Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chinese Parents are Superior?

I recently came across this article (really, how can you avoid it in the blogosphere right now), titled “Chinese Parents are Superior”. The first thing I thought about it was, well, that it was f^!*ing insane.

Seeing more clips from the author, Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” only reinforced my initial impression. When the girls' beloved grandfather died, Chua forced them to write speeches for the funeral, despite their pleas not to do it. Chua writes: Sophia’s first draft was terrible, rambling and superficial. Lulu’s wasn’t so great either, but I held my elder daughter to a higher standard. Perhaps because I was so upset myself, I lashed out at her. “How could you, Sophia?” I said viciously. “This is awful. It has no insight. It has no depth. It’s like a Hallmark Card — which Popo hated. You are so selfish. Popo loved you so much — and you — produce-this!”

In another incident, Chua's daughter gave her a birthday card she had handmade. Too plain for Chua's taste, she chastized her child: I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. “What if I gave you this for your birthday Lulu- would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No — I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and erase party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.” I threw the card back.

After some consideration, I guess I can agree that there are times when it’s not good to give up. And that expecting more from your children and encouraging them to practice can be a good thing (note that I said encourage, not scream at and humiliate). But I just can’t get past my feeling that the methods the author talks about just wouldn’t lead to a genuine love for an activity, or the simple joy of doing something just because.

Maybe it’s the coddled Westerner in me coming out, but I want my children to enjoy their childhood. I don’t want to belittle them. I don’t want to spend my time with them forcing them to practice piano. Quite frankly I don’t care if they are ever in a piano recital.

Any “one right way” approach to parenting has an instantaneous flaw from my perspective, in that all children are different. I could have congratulated myself for weeks on my ability to have a child sleeping through the night practically from birth, if it wasn’t for that inconvenient fact that my other child, parented in exactly the same way, still gets up multiple times a night because in her words sleeping is a “waste of time”.

Maybe Amy Chua’s methods will work for her children. Maybe not. Maybe they would work for mine. Maybe not. This is the other problem I have with the article and Chua’s book. We don’t know how her children will turn out, or whether they will endorse her methods. Neither of her kids is even done with high school yet so to say the parenting approach has “worked” is a little premature to say the least. Not to mention the definition of “worked” is going to vary from person to person. I suspect that Amy Chua’s definition of “success” and my own definition of the concept have some major discrepancies. And who is to say that our children would agree with our approach when they too become parents.

All differences taken into consideration, there is still nothing that could convince me that criticizing and guilting a child over what they write for their grandfather’s funeral, or rejecting a birthday card they took time to make for you because you don’t like the way it looks would help your child in the long run. Even some parents in China are moving away from the traditional academically focused approach, as described in this article (ironically published in the WSJ at the same time as Chua’s article).

Ultimately, parenting is a crapshoot, and you’ll probably never know if the choices you made were the right ones. So I think I’ll take my chances with the Western slacker approach on this one.

If you're interested, here's a clip of Amy Chua on the Today show yesterday, defending the controversy over her book. If nothing else, she certainly knows how to generate publicity.


Organized Working Mom

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