A Yin Yang Childhood
January 12, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink

A self-proclaimed “Asian mom-in-recovery”, in one of my groups, sent me the link to the Wall Street Journal article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, by Amy Chua, with the note, “Something you might enjoy. Amusing and also illuminating.” Of course, she was 100% correct. It was amusing and illuminating. The article is a no-holds-barred peek at the intensity of the beliefs and practices that characterize  ‘the Chinese mother’. The author quips, “I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother’ loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.”

If you look beyond the provocative nature of  Chua’s strict, demanding and insulting behavior with her children you will read an essay that takes a poke at the differences between Chinese and Western styles of parenting. And the extremes in approach and behavior are hilarious.

“If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”

The Soho Parenting staff, huddled around the Mac, got a kick out of reading Chua’s characterization of Western precious parenting. One psychologist, a young mother herself, laughingly relayed a story about her playgroup in which her toddler grabbed something from another child. “A hush and gasp fell over the room. I felt the weight of the question, ‘OH MY GOD, SHE’S GRABBING!! WHAT DO I DO?”  Thankfully, I snapped myself back to reality, and into my role as mother. Despite the fear of being kicked out of the group, I did what any self respecting ‘Chinese mother’ would do–I took the toy out of my child’s hand, gave it back to the marauded child, and told my little one, “No grabbing!” with all the sternness I could manage.’

We found the article so refreshing, in contrast to the scores of “Western parents” who ask, “Is it Ok to tell a two year-old not to hit me in the face?” Chua is not paralyzed by the idea that one false move will be psychologically traumatizing. Her focus is on the strength, not the vulnerability of the child and on her  role of parent; leader and teacher, not friend.  Obviously, we do not agree with punishment that humiliates, or undue expectations of perfection, but like with sleep training, children need their parents to provide structure and tighter parameters even in the face of a child’s protest. Holding a higher bar for our children, whether in relationship to manners and socialization or in helping them persevere in the face of frustration, boredom or insecurity will build resiliency and pride.

And let us not kid ourselves. In the privacy of our ‘western’ homes there’s a whole lot of  pressuring, shaming and  demanding going on. We just keep it a dirty little secret. So how about trying to balance east and west, embrace both your Chinese and American mother and give your children the benefit of a yin yang childhood.

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  1. kcf
    January 12th, 2011 | 6:25 pm

    When I read it yesterday, it made me queasy, both for its obvious abuses and for the fact that I know I could and should make my kids work harder. I like how you guys have approached it. You sort of agree with my both-sides take, but you took it with humor.

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