The XX Factor

Will the Real Amy Chua Please Sit Down?

Amy Chua was fun, entertaining and thought-provoking as the iron-fisted, uber-confident mother of the Wall Street Journal ‘s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior .” She’s equally a pleasure to read in her actual, still iron-fisted but somewhat less complacent memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother . She had something to say, and it was this: Thanks to my Chinese immigrant parents’ example, I was tougher on my kids than most of the parents around me. I demanded a lot from them. They lived up to it. And then I took it a little too far.

I imagine she thought parents could learn from both sides of that story: her victorious, vicarious triumphs when the Tiger Mother strategy worked, and her confusion, and even despair, when it faltered. The book has been called a lot of things, but one thing most commentators have missed is that it’s the rare memoir that covers the transition from parenting young kids to parenting young adults-a period that, so I hear, requires the balance and tact of a Middle East negotiator: one minute you’re the parent your child expects, the next minute the parent she wants, while always trying to be the parent she needs. Chua, by her own account, blew that one more than once. But she still thinks that overall, as a mother, she rocked.

That’s the Chua of the book. The live Chua (watch excerpts of Amy Chua’s appearance on The Colbert Report on Gawker TV) is having so much trouble owning the role she plays in her book that Colbert offered to bring out a bicycle so that she could backpedal faster. Instead of holding up a hand to enjoy the good things that have been said of both her writing and her approach to parenting, she’s focused on what’s inevitably a futile attempt to diffuse her detractors, and she’s missing the boat.

Chua started a conversation. She should seize it. Yes, she thinks other parents give their kids too many choices instead of demanding that they master one skill. Yes, she thinks sleepovers and school plays are a waste of time that could be spent on better things. Yes, she thinks kids are stronger and more capable than many parents give them credit for. The Chua in the book would stride onto the Colbert stage and take her challengers on. You disagree? When did your kid last play Carnegie Hall?

I’m not saying I agree with Chua. I’m saying that she’s made her points, and well. Now I’d like to hear her defend them, instead of defending herself.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.