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Commentary: Parents behaving badly

WASHINGTON -- Tiger Mom, meet Lawsuit Mom.

The Tiger Mother, aka Yale Law School professor Amy Chua, sought to assure her children's success in a way that she described as quintessentially Asian: She pushed, bullied and at times insulted them into achieving.

Lawsuit Mom, Nicole Imprescia, took another, quintessentially American approach. First, she paid someone else to handle the work for her. Then she sued to get the money back.

Sigh.

Did I mention that the dispute involved preschool?

Another sigh.

Not just any preschool, of course, but a tony Manhattan preschool, annual tuition $19,000.

Imprescia sent her daughter Lucia, then 3, to York Avenue Preschool in 2009. She pulled Lucia out one month into the child's second year, after, according to a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court, Lucia was "dumped" in with 2- and 3-year-olds. "Indeed, the school proved not to be a school at all, but just one big playroom," the suit alleged.

Little Lucia was still being taught shapes and colors at 4, for goodness' sake! Didn't they know she needed to be prepping for the ERB, the admissions test for private schools?

All this matters, according to the lawsuit, because, as everyone knows in Manhattan's "insanely competitive" nursery school scene, there is "tremendous pressure to choose the right preschool." Why? Isn't it obvious? Because "getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school."

Hello, Nicole, you think being known as Lawsuit Mom is going to help your daughter get into the right school?

Actually, Imprescia's lawsuit is the second Parents Behaving Badly piece of litigation I've run across recently. In the other case, Houston surgeon Michael Bardwil sued his former prep school, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School. Bardwil, class of 1973, was angling for his son, T.B., to follow in his footsteps.

According to the complaint, a Strake parent raising money for the school's expansion told Bardwil that the school had "gotten harder to get into" and "that it was very important that he make a contribution" to ensure his son's acceptance.

Bardwil duly pledged $50,000. He had paid $40,000 of that amount when Strake rejected T.B., who had performed poorly on his admissions test. Bardwil filed suit demanding his money back -- and putting his son's test scores in the court record for all to see.

Of course, all these parents, in their out-of-control, complete-loss-of-perspective way, are behaving like this because they want what's best for their children. Or at least what they think is best for their children. And if they are caught up in the frenzied, must-get-into-Harvard mentality of modern parenting, it is awfully easy to scoff but -- for me, anyway -- also easy to empathize.

We are a year away from plunging into college admissions madness and I can already feel myself, against my will, getting sucked in. Worse, I can feel my daughter getting sucked in. She is wonderful, smart, well-adjusted. Whenever the subject of college comes up -- and I don't raise it -- my message is always: Wherever you end up going to school, you will get a great education, have a wonderful time and succeed in life.

I mean this, really I do ... but if you hooked me up to a polygraph, it would also show that I do want her to get into a good college. Is the Ivy League essential? No. Would it be nice to have that choice? Um ... Fifth Amendment.

The hot movie for parents of high-schoolers these days is "Race to Nowhere," a slightly overwrought documentary about students pushed to the brink.

For all the Chuas, Imprescias and Bardwils out there, most of us don't want to see our children racing to nowhere. It's just that the treadmill is so hard to resist, and even harder to step off.

Ruth Marcus' e-mail address is rmarcus@wctrib.com.

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