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Perfectionism in the "Tiger Mom" and "The King's Speech"

You've probably heard about Amy Chua, the so-called Tiger Mom. A few weeks ago she had a firestorm of publicity around her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she boasts of her authoritarian and coercive parenting methods, which include not only insisting that her daughters follow a narrow course of "success-oriented" classes and activities, but punishing them harshly - via withholding, threats and insults - when they don't toe the line or achieve top-level success. (For instance, she deprives them of bathroom breaks, threatens to burn their toys, and calls them "garbage.") She got a major boost when The Wall Street Journal featured her in an admiring article.

Some people I discussed Chua's parenting advice with said they weren't comfortable judging others' parenting methods, but in this case I am. Maybe one out of ten, or a hundred, kids will thrive under her authoritarian approach, but the rest will struggle. (Or worse - she also advocates mocking overweight girls to shame them into losing weight, which can lead to a life-threatening eating disorder.) They may struggle while under the Tiger Mom's thumb, or they may struggle later - many of my blocked clients grew up in authoritarian households. But they will struggle.

Chua is no naif - she's a Yale law professor who is working with a top publisher and speaker's bureau. She and her business partners are guilty of cynically peddling extreme views that any child development expert could have told them would harm many kids and parents. After a flood of criticism, she tried to walk back her message in a New York Times article in which she explained that her household really isn't abusive, in part because “I think I pulled back at the right time,” and in part because her husband provides a compassionate counterbalance to her authoritarian approach. (So, add hypocrisy to the cynicism.) And with no apparent irony or self-awareness, she also complained about being misunderstood - because authoritarians always crave the understanding and tolerance they would deny others.

Perfectionism also features in The King's Speech, the tremendous movie about King George VI's heroic struggle with his stuttering problem. The scene where the soon-to-be King finally breaks down and tells his speech therapist about the childhood abuse that led to his stuttering - coercive and painful "correction" to left-handedness, coercive and painful (with metal braces) correction to knock-knees, and parental neglect and abuse - was heartbreaking. The Website of The Stuttering Foundation says four main factors cause stuttering: genetics, developmental issues, neurophysiology, and "family dynamics," noting under that last category that: "high expectations and fast-paced lifestyles can contribute to stuttering."

Perfectionism = bullying = coercion, and they all lead, with rare exception, to underproductivity. It is, in fact, the best part of us - the liberated part, and the part that values compassion and justice - that resists coercion most. Kids have few options for resisting other than to rebel or withdraw, tactics that, when carried into adulthood and used against an internalized Tiger Mom (or Tiger Dad!), usually lead to procrastination and underproductivity. The key to increasing productivity is to therefore use journaling and other techniques to eliminate all vestigates of your internal Tiger Mom, and replace coercion with compassion. Abundant detail on those techniques at www.hillaryrettig.com - and, believe me, the process is both probably easier than you think and totally worth it.

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