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What Tiger-Mother Forgot: The Child You Didn’t Expect

April 29, 2011

There’s a faulty premise underlying the Tiger-Mother. For those seeking relief from Amy Chua‘s rant about the amazing results that controlling, driven parenting yields (über achievers), now there’s  Bryan Caplan  to offer relief. The latest author,  dubbed the Anti-Tiger Mother (forget the gender–it’s the gist that counts)is refreshingly research-based; albeit research that’s a rehash of the 1998 book, The Nurture Assumption.  This equally faulty premise suggests that parenting doesn’t matter. If you’re interested in things like your child’s later achievement, her healthy living, educational success, fear not.  Nope, with a cursory nod to nurture, those highfalutin’ goals are best met by genetics.

Here’s my gripe with all of the Tigers. First, the ideas are obvious (though flawed), and the discussion has gone on ad nauseam. But more importantly, these books miss the entire category of children for whom attentive (rather than neurotically driven) parenting is an absolute necessity. Those are kids who didn’t get such a good deal of the genetic deck. One out of 5 boys has an attention deficit disorder (proportionately fewer girls). Currently about 1 in 100 children is diagnosed with a pervasive developmental delay and/or on the autism spectrum. Other kids  inherit a vulnerability that shows up  later, in their teens, with mood disorders, others with addiction problems. These kids need great parenting. These kids teach you what it means to be a parent.  But no one expects this bad deal of the cards for their kid.

For a glimpse of what it means to have a child you didn’t expect, I highly recommend Priscilla Gilman‘s new book, The Anti-Romantic Child. Ms. Gilman, a former professor of English at Vassar, writes poignantly, heartbreakingly, yet hopefully about what a diagnosis for your child means.  Benj, her first son, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at age three. What follows is a lesson for all parents in the humility and ego-loss when no matter how hard you try, you can’t control your child’s achievement. Instead, you become a parent, in the truest sense of the word.  A parent whose joy comes not from bragging rights, but from the dedication of seeing a child overcome adversity. Amy Chua and Bryan Caplan should read this book. You should too.

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