Americans may have expressed their disdain last year for “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua’s child-rearing methods, but they didn’t have much to say about her child-rearing philosophy. That’s because the Tiger Mom’s message about perseverance, high expectations, and hard work struck a nerve. It wasn’t long ago that Americans taught their children these same values. “It’s funny we’re calling [my parenting values] Chinese values,” she said. “I always thought of them as American values. My book is about reclaiming some aspects of the more traditional Western parenting that maybe we’ve lost.”
This truth hit home with author and mom Pamela Druckerman, who lived in Paris and observed that French parents also put American parents to shame. In a huge spread in the Wall Street Journal about her new book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, Druckerman writes that what struck her the most was the fact that French moms know how to say no to their kids. Consequently, their kids are better behaved and more in command of themselves than American kids. “Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren’t constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations.”
But they are over here. Indeed, American children run the roost — watching the dynamic between parent and child can be downright painful. Even more painful is listening to parents tell other parents that the reason Johnny is so poorly behaved — why he can’t sit still without a handheld device for more than two minutes, let’s say, or why he doesn’t look an adult in the eye when he speaks — is because he’s shy or has ADHD. (And before I get walloped here, I am aware that ADHD is real. But it’s also ridiculously over-diagnosed, which I can vouch for as a former teacher and SAHM who has spent the better part of 20 years in the trenches of children’s lives.) “In our view,” writes Druckerman, “parents either luck out and get a child who waits well, or they don’t.”
So rather than discipline or “educate” their children (as the French say), Americans coddle their kids. That our grade schools now offer parenting classes to teach parents how to say no to their children speaks volumes.
Where did this coddling come from? It was the inevitable result of a decades-long self-esteem movement that implies children are so fragile we should treat them with kid gloves. (No pun intended.) It has been a massive social experiment with severe consequences. Today’s parents are literally frozen in their attempt to discipline their children. They’re not the least bit commanding when giving instruction — on the contrary, they practically beg their kids to do what they say.
Sadly, it has taken the Chinese and the French to set us straight. When Druckerman and her son Leo were at a park in Paris with another mother and her child, Druckerman couldn’t get her son Leo to listen to her — whereupon the other mother (who’s French) suggested Druckerman be “sterner” with Leo — make her “no” stronger and really mean it. Ms. Druckerman forced herself to do this — she admits it didn’t come naturally — and voila: after four tries, it worked.
It’s time for a wake-up call to America’s moms and dads. We need to go back to the days when parents were parents and children were children. Our children are not our friends; and they will not go into a shell and never come out if they’re told they’re not good at something, or if they’re told they have to wait, or if — God forbid — they’re told “no.”
I’m just sorry it took outlanders to point this out.
— Suzanne Venker is co-author of the book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.