People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother: An Exercise In Distraction

A brief list of some of the most controversial issues in the US:

Socialism.

Abortion.

Terrorism.

Gun control.

Racism.

Same-sex marriage.

Motherhood.

Yes, motherhood.

My friends, we’ve been played, duped into participating in a pretend conversation that feels very important.

When Amy Chua‘s new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was excerpted at The Wall Street Journal on January 8, the blogosphere exploded. Agreement, dissension, discussion, and rebuttal after rebuttal after rebuttal until I thought I’d be happiest if I never heard Amy Chua‘s name again in my life.

Which is more important for children, strict discipline or freedom? What do they need more to grow up strong and successful: rigidity or flexibility, firmness or gentleness?

We’re doing nothing but fussing around the edges. While we argue about whether or not kids should be allowed to go on play dates or choose to play any musical instrument they wish, millions of kids have no consistent, loving adult presence in their lives.

The conversation feels important. It has to, because we feel an obligation to children. We need to have the sense that we are grappling with the tough issues, but we’re not even touching them.

Do I approve of the way Amy Chua is raising her daughters? No, I don’t. She doesn’t approve of the way I’m raising my kids, either, so we’re even on that score.

Virtually every parenting debate in which we engage exists only on the surface, for us privileged few who have choices. I acknowledge the fear that drives some parents to push their children very hard. However, if I compare the amount of press that problem gets to the amount devoted to issues of family violence, poverty, and serious shortages of good health care and education, the equation comes back very unbalanced.

We fight, fight, fight, and over what? Issues of personal choice.

If we’re occupied with these arguments, we’re ignoring a whole lot of shit that really matters.

If we’re arguing the SAHM/WOHM debate, who is pushing for better daycare? Subsidized care? More available care? Specialized care for special needs children? Subsidies for parents who want to stay home? More flexible working conditions? Benefits for part-time workers? Take-your-child to work situations? On-site childcare?

If we’re debating about breast or bottle, who is working to make breastfeeding support more available and culturally relevant for every family? Who is taking care of the mothers who have no one to help them? Who is pushing employers to make it easier for mothers at all levels of employment to nurse their babies or pump while they work? Who is helping the women who need it with feeding issues?

When we fight about where babies should sleep, we aren’t working for economic justice so that all families have clean, safe housing. We aren’t fighting on behalf of millions of children languishing in foster care and group homes without families to call their own. Instead of supporting each other, we’ve created an environment in which mothers are afraid to ask for help because everyone has an agenda to push.

While we argue about the best ways to discipline our own kids, who is lobbying the government for better protections for abused children? For better education for all our kids? More support for parents who are overwhelmed and afraid?

I’ll tell you exactly what kids need. They need consistent discipline that is delivered in a firm, gentle way. They need to know that they are loved. They need to live in a home where they are safe, with parents or other adult caregivers whom they trust to protect them and meet their needs. They need full bellies, warm beds, and good educations.

All the rest is window dressing.

We don’t have to fuss around the edges and invent arguments. There are too many kids in the world who need all this energy that we’ve devoted to arguing about Amy Chua (and Ayelet Waldman before her and dozens of other people and issues before that).

Imagine for a moment that all the millions of words that have been written about Amy Chua in the past few weeks had been written, instead, about any other issue that affects kids.

What could we have accomplished?

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