Fur flies as Chinese and UK parenting cultures clash.

Two of the parenting world’s super heavyweights go head to head, or, rather, claw to claw, this afternoon. In the purple corner sits Mumsnet, that bastion of the liberal chattering classes, scourge of politicians and childcare gurus alike. And in the orange corner: the self-branded Tiger Mother, whose tale of tough-love (and we’re talking seriously tough-love) parenting has stunned the Western world since her memoir on motherhood was published earlier this year.

Mumsnetter-in-chief, Justine Roberts, will take Amy Chua to task over her draconian child-rearing tactics, which saw, among other horrors, the Chinese-American Yale law professor ban play dates; television; any grades below A; and all semblance of free thought from her two daughters.

The clash begins at the Hay Literary Festival in the first of a series of spiky debates that climax in London on Wednesday night, at an Intelligence Squared debate, when Chua will make the case that Western parents don’t know how to bring up their children.

Roberts, the voice of thousands upon thousands of super opinionated mothers, will be speaking ahead of her latest book hitting the shelves tomorrow morning. The Mumsnet Rules, which Roberts co-wrote with fellow Mumsnetter Natasha Joffe, offers a get-out-of-jail free card for any mother (or father) anxious that they might have screwed up.

From urging mums not to fret if their darlings throw tantrums in public/miss so-called milestones (or millstones)/fall in with the wrong crowd/or never get round to whipping up Nigella-esque masterpieces en famille (delete as appropriate), the book posits something of a parent-first approach to child rearing.

As such, it contrasts sharply with Chua’s pained account of quite how hard Chinese mothers have to work to bring up their children. “Raising kids the Chinese way is much harder than raising them the Western way. There is simply no respite,” she admits. When the goal is perfection more or less from day one (babies are expected to be out of nappies before they hit their first birthday) it isn’t just the children that have to put in the hours.

Chua knows the three-plus hours of instrument practice she demands from her daughters every day – and that’s every single day, birthdays, and holidays included – won’t happen unless she is standing over them. She sees this as “not letting kids give up and helping them stick with something”.

Speaking from the US last week, Chua added: “There’s nothing better for building confidence than realising you can do something you thought you couldn’t.” If the child in question has to jump through flaming hoops to get there, well, so much the better. Hence her younger daughter, Lulu, was thrown into the sub-freezing chill of a Connecticut winter aged just three; threatened with “no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years”; and told her dolls’ house was headed straight to the Salvation Army if she didn’t complete the desired musical task.

But what Chua sees as black and white – “a Tiger mum will try to do everything within her power to get her kids to be the best they can be, which is usually better than they think, and to prepare them for the future” – for Roberts it is all too easy to cross the fine line between encouragement, discipline, and abuse – a point she will make today at Hay.

“Most Mumsnetters thought Chua’s ambitions for her kids were fine but some of her methods were dubious; bordering on emotional abuse.” Roberts says, adding: “There’s more to life than achieving straight As – childhood happiness for one.”

Plain happiness doesn’t seem to come into Chua’s parenting equation. Hence she refuses to grant her (American) mother-in-law “just one full day” to spend with her grandchildren, as she “never had a full day for them to spare”. That’s “never” as in not ever, just as when Chua told a playground mum that her daughter was too busy on Friday afternoon for a play date, she meant every Friday afternoon from then to adulthood.

As Chua puts it: “Tiger mums believe Westerners give their children too much choice. If you give a six-year-old free choice, they make immature choices, like wanting to play video games and eat candy all day and never brush their teeth. Tiger mums feel that Western society errs on the side of too much permissiveness. How harmful could a little more self-discipline and hard work be?”

Hardly the voice of Mumsnet Britain, whose mantra, as Roberts puts it, is for parents to “keep a sense of perspective and a sense of humour”. She adds: “Living with children, can be very, very funny (with some notable exceptions like violin practice and head lice). Given how frustrating parenting can be, you really do need to see the funny side, or you’ll go bonkers and end up locking your child outside in the snow.”

When it comes to landing the killer blow, Roberts has the advantage. By Chua’s own admission – and contrary to the slew of headlines that accompanied her book’s publication, she ends up meowing not roaring. Despite watching her older daughter Sophia play the piano at Carnegie Hall and, just recently, get a place at Harvard, she threw in the towel with her feisty youngest, Lulu, letting her slack off her violin lessons and take up a hobby of her choice: tennis.

That said, being her mother’s daughter, Lulu stormed through her state’s tennis rankings: once a tiger cub, always a tiger cub, it seems. My money is on the lady in orange.

The battle lines…

On physical discipline

Tiger mums use corporal – and emotional – punishment. Hence Chinese mothers think nothing of telling podgy daughters: “Hey fatty, lose some weight.”

Mumsnetters believe physical violence towards children is never okay. They advocate guilt, arguing: “Unless you recognise how wrong it is to hurt a child you are unlikely to start the hard work necessary to make sure you don’t do it again.”

On eating cake

Tiger mums are as strict about what goes into their children’s bodies as what their children do with their bodies. They are happy to ban junk food, which they regard as no good for anything.

Mumsnetters adopt the Marie Antoinette approach of letting them eat cake lest the children go wild once they’re old enough to make their own choices, or turn into Woody Allen-style neurotics, or worse, anorexics.

On letting them choose their own friends

Tiger mums heed the old Chinese proverb that birds quickly become like other birds in a flock, so they are typically socially restrictive, and won’t let kids date in high school.

Mumsnetters believe parents can’t choose their children’s friends and shouldn’t even try. One of the rules reads: “You must let your children select their own friends.”

On exam bribery

Tiger mums don’t bribe kids to get straight As because they expect them to get straight As. And if they don’t, the solution is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child.

Mumsnetters advocate bribery and corruption to cope with the horror of exams. But believe it better to reward the effort not the result.

On public tantrums

Tiger mums feel public outbursts just shouldn’t happen, as tantrums are beyond the imagination because children are never supposed to be anything other than really polite and obedient when outside (and inside) the house.

Mumsnetters console themselves that public tantrums are nothing to be afraid of, adding: “Some toddlers need to work though their rage about a broken biscuit [and] will do so in public. Do remember to hug the child once he/she calms down.”

On eating as a family

Tiger mums emphasise the importance of a strong family orientation, of which eating together is just one of many examples.

Mumsnetters are far more relaxed, believing it to be unnecessary to have family meals and even going so far as to advocate “having all your suppers without your kids if that’s what works for you”.

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Source: The Independent – http://ind.pn/lmla8D