The subject of being a good mother is a tricky one. As if parenting weren’t challenging enough, every year now a book comes out to tell us who is doing a better job than American moms. Last year it was Tiger mom, with her best-seller “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother.” It is the story of Amy Chua, the Chinese-American mom who suggested letting her strong-willed child go out in the snow without a coat was superior parenting at its best. Not to be outdone, this year Pamela Druckerman, an American mother living in Paris wrote “Bringing Up Bebe.” According to Druckerman, French moms generally raise well-mannered kids with a laissez-faire approach.
I got the tiger mom book as a gift from my husband last year. He thought I would welcome the opportunity to impart some Chinese tough love to our daughter. After seeing the reviews, I begrudgingly started reading and could not get past the first chapter. It’s not that I don’t want to learn about successful parenting. I just found tiger mom to be self-centered and annoying. Fast-forward a year and the moderator at my support group for parents suggests we read and discuss the WSJ article: “Why French Parents Are Superior,” also written by P. Druckerman. So, on the one hand Chinese moms are superior because they are tough on their offspring. On the other hand, French moms breeze through motherhood and still produce perfectly adaptable kids who are good eaters at that. Excuse me; I’m just not buying it.
As I understand it, the general message to American moms is: “You think you are doing a good job and are probably trying your hardest; but the truth is your parenting skills are so inferior that no matter what you do, you will never measure up. Everyone else is a better mother. Every other country has better parents, so you better catch up.” What bothers me most is that these books have become best sellers, banking on the natural feelings of inadequacy many mothers feel at one point or another, whether they stay home with their kids or work outside the home. American mothers have to be doing something right, since they have risen generations of creative, entrepreneurial and generally decent people, which is something you can say about most Americans. In my opinion, it is the “no way is the right way” approach that fuels innovation and most things good in this multicultural country. Is there a best-seller on that?
My mother is the best person I know. No one comes close in my eyes. She raised 7 kids with love, discipline and spirituality – with the support of a good man. She has shortcomings and did not raise perfect kids; but we are all productive members of society who adore her. I haven’t mentioned her nationality, but if you must know, she happens to be Dominican.
I don’t need anybody to tell me how to be a “better mom than” someone else. I want to be the best mom I can to the child I gave birth to with great personal effort. Books that offer general parenting advice are great, as are friends with good tips on what worked for them in raising their kids. But I refuse to buy into the premise that any one culture, country, race or group of people is generally better at being a mom. China is not the U.S., neither is France. There’s nothing wrong with raising American kids the “American” way, whatever that means to you and your family.