I have watched the uproar over the Tiger Mom debate with growing annoyance that one simple question remains unasked: Where are the dads?

I am a father of three who has been on the frontline of parenting for years, thanks to my wife’s demanding career and my own freelance lifestyle. I refuse to cede the entire discussion about proper child-rearing to mothers, Tiger or otherwise.

When my kids were 2, 4 and 7, our family of five moved from suburban New Jersey to Beijing.

Our 3½ years in China give me an unusual insight into what author Amy Chua claims is not only the best way of parenting but also the Chinese way.

During our first weeks in Beijing, we attended a talent show at our children’s British school and watched Chinese students ascend the stage and play Chopin etudes and Beethoven symphonies, while their Western counterparts ambled up and proudly played the ABCs under their flapping arms. It was enough to make anyone pause and ponder the way we are raising our kids.

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.

It has also been a plus for our children, giving them space to take on responsibilities, be independent and see their parents pursuing their own interests and careers while also being very involved in one another’s lives. And it introduced them to a simple fact early: Life itself is controlled chaos and success depends on navigating it, rather than waiting for things to be perfect.

This is largely a male perspective. To make a sweeping generalization, moms tend to be more detail oriented, and order driven. Dads often care less about the mess, can live with a bit more chaos and more easily adopt a big picture view. If my wife and I swapped positions, life would certainly be more orderly. But she cedes to my style of parenting because I am in charge of the day-to-day stuff. Her ability to do this is a key to us having a strong, thriving relationship; you can’t backseat drive how your children are being raised.

This only works if you share the same basic values and the differences are small bore rather than big picture. She would not tolerate me calling the kids garbage or chaining them to a piano bench; we would both view this as barbaric and counterproductive.

Kids raised in this fashion have more of an opportunity to develop their own personalities and interests. Our home is like a state university, where you can get a great education but you have to do your own legwork. A typical night: one kid has a big project due, another has a school play, the third has soccer practice; mom is working late because there is an international crisis brewing but she will barrel home to be sitting in the auditorium when the curtain rises; and I am trying to help everyone while fielding calls on a story I have to finish writing that night after the kids go to bed.

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.

Living in a Beijing housing compound, I watched Western and African kids running through the streets in roving packs of fun-seekers while their Chinese friends looked dolefully out the window in the midst of long hours spent practicing violin, piano or character-writing. When they were done, they unwound by picking up video game consoles. It looked like a sad, lonesome way to grow up and nothing I would ever prescribe to my children. And of course it’s not the only style of Chinese parenting. I saw plenty of kids smashing these same stereotypes.

It also seems insane to cast an eye around the upper-middle-class American milieu Ms. Chua is discussing and conclude that the problem is that our child-rearing is too laid back. The shallowness of this concept will be obvious to anyone who has ever stalked a suburban soccer sideline or listened to New York parents prep their 18-month-old for nursery school interviews. God help us all if Ms. Chua’s books convinces these same people that they simply have not been trying hard enough.

It’s easy to understand a traditional Chinese drive for perfection in children: it is a huge nation with a long history of people thriving at the top and scraping by at the bottom without much in between. The appeal in contemporary America stems from a sense that our nation is becoming stratified in similar ways and is about to get steamrolled by China. If you can’t beat them, join them.

It’s an understandable impulse but it’s wrong. Forcing a child to constantly bend to your will can lead to docile mama’s boys or girls seeking approval for everything they do–or lead to constant rebellion and head-butting. Banning playing and sleeping at friends’ houses furthers a dangerous sense of isolation, denying them the ability to make the very social connections and interactions that they will need throughout life. These are the very skills that kids should be honing for success as a functioning adult, far more important than being able to play piano. Kids need more unstructured play, not less.

Aside from being a much cheaper option than babysitters, sleepovers also help children learn to sleep anywhere, in any bed, with any pillow. This is not an ability to be scoffed at. It is, in fact, one of three goals everyone should realistically set for raising their kids: get them to adulthood with no sleeping, eating or sexual hang-ups. Do that and you will have done your job, launching them off with the foundation needed to thrive.

Drop the hubris of thinking you can pick your children’s friends, interests and musical passions. Instead, help them grow up to be highly functioning, non-neurotic contributors with a strong sense of self. They will thank you.

And so will society.

Alan Paul is the author of “Big in China, My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing” (Harper). It is based on his award-winning WSJ.com column The Expat Life. Read an excerpt, here.

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Source: Wall Street Journal - http://goo.gl/sCLZZ