Us or Them: Qui Est Meilleur?

Monday, February 6, 2012

I’m beginning to think that the Wall Street Journal‘s “Saturday Essay” has a pattern going here. One that seeks to pit parents against each other. A Parent Bowl, of sorts. Follow me down link-memory lane to understand …


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In November of 2010, author Erica Jong kicked the ball into play with this essay in the WSJ about attachment parenting and American parents’ crazy push to mold exceptional children. It went in hard on helicopter-style parenting, saying that when “combined with environmental correctness” it’s basically a prison for mothers.  The backlash was fast and furious. We linked to some of the reaction posts in our then weekly bloggy wrap-up.

Two months later, the Parent Bowl game was back on. This time the op-ed piece was by Amy Chua, talking about how the “Chinese mother”-style of parenting is superior. The essay was, of course, linked to Chua’s memoir called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which shot to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers in mere days. It should be said, too, that WSJ was stirring the boiling pot with link-bait headlines and excerpting the most “inflammatory” pages from Chua’s book.

There were many — I said, MANY — reaction pieces and posts to Tiger Mom. One of favorite wise women, Lisa Belkin (then at NYT‘s Motherlode), weighed in on Chua’s mean mommy tactics and shared links to other essays that stood up to Tiger Mom, pointing out the dangers in making wild and wide generalization about Asian mothers. Then children of Asian/Chinese moms spoke up, too, including Christine Lu, who had this heartbreaking story about “Chinese mom”-style parenting.

You can still hear rumbles about Tiger Moms a full year later. The term is firmly nestled into parenting orthodoxy. It’s here to stay, y’all.

OK, still with me? I know, lots of links. But we’re rounding the corner now …

Almost a year later comes this Saturday Essay: Why French Parents Are Superior. (Down, Tiger! You’ve been usurped!) I’m guessing the reaction posts are not far now. Or maybe not, because this time instead it being a case of Us vs. Them: Who’s Better?, we could allow for a valuable lesson here.

The French “way” of parenting, as described in journalist and writer Pamela Druckerman’s new book — out tomorrow — Bringing Up Bébé, is a calm, rational and, frankly, less neurotic approach to raising children. One magazine even dubbed it the “antidote” to the Tiger Mom. But, come on, if taking the French route to this thing means having well-behaved, respectful children who understand vital concepts like patience and grace, and who “sleep through the night at two or three months old and eat well-rounded meals” — no chicken nuggets, food-throwing or dinner table battles? Then, I say, oui, oui!

I will definitely be reading this book with my mind open and ready to glean. We’ve got ourselves a pretty good kid, but after a recent (and crazy random!) meltdown in the juice box aisle at the grocery store, I know there’s room for improvement, room for taking a different approach, room for learning along with him.

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