The parenting style which has been my default position for the last 19 years is sometimes referred to as ‘benign neglect’. You know the kind of thing; snooze upstairs at the weekends while the kids watch cartoons and make their own toast, allow them to wash their own hair, let them fall off swings in the park and at least once, totally forget to collect them from an extra-curricular activity, leaving them wailing in distress at the village hall.
Amy Chua’s approach to parenthood is the antithesis of mine. Chua, lawyer, mother and author of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother‘ raised her children in what she calls the Chinese way. She supervised, managed, coached and organised, overseeing every aspect of her daughters’ lives. Sophia and Lulu were not allowed playdates or sleepovers, she returned the handmade birthday cards the girls produced, requiring them to be re-worked to a higher standard. Both girls excelled academically and showed prodigious musical talent; maybe not surprising when instrument practice could take up five hours at a time. At times even her husband questioned her methods.
Her approach required absolute obedience from her offspring; back-chat was viewed as defiance and therefore shaming to both parents and children. There were many battles, particularly between Amy and Lulu. The wheels begin to fall off the Tiger Mother’s rickshaw when her youngest daughter rebels, railing against the tough regime. One of them is going to have to capitulate.
The book is written with warmth and insight, and whilst I may have disagreed with Amy Chua’s ideas, her love and dedication to her family is never in doubt. Plus, she gets impressive results.
Now in their twenties, the Chua-Rubenfeld girls are both at Ivy League universities and achieving brilliant results, largely down to their ingrained work ethic. Their stellar futures are assured. So while Lulu and Sophia are highly successful young women, erudite and accomplished, my own lumpen teenagers are a blight on society, lying on their beds in darkened rooms, watching PewDiePie on You Tube.
Only that isn’t quite true. My daughter holds down a full-time job while she waits to take up her place at University and my son, Head Boy at his school, is about to take GCSE’s. Despite, or perhaps because of, my lax attitude towards structure and regulation, both are competent, socially adept and independent. Maybe with more effort from me they could have achieved more but they are doing just fine. They will define their own success. After all, I don’t believe anyone approaches the end of their life wishing they had put in more hours at their desk.