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Things that make you go hmmm....: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

When I first read the article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior", I wasn't sure if it was a joke.  As an Asian American mama myself, I hated the stereotypes the article perpetuated.  I have since calmed, and I appreciated reading Amy Chua's response to readers.

When I was growing up, my parents decided what were acceptable extracurricular activities.  I had some independence (they did not necessarily prefer that I played soccer or basketball, but they allowed it), with the only expectation that I would do the best that I could (i.e. "excel") in any of my activities, from sports to academics.  I recall a memorable lecture from my father; the gist of it was "you will never be mediocre."  Luckily, I did pretty well and rose to the challenge.

Now that I am an adult, I cherish mediocrity.  Now that I am a parent, I find myself shirking from applying pressure on the kids.  "I don't want to practice the piano!" they say.  So, I respond, "Ok", shrugging shoulders.  My partner, however, does have the strict streak, even raising the voice to a stern-almost-scolding tone when insisting that they practice, practice, practice when they have already reached their limits.

"Eastern", "western" or not, the original article begs the questions: when it comes to extracurricular activities, are you strict with practicing until perfect?  When it comes to socializing, do you allow your children less latitude, in favor of academics and parent-selected activities?  Do you think there is value to applying rigidity, regimen, pressure and expectation in the kids' lives? Or, do you opt for the child-directed?  Leaving expectations self-set and pressure low or nonexistent?


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So...we are in the beginning stages of this with our 2 girls who have been involved in suzuki violin lessons now for 4 months. The elder, who is 5.5, who desired to start, now wants to quit...saying that it is too hard. So how timely!

I think that one of the points that the author makes that I certainly agree with is: things are more fun when you are better at them. And children need encouragement to get through the difficult times which may not be as fun. That is what I am taking home from the article to apply to my current situation. I am acknowledging that now it is harder...but encouraging to keep with it.

I think another point which I have received well...that Eastern societies accept only the best because they know that their children CAN be the best. I like the idea of instilling in my children that their potential is limitless. I certainly experienced that...After entering a private all girl school in the 7th grade in the lowest tier of scorers on the entrance exam, I graduated valedictorian (surpassing a few Asian girls on the way up, I might add!). I know that I had a lower IQ than many of my peers at the time, but I worked very hard...and I was successful. I compare myself now to my husband who I believe was likely much more "intelligent" than I in school...but he never worked hard, He was too bored, Iguess...and in fact, I actually feel much more satisfied with my education than he does at this point in our lives. I guess I actually "got more out of it" because I put more in.....

I found the article thought provoking as well... We have strategically limited our children's participation in organized sports, and as a result, my oldest boy's skills are not as strong as some of his peers (although he is still very much in the middle of the pack, I think). He is just now starting his 2nd 8 week "season" of soccer and he turned 6 in November. My husband, who grew up skiing competitively from a very young age in Norway, and lived on the neighborhood soccer field, is concerned that the boy isn't "getting it", and that he doesn't seem to have the drive, or that he's not aggressive enough. Husband and I have talked about whether or not it is even possible to teach competitive behaviors? My son, however, LOVES soccer! He's having fun, and thinks he's quite good. In my mind, this is all that matters. If he changes his mind along the way, we'll have a conversation about what to do. I'm not comfortable with the idea of forcing something on them, but I'm also a fan of finishing what you've started. We'll see.

Really, the superior mothers are the ones who push children to develop skills like playing violin to the detriment of the normal childhood activities necessary to develop social skills and discover the world, like running/biking around the neighborhood park with a bunch of other kids? Well, than I am glad my mother was not superior by this definition. I am not aspiring to be a "superior" mother myself either.
After a day at school filled with hard work and an afternoon with homework, there is nothing better than going out to play.

I also want to add that I don't need my children to be the best. Good at what they are doing, happy and good people is what they should aspire to be.

