completely unafflicted by the ambivalence that’s so common among Western parents, her anxious husband doesn’t stand a chance.