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I'm A Non-Superior Mother

At park day yesterday, one of the moms shared an article from the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua titled, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. This article has generated a lot of buzz though I remained blissfully unaware of it while in my knitting-induced haze. 

I do agree with some of the ideas presented as musts: skipping sleepovers, playdates and school plays especially in the younger years and I adore the "no complaining" rule. However most of the descriptions of what Chinese mothers do made me sick to my stomach, but I am saddened the most by this:

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

Personally that sounds like a miserable life for a child and a parent. I'm not a lax parent allowing my children to do as they please. (Yes, they are only 4-1/2, but I have no intentions of being lax in the future, either.) At the same time, I respect their innate differences and abilities. If I have to force my child to practice her piano lesson then perhaps piano isn't where her interest lies? Maybe she would be better served with violin, guitar, the harp or she could simply not be musically inclined. GASP! 

At the same time, I agree with Chua that "the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up." In our house we have to complete the course. When it is time to sign up for the next session, the girls are free to choose. Often they will say that they don't want to do something that we've agreed to. By explaining that we have to honor our commitments we go ahead without arguing or complaints. 

What worries me most about this type of parenting, though, is the emphasis that it puts on academic grades. These children miss out on the the most important part of childhood. Play. Free, imaginative, open-ended, unstructured play. 

This type of playing helps children to be able to problem-solve, work with others and learn self-control. And can help them get into Harvard.

Children's development hasn't changed since at least 1925 when the Arnold Gessell first published his developmental schedules. That means replacing play with drilling and extensive academics won't help them in learning only in training. 

So the question is, should children to learn or be trained? I'm voting for learning.

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Reader Comments (4)

I saw a commentary on this article as well and felt saddened. Of course, it is not for me to judge the way another culture operates, but I don't believe this style of parenting is what will help American children succeed in the coming age. I believe that ingenuity, leadership, and creativity will be the keys to becoming successful rather than being obedient, compliant, and "programmed".

A friend of mine posted this on facebook and I just loved it and think it speaks to the idea of the child "owing" the parents:

"Even after all this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
"You owe me."

And look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the whole sky."


January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Nelson

The author wrote this article in defense of Chinese mothers, with many books coming out recently demonizing them. Her point is that although their methods seem harsh, they are only doing it because they expect "the best" from their children, and they are doing it for their childrens' benefit. I disagree because the way she describes pushing her daughter to play piano sounds much more like child abuse than love, and although her daughter was finally able to do it, it comes at a very high price. I personally know chinese people who grew up like this, and the are bitter about their childhoods, and they feel their parents will only love them when they are successful (which she clearly admits in this article.) And it doesn't have to go to the other extreme either, parents can encourage their children to practice their music, stick with a program they want to quit, and get excellent grades without yelling and name calling. A parents love should never be based on a child's achievements.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrivky

Here from ICLW! That article! I can't remember anything that caused more of a ruckus since Ayelet Waldman's essay in the NYT (she claimed she loved her husband more than her kids). I spoke to my friend who is in the mental health profession, and she said she really hopes this style of parenting doesn't go mainstream. She sees clients who were raised this way ( the drilling, the name calling, the pressure to be perfect) and they are messes as adults apparently (I'm sure not ALL of them, but her clients anyway). Anxiety and paralysis to pursue anything in case they don't do it perfectly are common hallmarks.

Chua DOES raise some valid points, which you called out, and I don't disagree with the banning of TV.

Interesting post. Thanks for the food for thought...

January 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJjiraffe

Goodness, that article certain raised a lot of commotion! It's interesting for me to think on, but is not yet applicable for us, as my twins are just about to turn one.

What is missing from this parenting style is grace. She lacks grace in dealing with her children. Do I believe that self-esteem should be borne out of achievement and hard work, and not just empty praise? Absolutely! I also believe that Americans tend to be hesitant to demand excellence from our children, because we might, somehow, damage their fragile egos. Demanding excellence needs to be handled with grace. "Excellence" is different to each child. An "A" might be excellent for one, while a "B" is truly excellent for another.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

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