Mary Claire Wearing a Flowered Bucket on Her Head While Reading

The frighteningly over-educated and brilliant members of my book club just read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, and we had some titillating banter and conversation last night. (Oh, and five bottles of red wine, too. And cherry chocolate cake. I love these women.)

I had delved into all the “controversy” surrounding the book, and I was fairly convinced I didn’t want to read it. But Cara picked it, I knew the debate would be lively, and I promptly downloaded it on my Nook.

And you know what? I kind of liked Amy.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t want to BE her. I don’t want to parent like her. But I’ll be damned if she doesn’t have some tenacity and dedication and drive. Whatever her motives might be, she’s committed to molding her kids into what she believes is The Best They Can Be.

Sure, you might question her methods. Some even say her tactics border on abuse.

But here’s what I say…

She parents with conviction.

She knows what she believes in, and she doesn’t back down.

Her style is one I would never in a million years adopt. In fact, I’m kind of the antithesis of the Tiger Mother. I’m just the Wine-Swilling-Kumbaya-Singing Mother. (Sometimes, I’m the Losing-My-Shit-Wild-Monkey-Mother, too, but the wine swilling helps tame that beast.) I want my kids to be happy. I want them to be fulfilled. I want them to be lovers and givers. The rest, I think, will come in due time.

And if my daughter wants to wear a flowered bucket on her head while she’s reading? So be it. At least she’ll have a little protection if she happens to fall off the couch. And those who know Mary Claire will understand that falling or injuring herself in any situation is highly likely. She’s my little train wreck, that one.

Many will disagree with my parenting approach. Some will think I don’t hover enough, that I’m too open and honest with my kids, that I shouldn’t raise my voice or lose my cool. Sam will argue that the little ones get away with EVERYTHING. And you know what? That’s okay. Because what a boring world it would be if we all operated the same way.

The Tiger Mother’s parenting style wore the shit out of me. It really did. By the time I read about her drives to New York City, her daily battles with her strong-willed Lulu, and her meticulous note-taking during piano instruction, I just wanted to curl up on the couch in my red housecoat and take a nap with the dogs.

When my kids take piano lessons and play sports? That’s when I sit in my chair and read. I would never even consider taking notes. Most of the time, I’m the “drop and run” mother. With four kids, sitting on the sidelines for every practice is not an option. Don’t get me wrong… I participate. Sometimes. I’ve coached basketball. I’ve coached softball. I’ve directed plays. I’m the almost-world-famous 3rd grade Mystery Reader. But I want my kids’ successes to be their own. I want them to own their work, to own their grades, to own their athletic endeavors. If I’m busy hovering over them, their successes (in my humble opinion) are tied too closely to me and my own need for approval and for The Win.

And really? Haven’t we had enough of Winning? I think Charlie Sheen has proven that even Winning can go too far.

But other mothers? They do things differently. And I think that’s fabulous. As most of you know, I’m all about The Article Conversation. There’s “A” way. I don’t believe in “The” way.

Reading this book made me think about my cousin who is one of Indy’s great entrepreneurial stories. Had he been measured by our classic definition of “high-achieving academia,” he would have been pumping gas at the nearest Shell station. In fact, his high school advisor told him to “take more shop.” Today, he’s one of the most prominent and successful business men in this city. Why? Because he thought differently. Because he refused to be placed inside a box. Because he didn’t listen to his high school advisor.

To each his own.

I’m certainly not opposed to academic success. My husband is, in fact, my favorite academia story. A “forever student,” he continues to grow and expand his knowledge base through research, through higher ed, through never-ending student loans. His journey is vastly different from my cousin’s, but each will make his own lasting impact.

There are numerous paths to navigate throughout this big, wide world. I can’t wait to see how many of them my own kids discover.

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  1. I really liked this book. What upset me most was that I was sort of a Tiger Mom. My boys were never allowed to watch television or play video games, no sleepovers, reading every night and they still became slackers! So what I know for sure is that every pot sits on its own bottom and as long as you are not abusing your children in some profound way, you are winning…duh.

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