On “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, and what is wrong about it
Aside from the release of Verizon iPhone 4 and another round of big snow in New York, there is something else that has flooded the internet these days: Ms. Amy Chua’s Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior article on WSJ.
I have to say I like this article. I admire Amy’s honesty and audacity to even talk about things in such controversy that many Chinese are familiar with but may be totally unimaginable to other cultures. I am intrigued and impressed by her witty (at times funny) language and detailed examples, and I mean who would not be?! Especially when you read such a tagline – 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?
However, as much as I have personally lived through many experiences Amy has explicitly described in her article, and as much as I can only nod through her 3 points that by large have differentiated Chinese parents from other parents, I have sadly come to an conclusion that there are at least two fundamental flaws in the very foundation of her arguments:
1) Happiness and success do not necessarily correlate to each other, especially when you define success in such a narrow way.
2) Ending your parenting story when your kids are 15-ish is probably quite pre-mature. What may have worked for a 7-year old does not mean it will work the same for a late teen.
Amy mentioned in her article that Chinese parents will not settle for an A-, and will use very condescending words like “garbage” to the face of their children and expect that they will shape up in the near future. This is not uncommon in a Chinese family and many kids including myself were grown up in such environment where parents ask for absolute perfection and are extremely critical for any mistakes we would make.
The kids would probably shape up. But have you ever thought about what this means in the long run and what this may have done to your kids mentality? Have you ever thought about the possibility of being too afraid to get another A- so she would probably end up cheating on an exam? Have you ever thought about the possibility of not being mentally prepared for another thunderstorm of criticism so she would deliberately only report the good news but never the bad news? And what is the result? The kid will grow up to be a person who cannot face her true self and is always very hesitant to reveal her real feelings (especially when it has anything to do with anxiety) because she was trained in a way to always hide what’s not perfect about herself.
Is that something you want to see in your kids when they grow up? Do you call them happy kids? I don’t think so. I don’t even think it’s psychologically healthy. You may be happy yourself as a parent because you THOUGHT your kids are successful, but it’s YOUR happiness, not your kids’. And I think that’s very selfish of you as a parent.
Amy used the word “produce” several times. To me personally this is almost annoying because I feel it’s a biologically correct yet emotionally distant word to use upon your own kids. I understand the first or second generation of Chinese immigrants may have experienced a lot of hardship in their own times to become what they have become today, And since they have endured so much to finally able to raise kids on this free land, they simply do not accept their kids to achieve any less than what they want them to achieve, in order to continue some sort of family legacy or glory.
There’s a lot of pride, confidence and self-esteem, but at the same time, don’t you think you’re planting the seed of self-contempt to some extent? While all the other parents show up for their kids at school plays and baseball games, your kids can only hold on to her grade report card or an invitation to the next piano contest. I bet your kids would not tell you if they were laughed at in school because they don’t even know how to throw a ball. But I’m sure you wouldn’t care. Why should you care? You’re happy enough because your kids are getting all As.
But wait until it’s time for college applications, wait until being a Captain on the sport team and a lead in the drama club could speak volume about who you are and what you are capable of. And while you’re focusing on your kids scores and piano skills, have you ever taught her how to respect the elderly, how to contribute to community service, and how to work their best on a team? No you have not, and I am sure that will make you devastated when it comes to college. Let’s not even talk about college, just wait until your daughters graduate from middle school and start wearing more makeup and having secret crush on cute guys in high school.
What I am trying to say is that as a parent, you may be able to plan their childhood, but here is no way you can pave the road in front of kids for their entire life. They will diverge, they will become rebellious, they will one day want to escape from your dictatorship, and they will also make mistakes, sometimes very big ones, or even fail. Yes one day they need to make their own decisions, and take responsibility for their own choices, for good or for bad. This very idea might freak you out, my perfect Chinese mother, but that is exactly what they need in order to really grow up, that is how they become a better human being, and that is how they find their own place in the world, a world so much bigger than grades in classes and piano and violin.
I once read a survey done for kids from all over the world. The survey asked the kids to write down the top 10 people they admire and respect the most. Father or mother appears on the list from kids all over the world except for Chinese kids, and here I agree with Amy, Chinese parents are the very ones who claim they have sacrificed the most for their kids and thought their kids owe so much to them. This is very sad, especially when you think about how the kids respond to their parents when they grow up. But from what I can tell there’s a legitimate reason behind it.
Parenting is a life-time endeavor and it is too early to tell right or wrong, better or worse. But I’m hoping Chinese parents like Amy would one day learn to look at themselves from their kids’ eyes, and they may be able to understand better there’s nothing more nourishing and appreciative you can do to your kids than simply respect them as real human beings. You may see short-term success when you suppress your own preference on your kids and use them as tools for your own pride. But there is going to a price you have to pay in the long run.
Only time will tell.