A few days ago I came across an article by Amy Chua titled: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. I knew I wanted to respond to it, but it took me a few days of thinking because while I disagree with Chua’s assertion that Chinese mothers have better parenting practices (I’m just not into mom-bashing), I don’t disagree with all of her methods.
If you read the article, you might find this surprising. Chua berates her daughters, and offers them few liberties. They fight and scream, and Chua takes away their toys and refuses to give them bathroom breaks, all in the name of accomplishment.
Well, believe it or not, I grew up in a similar household. My mother is close to what Chua would call a Chinese mother. Chua notes that the term doesn’t refer only to Chinese women, that it’s more of a methodology in parenting. While my mother didn’t deny me use of the bathroom and she did allow me to drop piano lessons, she was extremely exacting. When my grades weren’t up to par, I had to take private lessons late into the night until they improved. She spent hours drilling me and going over homework. My mother also wasn’t averse to using harsh language, and Chua, has no compunction about calling her children “garbage” if they don’t do as expected. (For the record, my mother never called me anything like that.)
Chua’s girls are both accomplished musicians and appear to be none the worse for wear. I didn’t turn out too badly either. I earned my Masters Degree at age 22 and am the author of 8 books. So I know it’s possible to extract accomplishment from children.
And yet, I’m happy not to do it.
While I do fine in my writing career, I know that I could be much further along if I was more confident. The thing is, being berated diminishes your sense of self-worth. And I don’t think it’s something that Chua’s Chinese mother recognizes. When there’s no one there to crack the whip and you’re relying on yourself, the confidence required to excel on your own steam may not be available to you. Because failure brings immediate negative thoughts. And no one to push you past those thoughts means you may get stuck there. Kids in that position may peak early, and then flounder.
For my own children, my tactic is a little different. It’s about balance. My daughter is an honor student, plays violin, kicks butt in Tae Kwon Do, and chooses what she wants to do with her free time. My son also plays violin, and when he starts elementary school, I’ll work hard to help him be the best possible student, but he’ll also be able to choose what he does for fun.
I don’t think accomplishment needs to come out of such a harsh environment. So I’m OK not being a Chinese mother. I’m OK being exactly the mother I am.