Amy Chua with husband, Jed Rubenfeld, and daughters Lulu and Sophia.
We’ve never met, but the person you list in the New York Times as your closest friend was in my high school class and rode the very same van I did every day for four years. So as the friend of a friend, I want to take this opportunity to give you and your husband some Jewish parenting tips, since you are already an expert at Chinese parenting and you’ve stated that you are raising your daughters as Jews.
I think we have similar values in terms of education; I, like you, would like my kids to go to Ivy League schools, though I don’t see your parenting style as the only way to get them there. Or that having an Ivy League degree is the only measure of anyone’s success or self-worth. Here, then, are some Jewish parenting themes for you:
1) The first thing any Jewish parent should be aware of is that each individual is uniquely created in the image of God, b’tzelem Elokim, and deserves dignity, understanding, and respect. I am horrified to hear of any divine creation being called “garbage” as you claim to have done in the Wall Street Journal article excerpt. Treating anyone created in the divine image like garbage is contrary to Jewish teaching. As a parent, I try to keep in mind that I have been privileged to have the responsibility for another life entrusted to me and that I have a chance to raise a person who has an opportunity to do good in the world and be a unique human being.
2) The second credo of Jewish parenting, I believe, is rooted in Haggadah. There are four children: wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. And we are commanded to teach each of them differently. Though the goal for all at the Passover seder is the same, a need to “see oneself as though he personally has gone forth out of Egypt,” the teaching methods for each of them are not. Your strict parenting style may have worked with one child, but it did not work as well with another. As parents, we can certainly push our children to excel. I have no problem with that. But we also need to be aware of the best ways to teach each child and to help them learn what is necessary, while showing them compassion and sensitivity.
A simple child can’t be expected to learn in the same way that a wise child does. Actually, you are aware of this in writing about your youngest sister who has Down syndrome. “My youngest sister, Cindy, has Down syndrome, and I remember my mother spending hours and hours with her, teaching her to tie her shoelaces on her own, drilling multiplication tables with Cindy, practicing piano every day with her. No one expected Cindy to get a PhD! But my mom wanted her to be the best she could be, within her limits.” However, you don’t make the leap that I would, to say that a Down syndrome child is no less valuable than any other.
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