We have not been able to stop talking about The Wall Street Journal essay by Amy Chua, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior -- an excerpt from her recently published book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press 2011). "Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?" Check out Suzzane's fabulous post on the topic as well, and join the conversation!
When I read Amy Chua’s article, my blood started to boil. Now given, my five year-old daughter goes to a Waldorf school, which is arguably the diametrically opposed opposite of growing up with a Chinese mother, so I'm probably not her target audience. Kids in my daughter's school are nurtured, hugged, coddled even. But they also love school and work hard to earn the faith, love and trust they are given unconditionally by their teachers and their parents. Will the Waldorf method work for my child? I don't know. I know a lot of Western kids grow up entitled, spoiled, lazy, fat, and unfocused. And I know Chinese kids tend to be better at math, science, and music. But at what price?
Kids are only children for so long, and really, as parents, what is our goal? To raise prodigies who hate themselves? Or to raise happy children? Sure, my loving, nurturing, accepting approach to parenting may backfire on me. My daughter may fail academically, never excel at anything, and wind up in therapy with an eating disorder and suicidal tendencies. I can’t know now what will work and what won’t.
But I’m not willing to sell out her childhood in order to make her get straight A’s or wind up at Juilliard. My sole goal is for her to grow up knowing in her heart of hearts that she is loving and lovable, that she is whole and vital, that her life matters and that she’s here for a reason, and that her mother -- and the Universe -- love her, no matter what. Everything else is just gravy.
I read this Chau article and said a silent thank you for my Western parents, seeing as the highlights of my childhood included playdates, sleepovers, and cheerleading. But I also found myself nodding in agreement a few times. My oldest daughter is in first grade and it is clear she is smart. I have high expectations for her and they will remain high. Hard work is something I value.
I think the parenting styles of “Chinese Mothers” have been brought into our awareness to illustrate the need for balance. Many Western children are coddled or given a sense of entitlement that works to their detriment (just ask any college professor who’s gotten a call from one of their student’s moms). I’ve also noticed a theme of equating a busy schedule with being a valued individual. We (Westerners) fill our kids’ days with “activities” without teaching them how to nurture their souls.
What we really need to do is teach our children that success requires hard work but also that our souls need connections, rest, and joyful expression to thrive. It’s the balance that creates wholeness!
Mrs. Chua quotes the study on the differences between Chinese mothers and Western ones as, ‘“academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job."’ I’ve seen parents, from all societies, who look upon parenting as a “job”. Chinese mothers have taken this to the extreme, and it could be argued that they have excelled at it. For this western mother, I’ve never seen the raising of my children as a “job” -- parenting, to me, is not an INSTITUTION but a RELATIONSHIP.
While I’m working to guide, teach, educate, protect and love my children, I’m constantly reminding myself to open my magical mommy eyes to see the individual blooming before me: her dry humor, his kind heart, her moral indignity, his casual outlook. I believe they have as much to teach and share with me as I do with them, which would put my parenting style on the opposite spectrum as Mrs. Chua. How interesting it would be to compare our children in 20 years.
I read this article and had trouble wrapping not my brain, but my emotions around it. I couldn’t decide if I was sad for the children who are treated this way, angry at the parents' behavior, shocked that a highly intelligent mother had just been so public about her abusive treatment of her children -- or perhaps all three. If ever there was a polar opposite of a mother, here I am. My children's grades are not the most important aspect of school. I think socialization, play and experimenting are far more important that succeeding and being the “best”. When making a request of my children I always say, “please” -- because that is how I expect them to speak to other people. They have an open invitation to complain, or express their valuable opinion on any given topic -- because I believe in teaching emotional intelligence. I want my children to figure out who they are, what they want in life, and to create their definition of happiness -- whatever it means for them, not me.
What do YOU think? Is there a "right" way to parent? Do you identify more with the parenting style reflected in Amy Chua's article, or with any of the bloggers above? Was there a particular practice your parents employed in your childhood that you swear you'll never repeat with your children? What is your goal as a parent?
When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.