January 15, 2011 § 1 Comment
I just finished reading Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” a hotly discussed excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The first time reading through it was difficult. Somebody asked if it was a satire, and I wondered the same thing. It sounded like somebody was writing based off of pure stereotypes to portray Chinese mothers as ruthless tyrants.
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.
This is like taking the little things Asian kids joke about to each other and publishing them as rote truth. I couldn’t even read this in one sitting because it just seemed so negative. Articles like this don’t do much to dispel the “model minority” myth. It’s not hard to see why there was major backlash against Chua after this was published; tales of no sleepovers and hours of piano practice will probably cause a visceral reaction in anybody raised in the United States, myself included.
But I read on because I really wanted to know what she had to say.
For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.
If anything, the final two paragraphs of the article are the most worthwhile to read. I don’t want to condone this kind of “extreme parenting” just as much as the next person. These lines from the Huffington Post describe me exactly:
Chua is prescribing life motivated by perfectionism — fear of failure, fear of disappointment. Not only is this a vicious form of unhappiness, but research by Carol Dweck and many others shows that kids who are not allowed to make mistakes don’t develop the resilience or grit they need later in life to overcome challenges or pick themselves up when they do fail.
So I have to say that even if Chua’s advice is not good & true, it’s at least accurate in my life.
My mother was born in the year of the tiger, and it’s something she treasures. Back when Beanie Babies were popular, we’d always have two of them displayed prominently on a bookshelf in the house: a bull for my father and a tiger for my mother. She wasn’t as extreme as the cases outlined by Chua; I was allowed to go to the occasional sleepover, and she never bothered coercing me into more than 1.5 hours of piano practice.
But I’ve also had my share of threats throughout the years, including this morning in the car, which was another lecture on the overall uselessness of my life. If my mother ever cared about my happiness, it was only from the perspective of happiness approved by her, based off of her own principles and priorities.
Ultimately, I’m not sure either the “Eastern” self-esteem-based-on-parental-approval method or the “Western” self-esteem-based-on-personal-approval method would bring true happiness to a child. People are so prone to mental and emotional changes that something as fragile as self-esteem can only be considered solid if grounded in something unchanging, like the eternal God.
In any case, I don’t hold Amy Chua’s work against her. I just hope that she doesn’t misrepresent Chinese people, and I hope she doesn’t damage her children, because they won’t always want to laugh and cuddle after hours and years of forced piano practice.