Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why Chinese mothers are superior, and how I (kind of) agree

I am fascinated by this article. Utterly fascinated.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

I didn't say I completely agreed with it. I also didn't say I completely disagreed with it.

Hence the fascination.

In case you don't feel compelled to click away and read it in its entirety, let me give you the Cliff Notes version.

Basically, the author, Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor and a "Chinese mother living in a Western world", explains and somewhat advocates a "tough love" policy that is standard in her country, but would be considered mental child abuse in the United States.

While Western parents lament about damaging their children's fragile self-esteem, she says Chinese parents assume - and demand - strength in their children. Failure just isn't an option.

I can see her point.

I get squirmy, however, when she uses the example of children and grades. An American child comes home with a "B" and most parents will praise him or her. A Chinese child comes home with a "B", and it's assumed the child didn't work hard enough, and he or she is "excoriated, punished and shamed" in order to improve from the experience.

I DO think we coddle our kids, there's no question. We talk about their feelings, we offer anger management classes for those kids who just can't control their emotions, we invite them to get in touch with who they are. We make excuses for them due to issues at school, at home, with parents, with friends, or just in their own thought patterns. We label and categorize them with disorders such as "anxiety with depressed mood", "attention deficit - impulsive type" and "borderline personality disorder".

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these don't exist. I've advocated myself for some special acknowledgments and treatments for my own kids over the years based on internal and external factors.

But the other part of my brain - the non-motherly part - really wonders if all this "freedom of expression" is doing our kids any favors. When was the last time you went into your boss and asked if you could have more time on a project because you were having concentration issues? Or that you totally bombed an important client presentation but was just asked by your supervisor to "try a little harder next time?"

Hell, no! You'd be out on your keester. Why? Because there's about 10,000 other "yous" out there chomping at the bit to be in your position. And probably 75% of those are of Chinese descent.

It kind of reminds me of this commercial:

Geico - Sarge

Now, hopefully I've piqued your interest enough that you go and read this article.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Otherwise you're not going to understand when I talk about how I initially thought that the incident at the piano was going a bit too far, but in the end, her daughter played the piece like her mother knew she could. To me, it was not about the fact that her daughter was unable to play the piece. It was because she didn't WANT to. A classic battle of wills, which unfortunately goes on a lot at my house, and sometimes he wins simply because I'm just too tired to fight the fight.

That's my bad.

Kids need to understand that they are the kids and we are the adults, and what we say goes. It doesn't matter if it sucks. It doesn't matter if it "wounds their spirit" or "damages their self-esteem". We as parents have lost the confidence to parent like our parents did. We're meek and unsure and trepidacious, due in part to this wave of pussyfooting parenting that started with the baby books advocating co-sleeping and nursing until the kid is three years old. Now I'm NOT suggesting calling your child a loser, a nerd, a geek, an idiot, a bonehead, a jerk, an imbecile, a pinhead, a twit or a moron. But enough of the preening and stroking and adoration and flattery and laudation at every breath they take.

You really want to read that article now, don't you?

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

If you're still not willing, here's how she closes:
"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."

I know I don't have the balls to be a Chinese parent, but I'm kind of sick of cradling my child's every emotion in my hand like a wounded bird. I'm wondering if there's some sort of middle ground - between here and China - that I can discover, stick my flag in the ground and announce, "I am Parent. Hear me roar."

Read the article. Then comment below. You know you have an opinion.


  1. Fascinating. I was supposed to be a Chinese mom.

    Parenting is one area where James and I are on opposite sides... it is not fun. He is a 'hover-er', I encourage independence. James coddles, I institute tough love. It'll be interesting to see how the kids turn out.

    I don't know if I could ever be as harsh as a Chinese mom sounds, but I can understand how it works... I wish I would have been pushed harder by my parents - I was a good student, but I could have been better.

    Thanks for sharing this... now to get James to read it. (And I read it at the very beginning.) =)

  2. I'm like you, I agree with certain aspects of the article. Here's what I disagree with, only the piano or violin? What's wrong with all the other musical instruments. No play dates or sleepover. This is a fun part of childhood and socialization. She is raising children who are book smart but lack creativity, social competence, and independent thinking.

    It was a very interesting read. My husband and I are more down, the middle type of parents. We expect our kids to get A's and B's, just so we know they understand the concepts that were taught to them. We feel grades are important but it doesn't have to be A's. We feel it's important that they try different activities to find something they like. We think music is important but if their interest doesn't lie there, we want them to have 2 years of piano lessons so they learn how to read music and understand the basic concepts.

    When reading the piano part of the article, I felt bad for that child. She could have benefitted from a break, given a chance to decompress before trying it again. Withholding water, bathroom breaks, and dinner, all in the name of a song is very harsh.

  3. This is an interesting article. I could have written an almost similar one for Indian parents. I remember that as a child, we simply couldn't get bad grades. It just was an unthinkable thing. Nothing made my parents more upset than bad grades. My father's reason for this was that he knew what we were capable of and it was just that we weren't working hard enough. He always maintained that hard work and focus is all it takes to do well at anything in life. We weren't allowed to go for sleep overs and never got any pocket money. I asked him once, why we never got any pocket money. His reply," Why do you need it? I try and get you everything that you need. If you want something, you ask for it. If it is a "need", i'll get it. If it's something you "want" or "desire".....wait till you have a job and you can get it then."
    Another thing that was made very clear to me early on was that as a student, I have no respect. By that our parents meant that they could scold,spank, criticize, correct us as much as they wanted and we had no right to get offended because respect is what we have to earn by making something good of ourselves in our lives. And the truth of the matter is, no matter how much I hated it all as a child, I am so very thankful to my parents for their "tough love". Had they not been on my case all the time for doing the best in school every single time, I wouldn't have. And honestly, given a choice, which child would pick reading over say playing the Wii? So we were not given a choice. Every evening, we were told to go and play outside with friends. No computer games. We hardly watched any TV and frankly, never saw any need to watch any TV either.
    Another thing that my parents said was that they worked so hard to provide for us and all we had to do was go to school and study. There was no reason at all why we couldn't be the best at the only job we really had.
    I completely agree with this. I don't know very many Indian people.....actually it would be accurate to say that I don't know ANY Indian person who hasn't been raised this way and as far as I know, there are no self esteem issues or any other issues for that matter. No matter what I thought as a child, I raise my kids exactly the same way I was raised. And I know they will be fine. I know that because, I am fine. Like I said, I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the way I was raised. i am a firm believer of "tough love".

  4. Scientific American published a follow up to this story called "Does Science Support the Punitive Parenting of "Tiger Mothering"?" (located here:

    It's an interesting discussion of many of the approaches espoused by Chua and what scientific study has to say about them. While reading it, I was reminded of the chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" in which he discussed a parenting style called “concerned cultivation” which, based on study, appears to work better than other approaches. In concerned cultivation, parents “foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills”.

    I liked the Sciam article, but I'd recommend Gladwell's book to anyone.


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