Global parenting lessons in new memoirs

  • By Jane Henderson St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • Sunday, February 12, 2012 8:10pm
  • Life

Asian mothers demand straight A’s. A French mere makes her children taste eggplant and truffles (and stay out of the marital bed in the morning), while pygmy fathers soothe fussy babies by offering a manly nipple.

A year after Amy Chua set off a firestorm with “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” parenting memoirs are sprouting up all over.

“There are lots of ways to be a good parent,” Chua said. “There is also a lot of mutual judgment.”

When traditional Chinese parenting works, she said, “you can build in a lot of resilience.”

A St. Louis psychologist, Philip B. Dembo, was among the many people who spoke out against “Battle Hymn,” Chua’s memoir of how she said no to play dates and sleepovers and demanded her young daughters spend hours on studies and music.

Dembo’s new book, “The Real Purpose of Parenting,” is anti-Tiger Mother, decrying the push for kids to perform.

He encourages rules and family rituals, while also saying that his Jewish upbringing was too exclusionary. He has exposed his family to many cultures and says parents need to guide children, but “we also have to listen to them.”

Pamela Druckerman doesn’t necessarily love France but, in “Bringing Up Bebe,” the expat writer says her Paris home may be “the perfect foil for the current problems in American parenting.”

French parents don’t have to worry so much about paying for health care, preschool or college. (The government even gives them a monthly cash allotment for having kids.)

The parents are more confident and unified when it comes to raising their wee ones.

Meanwhile, Mei-Ling Hopgood, another American journalist, explored parenting issues when she became a mother in Argentina. In “How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm” Hopgood investigates different ideas, such as Kenyans’ disdain for strollers, Tibetan Buddhists’ concern for a pregnant woman’s spiritual state and Mayans’ focus on manual labor. The Japanese allow children to fight.

Aka pygmies divide child care almost equally. The African tribe has some of the most devoted fathers in the world, performing 47 percent of care, even soothing babies by letting them suck on their nipples.

Chua says now she realizes she needed to let up on forcing her rebellious second daughter to practice the violin. Lulu, 16, now prefers tennis.

“I think there are real weaknesses to traditional Asian parenting,” she said. “There is too little choice.”

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