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Where the “Chinese mother” model gets it right…and why I will never be one.

10/01/2011

One of the hottest stories on the Interweb today is about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, set to hit bookshelves around the country tomorrow. Ms. Chua’s latest book “was supposed to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones,” as it states on its very cover, and excerpts released in The Wall Street Journal give us a taste of just how Ms. Chua believes that to be so. In one anecdote she shares that she lost her voice from yelling during an evening-long standoff with her younger daughter, who wanted to stop practicing a piano piece she was set to play at recital. She forced the child to sit at the piano without a break, threatened to give away her toys and to withhold gifts, told her to stop being “lazy” and “pathetic”. In the end, she writes, Lulu managed to put the components of the piece together and then insisted on playing it several times, saying “Look Mommy, it’s easy!”

Part of the parenting style, Ms. Chua expresses, is continuously motivating children to achieve the positive results parents know they are capable of reaching. Funnily enough, her argument sounds quite similar to the discussion we had about the first article I read at the dinner table tonight. I said that every child is capable of A effort, and I believe that every child is capable of A-level performance. While individuals obviously do not have the same level of aptitude in all disciplines, the key to gaining proficiency is consistently working hard rather than giving up. In that, I believe, Ms. Chua and I are in agreement.

However, and I’m willing to chalk this up to a difference in culture, I take serious issue with the idea that Ms. Chua or any other parent in the “Chinese mother” mold (admittedly, a misleading and unfair characterization of Chinese parents) would use name-calling and negative pressure as a method for motivating performance. Calling someone lazy or cowardly may be an effective motivator in the military or a similar high-pressure environment when working with adults, but children — no matter where they are born — have fragile psyches. As one commenter on a WSJ editorial about the book wrote, “Does Chua have any credentials other than having offspring? Is she a child psychologist?” I have to echo the sentiment, and argue that Ms. Chua cannot simply point to her own lack of mental and psychological issues as evidence that being a micromanaging, nigh impossible to please parent will not have adverse effects on children.

We are all built differently. Some of us inherently possess the presence of mind and spirit to naturally go in a positive and constructive direction. Without being told, we come to the conclusion that learning is fun and useful, and apply ourselves to the search for further knowledge. We practice and we train and we study so that we can excel. An overbearing parent makes little difference, because we are already on the path ourselves. Likewise, a laissez-faire parent will not stand in the way of progress. Some of us, however, need motivation in order to succeed. At times we doubt our abilities, or we feel that the way is too difficult. For children like that I agree that parents should provide the motivation. However, rather than agree with Ms. Chua I must agree with her husband, Jed:

“‘Children don’t choose their parents,’ he once said to me. ‘They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.'”

It is every parent’s duty to protect and nurture their children. We should always strive to help our children be the best they can be, and to help them discover the best parts of themselves. As for me, I will never be a “Tiger Mother”…and it may be the best parenting decision I ever make.

I’ll probably still read the book, though. She’s a good writer.

Decide for yourself:

Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

John J. Edwards III, “Are U.S. Parents Too Soft?”

WSJ: “‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’: Review Revue”

Rachel Emma Silverman, “In Defense of Laissez-Faire Parenting”

Buy the book: Barnes & Noble

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2 comments

  1. […] Where the “Chinese mother” model gets it right…and why I will never be one. (shanshantastic.wordpress.com) […]


  2. […] Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. I’ve even contributed my two cents in a previous post, but the subject bears revisiting simply because it brings up an ongoing and fantastic debate about […]



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