This is an easy, quick read with a very pointed message. The author, a Yale law professor, believes that pushing kids to be their best, whatever the tactics, is a superior parenting practice. She calls this type of parenting “Chinese parenting” as opposed to “Western parenting”.
It is a lot of work to parent this way. She spends hours after school drilling the children or forcing them to practice their musical instruments. She picks them up at school during non-essential classes (in her opinion) like PE or music or art to do more practicing. She has two girls. The eldest, Sophia, adapts relatively well to this parenting strategy. At fourteen, Sophia plays the piano at Carnegie Hall.
“Once, Sophia came in second on a multiplication speed test, which her fifth-grade teacher administered every Friday…. Over the next week, I made Sophia do twenty practice tests (of 100 problems each) every night, with me clocking her with a stopwatch. After that, she came in first every time.”
I have to wonder if every child had a parent pushing them to succeed and was so utterly invested in their success what our nationwide test scores would look like. Sophia recently was admitted to both Harvard and Yale. Of course, she was never allowed to have a playdate, go to a sleepover, try out for a play, watch TV or get anything lower than an A.
There is another side. Lulu, the author’s other child, does not take so well to the threatening parenting style. Here’s one episode when she’s seven years old.
“Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed, and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have ‘The Little White Donkey’ perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, ‘I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?’ I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years….. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic."
Can you imagine? The child is seven. Lulu continues playing an instrument though she does switch to the violin and eventually quits at age 13. She takes up tennis. I wonder what she will do next. In the scheme of things her rebellion was small, as her grades at school were still excellent.
The author emphasizes that all her actions were done out of love and that her children knew that. She has come in for a lot of flack as to whether she was emotionally abusing them. I think she has a point about developing a work ethic in children, but her tactics seem pretty extreme. Plus, how does she have the time to do this?
You can hear an interview with the author on NPR here. Or listen to other moms discussing her parenting tactics, also on NPR.