When the uproar over Amy Chua’s depiction of the inner workings of a Chinese mother exploded into the blogosphere last week I was intrigued. Not so much by the minutiae of her parenting ethos, or the criticisms around this but more so by how she and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld balanced their relationship and the rearing of their children having had such opposing upbringings themselves. Coming from an ethnic Chinese background, Chuas’ parenting style – according to the brief snippets I’ve read from the controversial novel Battle Hymm of the Tiger Mother – contrasted to Rubenfelds in many areas. Yet they raised their daughters according to how Chua, their mother, felt they would best benefit; in strict Chinese style, with an emphasis on Rubenfelds Jewish heritage.
In Turkey, contrary to popular belief, the home is very much a matriarchal playground. To be a Mum, and a full-time Mum & housewife, is a role that is respected as much as that of any CEO. Mothers rule the roost, set the ground rules, keep control. Dad supports and is there to reinforce. No Turkish father, or father in a Turkish household will condone a child backchatting their mother or would sit placidly by as a tantrum gets out of control. By supporting the mothers disciplinarian role, the father ensures being a Mum confers respect – both within the home and in society as a whole. Whether the mother stays at home, works from an office or combines the two, her role is clear – her role is set. This sounds very much like the role Rubenfelds played in the upbringing of his daughters. He trusted the woman he’d chosen to be the mother of his children to do that job.
Chuas’ style of parenting, though i admire and agree wholeheartedly with a lot of her (oft negative) perceptions about a western style, is not how I want to raise my children. But through the media’s coverage of ‘Tiger Mom’, I saw a flash forward to my future, to how a British style of parenting will be perceived in Turkish society, amongst our friends and particularly, poignantly, within our own families.
It’s all too often pointed out that the difference between stepping-stones and stumbling blocks is in how you use them, and until my conversion to Islam two years ago I’d always read this as simply a wise quote from an unknown source. Now I see it differently. It applies to every aspect of life, within the workplace, within the home and most strongly, within the mind. My British heritage, the culture and the traditions are as important to me and my husbands Turkish roots are to him. As an ex-private school girl, whose school moto was “plus est en vous”, education is as important to me as it is to Chua. But as a Muslim, the definition of education more literally takes up the moto “there’s more in you” than it ever did before. Education isn’t about formal qualifications alone, it’s about developing the complete person. My husband may not understand the importance of regular bedtimes, or agree with how I will make our children learn to spell by rote, or limit TV time for time spent reading. I won’t grasp the importance of whittling boats from wood. My Mother-in-law may loath that we will speak two different languages to our children and, simultaneously, my Mother may hate the learning of arabic prayers.
All newlyweds see life through rose-tinted glasses and it sometimes comes as a shock, that realisation that even the clearest stream can house a dam. Together you need to learn what it takes to keep the water flowing, to divert the flow and compromise on a route pleasing to all. The key is learning to step not stumble..to view obstacles as something to be overcome not bumped up against.
Parenthood, from the moment it begins with that faint blue line, throws more obstacles in your path than you ever expected. It would seem that Chua and Rubenfeld turned those stumbling blocks into stepping-stones as Chua asserted the matriarchal role; good cop, bad cop.
But what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Am I cut out for the predominant parenting role? Should I be? Will I fail my son in religious teachings, will my MILs bilingualism concerns be proven to be right? Can my husband fill the gaps where I fail, can he handle the math? All we can do is keep our eyes peeled to spot the boulders in our way and trust in each other, trust in Allah that the rose-coloured hues we tend towards aren’t too far from the truth after all. One step at a time.