Panda Dad: Soft, cuddly... but with claws

By Parents

Tiger Mom, meet Panda Dad.

The debate over parenting styles gets more animalistic with the entrance of Alan Paul, a freelance writer and Wall Street Journal columnist. An American living with his wife and three children in China, Paul says that he's seen the super-strict parenting practiced by "Tiger Mother" Amy Chua up close, and he's having none of it. While impressed with Chinese children's achievements, he writes:

But time in China also taught me that while some here view a Chinese education as the gold standard, many there are questioning the system, noting that it stifles creativity and innovation, two things the nation sorely needs. Further, having seen it in action, I have a strong aversion to hard-driving “Tiger” parenting, certain that is not a superior method if your goals are my goals: to raise independent, competent, confident adults.

Call me the Panda Dad; I am happy to parent with cuddliness, but not afraid to show some claw.  Though I have had primary child care duties since our eldest son was born 13 years ago, I too have always worked, sometimes juggling a variety of demanding deadlines with an increasingly complex family schedule. As a result, controlled chaos reigns in our house – and it works for us, even if this has befuddled some friends and family members and sent weak-kneed babysitters scurrying for the door.

Paul proclaims that such tolerance of chaos is a male trait. (Clearly, he has not seen the inside of my purse. Or my house.)

Much of his rebuttal to Chua's Tiger Mom philosophy treads ground familiar to anyone who followed the debate over Chua's perfectionism, her verbal berating of her daughters, her obsession with music practice and her rigid child-raising ideals: Banning social events like sleepovers and play dates deprives children of the chance to learn and practice social skills, he argues. Controlling every second of a child's time doesn't allow them space to develop true interests and self-motivated passions.

But Paul cuts to the heart when he delves into what might motivate tiger parents:

It’s not the hyper-orderly household that Amy Chua portrays, but the kids are constantly learning to take responsibility for their own homework, play time and everything else. Doing so allows them to take genuine pride in their accomplishments. They need to succeed for their own benefit, not to prove that their parents are successful. It’s sheer narcissism to believe that your child’s every success and failure is a reflection of your worth. Get over yourself.

And he notes that he and Chua obviously come from different backgrounds, with different values:

She is a Yale law professor. I have spent much of my career as a senior writer for Guitar World and Slam. It’s not a big surprise that we would have different techniques and ideas about raising children. If it works for her, great. I’m just trying to help others not feel inadequate for choosing a different path.

In a follow-up column, Paul responds to commenters, some of whom accuse him of being too soft and cuddly with his kids. But the best comment on the whole tiger-panda dustup comes from Paul's own father, a retired pediatrician.

Lots of great points, he wrote. But where is the data to support either you or Ms. Chua’s parenting ideas?

Good one, Panda Grandpa! It's important to remember that no matter how confident these parenting pundits seem, raising children is not a science and no one has all the answers. We're all just trying to find our way and learning as we go, hopefully with the best interests of our children at heart.

Vote: Which animal best represents your parenting philosophy: Tiger, panda ... or sloth?

In related Tiger Mother news, Amy Chua's oldest daughter (who seems like a lovely and well-spoken young woman) was recently accepted into Harvard. Tiger vindication?