Lax Parenting Is Something to Regret

Posted: Apr 06, 2011 11:11 AM

First, Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua caused a national stir by accusing Western parents of being too lax in their approach to child-rearing, resulting in self-indulgent, spoiled kids who aren’t as successful as those with a traditional “Chinese” (read: maniacally hypercompetitive) upbringing.

Now, author Jennifer Moses contemplates the conflict between feminism’s sexual liberty and a mom’s desire not to see her preteen dress like a skank.

Her recent Wall Street Journal piece titled “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?” has generated buzz in the blogosphere both for and against the idea that young girls should be free to explore their budding sexuality through provocative apparel, even if it makes parents uncomfortable.

Perhaps 2011 will go down as the “Year of the Brutally Honest Parenting Debate.”

While Ms. Chua’s bold assertions about Western parenting didn’t get under my skin (Hey, they’re her therapy bills, not mine), Ms. Moses‘ essay actually does irk my common-sensibilities.

Here’s her provocative question: “Why do so many of us not only permit our teenage daughters to dress like this — like prostitutes, if we’re being honest with ourselves — but pay for them to do it with our AmEx cards?”

She speculates that the generation of post-feminist moms is “conflicted” about its past.

“We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control, the first who didn’t have to worry about getting knocked up,” she wrote. “We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom. Not all of us are former good-time girls now drowning in regret — I know women of my generation who waited until marriage — but that’s certainly the norm among my peers.”

Let’s see if I understand: The norm among her peers is regret. The norm is to wish they hadn’t bought into the myth that sexual promiscuity was the same as equality with men. The norm is to realize, as mothers, that their daughters are now also free to make the same mistakes, based on the same false belief that mere sexuality holds the key to cultural parity.

Regret doesn’t feel good, but it has its purpose. It engenders wisdom.

People who regret goofing off in high school at the expense of an enviable grade point average apply that wisdom in the way they supervise their children’s homework and help them develop solid study habits.

Those who regret experimenting, as teens, with drugs or alcohol understand the risks their kids take in these behaviors and work hard to prevent them.

Yet inexplicably, the sexual regret of an entire generation of women doesn’t seem to inform their parenting.

Ms. Moses speculates that women are loath to exhibit hypocrisy in their demands of their daughters.

Really? So, would it be hypocritical to intervene to correct a daughter’s poor academic performance if you yourself had not been a stellar student?

Would it be hypocritical to call her out on drinking or drug use if your high school history included beers in a friend’s basement or weed in the stands at the football game?

The hypocrisy argument is patently hypocritical.

The reason moms don’t resist their daughter’s scathingly inappropriate, hypersexual styles is because requiring our daughters to dress modestly and to honor their sexuality by refusing to exploit it is the hard road.

Which leads me to the only logical conclusion: The Tiger Mom is right.

Some Western parents are too lax to get in the battle and fight for their children’s good character and solid values. They’re too permissive, too obsessed with making kids happy today, regardless of what their experiences have taught them about the consequences for tomorrow.

If regrets don’t teach us to chart a different course for the future, they’re just regrets.

Pity, though. Our girls need our wisdom more than ever.