I've heard stories of married couples getting into knock-down squabbles in public and -- when a bystander tries to break things up -- the spouses suddenly forming a tag team to beat up on the intruder.
That's similar to the situation we find ourselves in with the publication of Amy Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Countless older Americans have griped about kids today: how they're spoiled, unmannered, lack ambition, don't know the value of a dollar, never kick Hitler's heinie, etc. But when Chua sings the praises of the Chinese style of authoritarian parenting, everyone gets defensive about American families.
I find myself caught in the middle. I correct my six-year-old son's grammar, point out lapses into bad manners and revoke privileges for major infractions; but Chua's perfectionist demands seem extreme. This part got left out of the book, but I understand that she nearly disowned both her daughters after they emerged from the womb without having converted the umbilical cord into an ABACUS.
The obsession is a cradle-to-grave thing. My sources tell me that Chinese cemeteries are full of tombstone epitaphs that declare, "I wish I had spent more time at the office -- and I may do it YET, if I can just stay focused and resist the temptation to stop and eat brains."
The controlling "tiger mother" paradigm is really the exception in the American experience. We are more blessed with "rhinoceros mothers" ("Here, take the credit card. Chaaaarge!") and "opossum mothers" ("Sure, go play in the middle of the street while I wait for your next stepfather to come along.")
Yes, in our "Be your child's best buddy" society, we tend to set the bar pretty low. ("Quick! Get my Kodak! This must be the way Michelangelo's mother felt the first time HE ate his boogers unassisted!")
Americans pride themselves on stopping to smell the roses. Traditional Chinese have to remind themselves to stop and take out a bioengineering patent on the roses.
Chinese brought up under the traditional system learn respect for their parents, respect for their society, respect for themselves, respect for the miners who produce the lead and cadmium for putting into cheap exports...
"It's a tough world out there," is the explanation for the Chinese tough love. Children have to be ready for survival in the global economy. ("Go ahead and bankrupt my company with your currency fluctuations! I had to forego Stephanie's sleepover on Aug. 6, 1995. NOW who's laughing?")
Chua feels that the intense focus on achievement is simply "the vehicle" to help children find genuine fulfillment in a life's work. Or at least "the vehicle" to flip over, slam into a utility pole and burn because the kids are worn out from nonstop piano practice!!!
"You'll thank me for this someday," is the mantra of the Chinese method. Indeed, offspring are eventually overjoyed to announce, "Thank you for making it easier for me to do a thorough, exacting, painstaking search for the best hell-hole of a nursing home to put you in!"
Traditional Chinese feel confident that they are preparing their children for the future. But if they can't persuade other cultures to get with the program, there may not BE a future. ("One of the lazy, incompetent slacker Americans just accidentally launched a nuclear missile strike. On the bright side, we're first on the hit list. WE'RE NUMBER ONE!")
©2011 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org. Danny's weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate