Never mind the tough love and bring on the manicotti.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about which ethnic group produces the best mothers. Yale professor Amy Chua caused a big stir last year when she laid out her take-no-prisoners parenting style in her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” To hear her tell it, Chinese mothers like her deny their children access to television, force them to play musical instruments whether they like it or not, never let them play videogames, and basically keep the screws on at all times. This produces really smart, talented kids, though it’s anybody’s guess how happy they are.

More recently, Wall Street Journal alumna Pamela Druckerman published “Bringing Up Bebe,” in which she extolled the virtues of French motherhood. According to Ms. Druckerman, who has lived in France for 10 years and raised three children there, French mothers do not let their kids eat between meals, do not let them eat junk food, and do not put them through Baby Einstein hell. And unlike neurotic American mothers, who live in constant fear that their children will be abducted or exposed to poor people or forced to attend a university that has an ampersand in its name, French mothers do not obsess about their children. They take them to the playground and basically ignore them. They don’t play with them, they don’t interact with them, they just chill. The kids seem to be fine with that.

Ms. Druckerman has French mothers dead to rights here. You can learn a lot about French parenting by visiting the abandoned castles around Carcassonne, where you and your little kids will have to climb up a nonexistent path on a windswept mountainside just to see the spot where the legendary Roland’s horse supposedly left his footprint sometime late in the eighth century. (Good luck with that one.) There are never any guard rails at these sites, so if the kids go flying off the side of the cliff, that’s just too bad. The French attitude toward children is basically: Where safety is involved, it’s every man for himself. Sauve qui peut, kids.

This spring, no fewer than four new books on the subject of ethnic maternal supremacy will be published. According to child psychologist Atahualpa Vargas, a native of Cochabamba, Bolivian mothers are revered the length and breadth of South America for their stoic resolve and devotion to their children, a subject covered in his new book “Incredible Incas: Why The Best Moms in the World Come from La Paz.

This claim is challenged, however, in Addfwyn Griffith’s new book “How the Welsh Invented Modern Motherhood,” where the professor at the University of Glamorgan-Aberystwthy argues that Welsh mothers are far superior to the French, the Chinese and the Bolivians because “the Welsh keep their mouths shut and don’t keep reminding their kids how special they are.”

Not to be outdone, “Super-Moms from Fiji!” contends that children growing up in the South Pacific make the happiest adults because the weather allows them to play outside all year around, so their mothers can stay inside and not get worn to a frazzle by having to entertain them all day.

Finally, in “Matriarchs of the Yurt,” a German woman who has raised two sets of triplets in Ulan Bator says that Mongolian mothers whose husbands spend a lot of time on the road can raise their kids in a more placid environment, not having to worry about the old man coming home in a bad mood every night and making everyone else miserable.

I myself am extremely reluctant to make broad generalizations about other ethnic groups, unless we are talking about Belgians, about whom you can say anything without anyone taking offense. But the kind of impressionistic, highly autobiographical, profoundly unscientific approach to the subject of optimal parenting that we see in the work of Ms. Chua and Ms. Druckerman and all the others is deeply unfair to equally worthy mothers from other ethnic groups.

Canadians make great moms. So do Ukrainians. Jewish moms can get in a ring with anyone, as can the Norwegians, the Tasmanians and the Kenyans. It all depends on your perspective.

Speaking from my own experience, I would argue that the best mothers are Italian-Americans, in part because they are warm and affectionate, but mostly because of the manicotti. When I was a kid, my own Irish-American mother was a terrible cook, so I would dutifully eat the remains of whatever luckless animal she’d just burned to a crisp, puke it up and then run down the street to Richie Giardinelli’s house, where his mother was always baking ziti or cooking up a fresh pot of meatballs or making manicotti.

I never met anyone who was more beloved by her kids than Mrs. Giardinelli, though she wasn’t much different from all the other Italian-American mothers I have known. Italian-American moms love their kids, they look out for their kids, they defend their kids, and because of that their kids generally grow up to be pillars of the community. If I had to do it all over again, I’d come back as an Italian-American kid—in part because of the warmth, the affection, the passion and the generosity, but mostly because of the manicotti.

*By *Joe Queenan

Source: Wall Street Journal –