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Monday, February 7, 2011

Amy Chua - Blame the Husband Too

I promise that this will be the second to last post about Amy Chua and Tiger Parenting. I'm done with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and before summing up my thoughts about the book in its entirety I'd like to explore a section that struck a personal chord with me.

In chapter 31, Red Square, Amy, her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu (thirteen and sixteen at the time), and Jed, her husband; were seated at a cafe in Red Square, Moscow. Then it happened... the Caviar Incident. Lulu decided not to try the caviar. Here is what happened next.
... Lulu said, "Eww, gross," and wouldn't try it.
... "Lulu, you sound like an uncultured savage. You can put a lot of sour cream on it."
"That's even worse," Lulu said, and she made a shuddering gesture. "And don't call me a savage."
This isn't the end of the story, or even the nub of what I want to say about it. However, that exchange between daughter and mom deserves a quick aside. If you read this blog regularly you know that I work with men who are disabled. They all have a history of violence. Not of the playground variety, either. As part of my job I occasionally run a training for other staff about nonviolent behavioral interventions. In straight talk - getting the job done without anyone getting hurt. The training runs the gamut from verbally calming someone down to getting away from a physically violent person (escaping chokes, getting out of the way of a charge, etc). One of the basic, really basic principles is - Do not personalize the conflict. In practice one focuses on the behavior that needs to be changed such as, "Billy, you need to lower your voice." What one does not do is say, "Billy, you idiot, why are you raising your voice? Only idiots raise their voice." Seems simple, eh? My point is that focusing on the behavior (any behavior, for that matter) that needs to be changed is a better way of getting what you want than verbally assaulting someone.  The second point (and the obvious one) is picking your battles. Why fight over caviar? Absurd.

So let's go back to the happy Chua family.
"Don't wreck the vacation for everyone, Lulu."
"You're the one wrecking it."
I pushed the caviar toward Lulu. I ordered her to try one egg - one simple egg.
"Why?" Lulu asked defiantly. "Why do you care so much? You can't force me to eat anything."
I felt my temper rising. Could I not get Lulu to do even one tiny thing? "You're behaving like a juvenile delinquent. Try one egg now. [her emphasis, not mine]"
After a quick back and forth...
"Amy," Jed began diplomatically, "everyone is tired. Why don't we just-"
I broke in [I'm guessing that happens a lot in their house], Do you know how sad and ashamed my parents would be if they saw this, Lulu...
To no surprise the conflict escalated with more yelling, name calling, and Lulu smashing a glass on the floor. Amy fled the cafe to the other end of Red Square.

Amy Chua has gotten a lot of grief (and deservedly so) for her parenting style. Who I have the biggest problem with in this case is the passive husband/father. Dysfunctional couples take two to tango. The person who is aggressively problematical (Amy) requires their partner to enable that insanity to continue. Jed may be the less wacky one in that twosome, but he is just as bad - he allows it happen. Sure, he makes the half hearted attempt to stop the situation from escalating. But that's not good enough. Period.

Parenting is like being on a nuclear submarine. If you want to launch those nuclear missiles you need two people to turn their keys.  Major decisions about raising your kids (like parenting philosophy and tactics) are "two key procedures".  Should your child practice violin for six hours a day? Well, that requires both parents to sign off on that. Should mom be allowed to call her kids garbage when they don't perform well? That is a two key-er, also.

It goes without saying, I wouldn't agree to that. 

And it wouldn't happen.

Simple. As. That.

Know why?

When I was growing up...

Purgatory looked pretty good.

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