Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On celebrity mothers and tiger moms

It has been quite the month for motherhood. First, we have yet another annoying missive from Chris Martin-shagging Oscar-winning Anglophile Gwyneth Paltrow on her website GOOP about how we busy mothers can find balance in our lives. (She claims -- or rather her interns writing the newsletter claim -- that this question came in from a GOOP "reader," but I suspect it was a joke question from Gawker and GOOPers played right into their hands.) Toni from Expat Mum wrote a very funny opinion piece on Powder Room Graffiti about Paltrow's advice and I do agree with her -- the GOOP post is patronizing to mothers who don't have the benefit of money, personal chefs, a phalanx of nannies, and personal assistants. Had Paltrow made mention of her privileged life -- that she realizes most busy moms don't have these luxuries -- she could have related more to the masses. (At least one mother she interviewed, Stella McCartney, admitted she has nannies, although I was puzzled when she said her nanny left at 6:30 p.m. yet McCartney went out with her friends after the kids went to bed. Does she have a night nanny? Was hubby Alastair watching the sleeping angels?)

Here's who I have more respect for as a busy, working mom. Amy Chua. OK, before you come at me with picks and axes, let me explain. Chua, the author of the hotly controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was released in the U.S. last week, is a Harvard-educated Chinese-American attorney who teaches at Yale Law School and is the mother of two teenage girls. Her memoir shares how she raised these daughters the "Chinese way," by pushing them relentlessly to succeed in nearly every aspect of their lives -- from school to (and especially) music. Her methods of getting her daughters to perform border on cruel and excessive: she would make them practice music for hours and not let them get up to eat or use the bathroom and she threatened to throw out toys. Ooof. Chua is getting bags of hate mail accusing her of everything from racism to child abuse. Yes, I found her parenting style extreme - that said, I read a lot of humor in this book and by the end, Chua gets her comeuppance. I really enjoyed the book and think she made some valid points about how coddled children in the West have become through overly permissive parenting.

What really impressed me was how hard Chua worked to raise her daughters. There was one section of the book where she described how she was running office hours for her law school students, then excusing herself to run home and drive one daughter to music lessons before coming back to finish office hours. Then she went home to supervise more lessons until the early hours of morning. All this while teaching, writing books, and managing a speaking schedule that often had her on the road. (Yes, Chua and her Yale professor husband live an upper middle class life, but I could see throughout the book they did such mundane things like walking the dogs, washing floors, etc.) I got exhausted just reading about her day! Chua was nonchalant about her sacrifices -- if she needed to get by on less sleep to achieve her goals, she would. As she wrote, "I am tough."

Sorry, Gwynnie, but Tiger Mom puts you and your rich friends to shame.


  1. Great post, Di! I started reading the first busy mom's tips and couldn't get past how getting a blow-out saves time, or how jamming your mani, pedi and facial into one afternoon saves time. Well, blow me down! (or out!). Really? 'Cause I thought NOT EVER DOING THOSE THINGS, or at least not on a regular basis, saved a lot MORE time. I have it all bass ackwards, apparently. I love reading this stuff. Gwynnie gives me a headache. Or as she would say, "an 'eadache."

  2. Thanks for the shout out.
    What I want to know is how you push kids that hard. It would be impossible with my teens. They do their homework, practise their instruments and are generally nice kids but there's no way they wouldn't rebel if I tried Chua's methods.
    There's a very interesting and funny piece in the Huffingpost by a woman who was raised by a French mother. Now there's a tough mother.

  3. Chua started pushing when they were young. Like in preschool. I don't think it works well otherwise.

    I have to look for that piece on Huffington -- my grandparents were immigrant children and very critical, but not in a good way. That is, they were never satisfied. If you did poorly, you didn't study. If you did well, it was luck. A very bleak Irish/English working class attitude. I totally rebelled against it.

  4. Hi Di
    Thanks for the link about the Goopalicious Gwynnie!
    One of the most valuable things about the vast swathes of publicity of Amy Chua's book is that it has allowed me to shove it under the noses of my feckless kids and shout "So you think I'm mean for making you do your 30 minutes of homework?" then laugh maniacally.
    I think I may be more Dragon Mother than Tiger Mother.


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