Battle Hymn of the Sloth Mother

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Jan. 19 2011 4:10 PM

Battle Hymn of the Sloth Mother

Today’s New York Post editorial from Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, the teenage daughter of Amy Chua (an author who, like Rachael , I know only from that hardcore book excerpt that appeared in the Wall Street Journal ) has finally closed the circle on my Chua obsession of the past week. If both mother and daughter are content with the results of Chua’s "Carnegie Hall or bust" parenting strategy, I wish them well and send them on their way. For my part, I owe Chua a debt of gratitude. Far from making me feel defensive or guilty, the tiger lady’s ode to the mother-as-martinet has released me from any inclination to apologize for my method-free, catch-as-catch-can approach to childrearing. However shitty a job I may be doing, I’m not depriving my kid of food or bathroom breaks for hours (and openly mocking her father’s futile protests) as she joylessly plinks out a Chopin étude, the piano’s virtuosic trills backed by the bass note of a wood chipper as it consumes her dollhouse in the backyard.

I did find myself asking-in the first couple of days after reading about the austere tiger efficiencies of the East-whether I praised my child too much. Is my rapt attention at her nightly performances-elaborate vaudeville productions  in which she plays the roles of multiple tapdancing sisters-somehow a threat to the instillment of a Protestant work ethic? In a moment of peace during a costume change, I mentioned this her dad (with whom I’d been deconstructing Chua earlier in the day). He shrugged: "I just think she’s a really good dancer."


Maybe all this will change as my daughter, about to turn 5, gets older and enters the world of homework and music lessons. But for the moment, when I praise her, I’m generally gushing because I mean it. In my thoroughly subjective opinion, she’s a terrific dancer, a great drawer, a funny inventor of jokes, an all-around exceptional creature. Isn’t this what it is to love someone: to be unable to assess them with dispassionate objectivity, to see them as a little bit better than they are? Isn’t it what we expect from our own mothers, even as adults? And won’t there be plenty of people in my daughter’s life-teachers, coaches, counselors, college admissions officers-whose place it will be to evaluate her objectively and push her to perform to her fullest capacity?

For every Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld praising her parents’ strict methods, there’s another successful young adult thanking his freewheeling mother for "believing in me no matter what." Instead of the tiger model, I think I’ll stick with the sloth school of parenting for now. It’s easier, it’s funner, and it seems to be working so far.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.



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