Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Who's Your Mama?

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


  1. I read that article after you posted it. I was definitely not pushed to even do my homework as a youngun, nor was I pressed to do chores or help around the house. That did not help me as an adult!

    One question: why is P. playing the violin naked?

  2. He's not naked - just had his shirt off because it was almost bedtime but he was excited about having something new to try out.

    The more I see, the more I think there is room for the "Chinese" and the "western" ways to meet in the middle more successfully than anything else.Funny thing is that as this book is being put out here in the U.S. the big books in China right now are ones that emphasize a need for LESS pressure on Chinese children!

  3. Both my parents worked so I did not have the strict rules as the article. No piano lessons for us or other things to round us out. There were no sleep overs or such either. My parents couldn't help me with homework because they worked til 7-8pm. They just came from Asia so my English was better than theirs.

    But we were expected the same success and accomplishments as our peers. We are still compared to this day to our relatives and so and so's daughter. I am a failure because I did not amount to anything worth while. I am also fat in Asians' eyes because I weigh more than a sack of rice. One comment was " Are you coming off the plane or rolling down the tarmac?" when I was a teenager. Even as recently as 2 yrs ago I was verbally ganged up on by relatives and told I was fat and better shape up or I would lose my man.

    There are some values I cannot shake off and that's with E's learning. We expect A's from her and if she's failing aka "B" then we get her a tutor. She studied piano, was on a swim team, and all that stuff. I only pushed her so much though, because she lost interest and wanted to do other things. While I did not appreciate years of piano lessons down the drain, I cannot say no to other instruments like the clarinet or sax. She is now onto guitars and has 2 at home. She wanted to do volleyball instead of swim team and I let her do that, she can swim, that's good for me. My other Asian friends' kids learn piano, violin, join a swim team, etc. That is norm for them and I am sure they didn't let their children stop even if they did lost interest.

    One thing that is different in Western society is this need to be the child's friend. The coddling and avoiding of hurt feelings and 50 times of telling the child "this is the last time..." and no follow through. I am not here to be my child's friend, I am here to instill strong values so she will grow up to be an able adult. I'm not calling the universities and begging them to let me kid in because "Johnny" is a good kid and deserve to get in the school. ( have you seen that article?) It's hard work and dedication. And we tell her that. Good grades get you more opportunities.

    She doesn't talk back because she knows better to mouth off. She has curfews and chores and there is cause and effect here. Grounding such as losing her phone or internet works. Not spending time with friends also hurts. But for all the "mean" things I do, I know it pays off because she will come to me and tell me "thank you for grounding me because I know you care and want me to be a better person. " (she's not even being sarcastic) She then tells me about other friends and how they treat their parents or their parents treat them and it amazes her. So she knows we do things for her own good. She knows that in this family we do things with love and respect. And fear... fear works too. ;)

  4. It's good to see a perspective from someone with Asian parents. My parents were a little more like yours I think - strict but working much of the time. We were required to take "an" instrument and anything but percussion counted (Mom wasn't sure that we would learn to read music with percussion and she wanted to make sure that was part of our learning.) We were allowed to get Bs but anything lower was unacceptable.

    Now two of the boys are doing at-home lessons for piano, and F. is also doing guitar off of the same program. I have to sit with Y. for him to "get" what the instructor is saying about piano playing, so really I get to learn too. One of my mom's favorite expressions, said whenever we didn't like what we were told to do, and in response to, "DO I HAVE TO??" was, "No, you GET to." That line has taken on whole new meaning for me as I see others who can't do much of what I can and my kids (haha!) hear it often as well. Funny how those thing stick with us :)

    I like the fear part too - it has worked a few times in our house, I won't deny it!

  5. REQUIREMENTS for my children were few:
    1. must play a musical instrument (sometimes I allowed them to choose which one - but not always)
    2. must speak a foreign language (5 chose Japanese, one "spoke" sign language:-)
    3. must go to college (oldest has 2 AA's and is in school again at 35 to change professions; 2nd child graduated w/BA last spring WHOO WHOO MELISSA; 3rd attended, has yet to go back and graduate...but did go; 4th went, plans on returning - but has it on hold while he works to provide for his seven (7!) children; 5th is on final classes and will graduate w/BA (in MUSIC) in May; and my baby GRADUATED FIRST!! w/ BA in Business - beating out her sister by a mere 2 months!!

    Lastly, all of my children were required to either do military service or some form of community "giving" as adults, which has ranged from my Navy daughter, to my Marine son, to my very involved church son to my non-profit inclined daughter (also considering the Peace Corp:-)

    Bear in mind, I take NO credit for their accomplishments. I simply set forth the expectations and knew in my heart that they were capable people with giving hearts - and still are!


I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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