Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Surrender Hymn of the Sloth Mother

The latest debate in the parenting world surrounds Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I haven't read it because I just had a baby and won't be reading books for at least one year. But I do watch TV. Lots and lots of TV. Which Amy Chua would frown upon. Based on interviews I have seen, her parenting strategy is to put her kids through boot camp, minimizing leisure and socializing and stressing performance and perfection. Chua, a Chinese-American, says this is how Chinese parents raise kids, as opposed to the American way of spoiling and coddling kids and telling them they are awesome all the time, and that is why China is now kicking our economic butts.

I think she has a real point. Having taught and worked with some classic products of American parenting, I do think we are a nation of spoiled brats, people who need hand-holding and affirmation for simply breathing, people who can't learn unless the teacher is also tap dancing, people who feel entitled to all the material goods their 20 credit cards will allow. I include myself in that to a degree, but mainly this is a result of living in America as an adult. America rubs off on everyone. If Gandhi lived here, he would also conclude that an iPad is essential to human existence like the rest of us. Maybe not. But America has spoiled me, despite the fact that I was raised in Africa by pretty strict parents who sent me to boarding school, where I had to--gasp!--do my own homework, BY MYSELF no less. I also had to survive a Jr. High girls dorm, where a sense of entitlement and diva behavior will get you stoned to death, socially speaking.

Given how often I have lambasted and rolled my eyes at American kids and felt superior in my upbringing, you would think I am well-positioned to be a strict Tiger Mom who excels at discipline. But just as I once voluntarily ended up in a Hooters restaurant exactly 53 minutes after unleashing a brutal anti-Hooters tirade, hypocrisy in the face of harsh reality--in that case the harsh reality of not being able to find another sports bar showing the OU-TX game--inevitably sets in. To quote George W. Bush discussing rebuilding Iraq, parenting is "hard work! It's hard work!" And the stricter you are, the more control you want to have, the harder it is. It turns out it is easier to just buy a new couch when your kids are grown than to war with them about putting their shoes and crayons and bodily fluids on it and it is easier to just let their brains whither into nothingness than to impose limits on TV watching and it is easier to just let them eat hot dogs and raisins for every meal than to cajole them to eat vegetables. It is easier to have no rules than to enforce the rules. It is the same reason prohibition didn't work out.

I wish I could say my lax parenting style is the result of some well-thought-out theory that letting children run wild builds their self esteem and teaches them to make their own decisions. But it is not. No, my parenting style is the result of pure sloth. I am a Sloth Mother. A Sloth Mother only bathes her kids when they start to stink or there is visible goop in their hair. She waits for her child to potty train herself. She stuffs her newborn to the gills at bedtime to get a better night's sleep. She does not put her baby in tummy time. Her kid thinks church is Disneyland because that is the only place she takes her. I'm sure my kids are smart enough to read by age 4 but I'm not going to be teaching them. That is why I pay taxes. I don't think Sloth parenting is the same as just plain American parenting because that includes a lot of ego stroking activities that take too much energy.

I am Sloth Mother, hear me snore. That's the goal anyway.

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