An early effort at writing - this one was on his own
I am a huge fan of the opinion pages and blogs on the Wall Street Journal site. I haven't visited them much, but I tend to enjoy the articles I read there. A recent "Saturday Essay" in the Journal was entitled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. In the article, Amy Chua, a 2nd-generation Chinese-American, describes her parenting methods, and more briefly those of her own parents. She makes a distinction between "Chinese Mothers" and "Western Parents," the difference being not so much race-related as parenting-style related. I've put links to a few other thought-provoking articles at the end of this post.
A "Chinese mother" is one who is strict and accepts the ideas that a child is not going to "want" to press on when the going gets touch and additionally that the child is strong enough (mentally) to handle the criticism that should come from not doing a good job or putting forth good effort. A "Western parent" is one who gives more consideration to what the child wants, allows the child to give up too easily when frustrated, and who puts more value on the child's self-esteem.
Ms. Chua has written several books and is a professor at Yale Law School. The article I linked to is excerpted from her forthcoming book, being published today (apparently), entitled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." I am looking forward to reading this book, I suppose partly for the aspect of seeing into the life of another family (something that has long fascinated me) but also to see how I "stack up" - and where did my own parents fall on the spectrum?
Bruiser trying violin with Papa for the first time
There were several opinion pieces written in response to the article and the online comments were, of course, all over the opinion-map. My parents were somewhere in the middle - with six children, it's hard not to be! We had the expectation placed on us that we would not receive lower than a "B" grade in school. I cannot even say what would have happened had my grades been lower. There was one time that I received a "C" and once extenuating circumstances were changed, my grade improved. But when it came to sports and music, we were encouraged more than "pushed" to do well.
When I think about how Buttercup deals with frustration - when I don't jump in too quickly - she pushes herself in much the same way a Chinese parent might. Obviously, my boys can walk and talk so they also pushed themselves at some early point. At various points, each of them has even rejected my attempts to "help" when they wanted to work through the struggle on their own! While I would much prefer that they continue to push themselves now, I recognize that it will take time before they are back at that point in their lives. In the meantime, it falls to Jeff and me to push them a little. Maestro is finally making the struggle to improve himself for himself, with less and less interference from me. Sometimes he even asks me if I can't "force" him to do x, y, or z - that's largely enough motivation to show me which direction is the "right" one!
The article is a timely one: yesterday, I sent 8-year-old Smeagol back to "properly" clean the bathroom five times and 6-year-oldBruiser had to go around the edge of his room to pick up every scrap therein... it still needs more today. Such pressure may not be such a bad thing for a season as they are growing and expanding their ideas about the world. I do know that the people I know who are least happy in their lives are those who are not producing something - it doesn't have to be something great or noteworthy necessarily, but challenging enough at various times to strengthen their minds or bodies. We were made for work but not the type of work that involves sitting in front of a screen all day. My boys (and now girl) need to learn that - and learn it early if I have any influence over them at all.
I found Chua's take both interesting and refreshing. My initial thought was that over the last few years American society has viewed such strict parenting methods negatively, giving it the moniker of "helicopter parenting." But in reflection, I decided that helicopter parents aren't quite the same thing - those are the Western Parents who hover over their children waiting to "fix" the messes their children get into - or waiting to rescue their children from "too strict" (or too honest?) instructors/professors/coaches.
Maestro practicing piano - also on his own
To close on a more humorous note - there was a prime-time cartoon/show on tv several years ago (perhaps still around?) called King of the Hill. I mention this show - and this point in the show - not to disparage any ethnicity (that's my disclaimer - I know that some were likely offended by the comment; Jeff would tell me I "need to be careful," and the children of such parents probably laughed and nodded their heads as they recognized points of their own upbringing but...)
The characters are over-the-top stereotypes of Texans (barely educated, back-alley beer drinkers - "good old boys") and the the neighbors hard-driving Laotian immigrants. The daughter pulled a lower grade at one point in the show and the mother stood over her and said, "You not B-sian, you not C-sian, you A-sian!" Though I have no Asian in my family background at all, I still strive to walk that line that balances the best of both for my kids - doing otherwise would be to their detriment!
Smeagol reasoning something out
A few other articles that gave me pause for thought with regard to what my children need from me in their educations:
An article in The Week online: How Writing by Hand Makes Kids Smarter
An article in Wall Street Journal online: Are U.S. Parents too Soft?
Another from the Wall Street Journal online: In China, Not All Practice Tough Love
Wall Street Journal online: In Defense of Laissez-Faire Parenting