I'm glad you posted on this, Olivia, as I was working up the ... energy? perspective? to do so myself. I read the criticisms of her before I'd read her initial piece, including the piece in the New York Times that said she'd been getting death threats, so I went into its reading with a decided empathetic bent. on one hand I think she was really only trying to be a great mother and, in this, should be at the very least admired for her bravery in telling her story. (and, it should be noted, she never *actually* followed through on burning her daughter's stuffed animals ;)

on the other hand, of course, her behavior is an example of what parenting like this does; removes empathy and the treasuring of childhood delight from your set of parental skills. I never read an example of when her girls tried to do better in cards to her (after she rejected their 4- and 7-year-old offerings as not good enough); I wonder if she's never received homemade gifts from them as a result.

with respect to the extracurricular activities, though, I've thought a lot about this in the past several weeks as we worked through new choices for Everett, whose activities had been cut to nil for a few years as we struggled to come to a balance with the struggle to simply go to school successfully. this year, we started LEGO club, the Oregon Battle of the Books, wrestling, and guitar. LEGO and the Battle of the Books have so far been great, though I've had to push a bit with the reading, he's done so in a way that seems to indicate his desire to do so; guitar was two weeks of absolute stress as it was so hard to get the fingering right and we've decided to wait for a few years until he's older.

wrestling has been that thing where the, umm, Tiger Mother in me has come out. I can tell he's great, and he loves, loves, loves the part in practice where you're running and somersaulting and doing weird animal-named walks. after a first great tournament, though, he started losing; and said he hated wrestling (but still would want to go to practice). I know what he really needs is months, and months, of practicing those moves in order to make them second nature; in other words, he'll love it when he gets good at it.

so I'm making him stick with it, and promising him I'll make him a little mat room in the basement when he's done with this season so we can practice all summer long together. it seemed a little stage-mom-y to me before I read the Tiger Mother stuff. now it has this extra context, and lots of scary baggage potential.

I guess where I'll always differ from Tiger Mother is that I've been through a whole raft of failure for my kid and I know the emotional problems that can result as an adult when a parent says you're garbage through words or actions. threats of toy destruction in an effort to motivate your kids are just terrible and wrong.

and I'm all for As, but I think kids who want As give themselves enough pressure and don't need any more from their parents.

I think as with all things in life, there is a middle ground here. I do like the idea of parenting with the assumption that children and capable and strong. However, I think this needs to be communicated in a way that also builds confidence and self esteem. Calling your child fatty, screaming at them to do better, and giving back homemade gifts/cards are not appropriate in my opinion.

I do make my kids follow through - when they choose a class or enrichment program, I make them do it for the entire session, like it or not. It irks me to see helicopter moms swooping in to feed their children snacks at every opp, hold their hands through every activity, and cheering "that's life" sort of activities like getting dressed/brushing teeth, cleaning up after themselves.

I do think in many ways parenting has gone "soft" and it will be interesting to see what characterizes this generation as they become teenagers are adults. So far, I see a lot of self entitlement and apathy. All the choices have gone overboard in my opinion, and the rewards for just operating in society are overboard. I am not too extreme, as in I am not against rewards for good behavior...but I don't think *everything* needs to be rewarded - I save the rewards for really exemplary behavior.

I guess what I am saying is that to some extent I agree with her. But, I think there is a middle ground where you can raise happy, responsible, high achieving, socially competent children while still letting them participate in sports, play and have fun. I haven't read her book, but I gather from her response to her initial essay that she eventually came to that conclusion, too.

As with all things...moderation is key.

I actually don't believe my children can be "the best." I believe they can achieve to their own fullest potential, but that may not necessarily mean becoming valedictorian or getting into Harvard. They are bright, creative kids and I love them dearly. But I don't think their potential is limitless. No one's is. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how hard I struggled, I was never going to "get" calculus. It simply wasn't in me. For my parents to have pushed me the way Amy Chua would have pushed her daughters, instead of accepting my C math grades and encouraging me in the areas in which I did excel, would have been cruel and pointless. And, in fact, those poor math grades never prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do in life. It is a lesson I have always carried with me and apply to my parenting.

That said, there are certain values we have as a family that I suppose you could say we "push." We value making music, reading, playing outdoors, and working hard at school, with the goal of learning what you need to know and getting into college. We do make our kids follow through on what they start. We have not actively discouraged our kids from being involved in organized sports, but that is something we don't particularly value, especially because of the craziness we've seen it bring to the lives of other families. We don't want the soccer schedule to determine when we eat dinner, for example, and we have been pretty clear about that. (How much of my kids complete lack of interest in organized sports has to do with our attitude vs. their own inclination, I don't know.)

I agree that there is a middle ground, and from the amount of backpedaling Ms. Chua has done since the original WSJ article was published, I think it's clear that she does, too.

I found the sentence about parenting from a belief in a child's strength to be particularly meaningful. It hadn't occurred to me that some of the things we tend to do unintentionally give the message that they are not fully capable. I think I will keep that tidbit with me even though how I plan to accomplish that might not be quite so extreme.

