I Learned Dog

Clearly one of the hottest topics out there among parents priming their tots for Harvard is Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, currently #10 on the Amazon sales lists.

I heard Chua interviewed on the radio a few weeks ago and she sounded kind and charming, but I’m not going to read her book. I already have enough reasons to feel guilty about my parenting disabilities. I don’t need to add another. There have been some interesting responses to Chua’s hard nosed style, so I’ll lean on those .(And await another here.)

David Brooks takes on Chua as being insufficiently challenging as a parent. She would make her daughters practice music for two hours a day and would threaten severe discipline if they came in second to anyone in anything. And, she banished sleepovers. No time for that. Curiously, Brooks does not criticize her for being too severe, but for coddling them:

I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Lane Wallace, while not addressing Chua directly, or consciously for that matter, in a post on entrepreneurial and life passion, reflects on the kinds of things in childhood which fuel the ability to imagine and create. She lists as the second factor, this:

Support and enthusiasm for trying new things. To imagine something that doesn’t yet exist and have the confidence to pursue or invest resources in that vision, a person has to believe a) that exploration and experimentation are good things and b) that [there] isn’t just one right answer. (So kids raised in regimented households tend to have a harder time coming up with highly creative visions that challenge accepted ways of doing things.)

I can’t help but wonder if the parenthesis had a target.

But the best response I’ve seen sidles up next to those of us who stumble through parenting and graciously assures us that if we are bad at this child-rearing thing, we are probably worse at dog-rearing. She notes that Amy Chua’s dog is no match for some top flight canine scholars. This author’s own dog is an accomplished teacher.

The dog who now sleeps in front of our fire is Sophie, a cross between a Labrador and a setter, who, like most of our dogs before her, has shown little interest in the niceties of human language. In fact, my ability to communicate my needs and wishes to her is quite limited.

She has, however, managed to teach me to carefully — and, I might say, correctly — interpret every bark, whine, ear twitch, needy moan and shift in posture, and to respond accordingly. She didn’t learn English. I learned Dog.

This, I encourage you to read from beginning to end.

4 thoughts on “I Learned Dog

  1. I’ll take parents with your “disabilities” any day, Randy: thoughtful, loving, encouraging of individuality.

    I work in residence life on a college campus, so I see first-hand the results of different parenting styles. Our halls are full of students whose parents were loving but misguided. Who allowed the sleepovers, but did not allow the children the opportunity to develop the skills mentioned by Brooks (above) because the parents stepped in to resolve every problem, to smooth every bump their children encountered. Some try to do it even after their child leaves home – honestly, colleges may end up developing disciplinary codes which address inappropriate behavior of parents who insert themselves into roommate problems, who harass their children’s “enemies” on Facebook, and whose idea of “problem solving” is to threaten and harangue until their child gets his/her way.

    So I find myself of two minds about Chua. If I were a parent (which I am not) I am fairly certain I wouldn’t adopt her style. However, there is something to be said for parenting which establishes, and holds to, expectations. Even difficult to meet expectations. And which clearly establishes an adult role for the parent which can be clearly delineated from the role of the child.

    1. Wow, Jenny, that is so thought provoking. Your perspective is one that uniquely has a view of the ‘product’ at the far end of parenting. You should write a book! My observation is that children are, uh, organic. They are not mechanistic. Raising them is more art than science. A mistaken brushstroke here or there cannot easily be painted over, and so dictates the placement of subsequent brushstrokes. Thanks for helping me reflect on this.

  2. Jenny

    I had been so guilt-ridden and overwhelmed by Chua’s interviews and articles. THEN, my kids come home from school and by the end of the evening (and a glass of red wine) I fall quite happily into my G.A.D. parenting method. Give A Damn. In the end (product) they will be the man/woman God is calling them to be (and this WILL include suffering and trails) whether I remember to make Darby practice piano or have James do his 100 math facts in 5 min AGAIN.

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