The Evergreen Sweetness of the Magnolia Mother

Over at a far more serious website, the Wall Street Journal has posted an opinion piece entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” by Amy Chua, the Yale Law professor whose paen to Chinese-style parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has set off a depth charge of angst among the mom population. Chua posits that Western moms are far too permissive and don’t demand enough of their darling offspring, and that’s why parents who are hardcore (think Louis Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman or R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket hardcore) are much better and raise more successful kids. Take that, lazy Westerners.

To be fair, Chua claims that the red-flag title of the WSJ piece was not her idea, and that her book, while detailing her strenuous and exacting parenting methods, does so amidst large doses of self-deprecation. She knows she’s a stereotype (and is producing two über-stereotpyical Asian daughters to boot), but she’s planted that flag and is willing to die for the ideals it represents.

To which this Southern mama says, “Bless her heart.”

There has to be more to motherhood than turning your home into a battle zone of three- and four-hour instrument practices (piano or violin only!), homework drills, screaming, and tension. And I think Southern mothers have figured out how to do that. Children don’t need a Tiger Mother; they need a Magnolia Mother.

The Southern magnolia grandiflora is an amazing tree. Its strong wood can be harvested for building and furniture making, The light citronella fragrance of its blossoms is lovely and does a nice job repelling mosquitoes. It’s an evergreen, and its glossy emerald leaves provide shade in the summer and decor throughout the year. The blossoms have long been a symbol for beauty and grace. These trees live hundreds of years and glorify whatever plot of ground they happen to be planted in. Kinda like Southern mamas.

Magnolia moms don’t scream and threaten because it’s tacky. They’re demanding, but not abusive. A magnolia mom loves to applaud at music recitals and is happy whether her seedling is a bass guitar hero or a baritone enthusiast. Her arms are wide and sheltering. She’s strong, with deep roots, and is beautiful even through the hurricane-force winds of life. She can be bruised, but not broken. Her children learn the strengths of patience, grace, and permanence in her shade and grow toward the sun and blossom when they find their own ground to sprout in.

The best advice on life I ever received was a simple phrase from my own magnolia mama, “Remember who you are.” No screaming, no threats, just a gentle reminder that my behavior and accomplishments were a reflection of not only myself, but the family who raised me.

I’m proud to come from magnolia groves as rich as the ones who produced my mother and father. Tigers may be fascinating to look at, but there’s a reason they shouldn’t be turned loose in the general population. They aren’t safe. Magnolias, on the other hand, always make you feel at home.

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