We don't ask enough of our kids in this country. That I agree with her on. However, everything about her parenting methods feels WRONG to me. Playdates are important. Free time is important. Social experiences outside of academics are important. Grace and acceptance are important, for goodness sake!

I think that you can set reasonable limits and hold high expectations for your kids, without resorting the ridiculous extremes that Chua clings to. The reason why I did well in school is not because my mom berated me and drove me to perfectionism, but because she generated a genuine curiousity about the world in me.

I really hate how we have an age segregated society in which we expect that "kids will just be kids" and we don't think that they'll be interested in educational or cultural experiences. Well, of course not - if you never give them the chance! As a parent, you have the power to instill that drive to learn and excell in your child. Sure it may require some lifestyle changes .... maybe less screen time and more trips to the library. Maybe a pep talk instead of letting your kid give up half way through a sports season. Maybe being firm about giving the piano lessons more than a couple of months. Maybe you'll need to be more hands-on and involved in their education to help them succeed. But I think BALANCE is always superior the more authoritarian approach to parenting that Chua endorses. Honestly, her piece scared me - I really hope she was exaggerating.

This author's story of his childhood with a tiger mother (and a tiger father) is moving and shows the deep damage done by this style of parenting


The above author (Lac Su) as with many of the critiques are based solely on the excerpt that ran and not the actual book. Like anything that is abridged, you miss a lot of the context, so I think Lac Su article is way off base in his comparison of his childhood with the one offered by Amy Chua. For one, Chua does not accuse her daughters of being stupid. Quite the contrary, she holds high expectations simply because she knows they are NOT stupid. Furthermore, Lac Su was physically abused by his "tiger" father. This obviously will leave tremendous scars, but cannot be compared to Chua's parenting. I think a more accurate commentary comes from Chua's daughter in this response: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/why_love_my_strict_chinese_mom_uUvfmLcA5eteY0u2KXt7hM/0

Her daughters are still quite young, so only time will tell regarding their "success" whether measured in happiness or by a fancy resume.

Am, I hate to sound so negative, but you can't really judge the mom by what a young daughter says. Unfortunately, children abused by parents are not always able to be critical of their parents. That is because they want to believe they not abused. They want to believe their family is normal. They don't want to believe those who should protect them are abusing them. Besides, what prove do we have that the mom did not force the girl to write this piece?

My point was that Su's critique, like so many others, is based on a WSJ excerpt designed to spark controversy. While I haven't read Su's book, I have read Chua's and there is nothing to suggest the abuse that Su is referring to. I think it's unfair to compare and judge without reading the full story, and such critique loses credibility as a result. (Unfortunately, quick and baseless judgment is tremendously prevalent in our society it appears). Chua's book, like Su's, is a memoir and not a parenting-style handbook. If you take the time to read the book, you might be surprised to find a fellow parent who has the humility to poke fun at her flaws and admit when she made mistakes in her parenting.

Like most parents, I'm somewhere in the middle--but I'm definitely not one to pressure a really little kid. Nor do I think every child is capable of excellence in every thing----in fact it's ridiculous to think any kid or any person would be.

I went to an academic honors magnet school where all the kids and their parents endlessly pressured themselves. Most of our graduates went to Ivy League schools and graduate programs. Through FB, I've caught up with many of them.

Many of them might have had successful careers, but thier personal lives are complete messes and they're all deeply depressed. I see similar issues with kids whose parents pushed them with athletics.

That said, we set expectations that my daughter generally try her best in school--but we base our grade expectations on her ability: with her dyslexia and subsequent testing anxiety, a "C" in math is perfectly fine (actually, better than fine). A "C" (or even a "B" in art or drama isn't.

I also consider the teacher and what their grading criteria is. She currently has a very rigid teacher who openly dislikes her. As an experiment, I ghost wrote an assignment (I never, ever do this) keeping my daughter's voice and typing it. The assignment received a "C", even though I followed the lengthy instructions exactly, this was a middle school assignment and I write marketing copy for a living.

Consequently, I give her something of a pass in that class, because if I can't do particularly well, how is an eleven year old going to?

There's no way I would've EVER rejected anything created by my daughter when she was 4 or 7. I can't imagine being a mother who would.

Nice article about Chinese mothers...Its very good article which is ful of informative stuff here...

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