Today, Ellyn von Huben takes a closer look at the increasingly pervasive discussion prompted by the "Tiger Mother" and her unique style of parenting. Below, read Ellyn's thoughts on whether or not "Chinese Mothers are Superior."
I doubt that there have been many lagging conversations happening in the past three weeks. Any silent gaps are filled with “So what do you think of all this Tiger Mother stuff?” Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal essay “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” has set off a controversy that can’t be avoided.
Chua launches this encapsulation of her memoir, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, with the admission that “a lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.” I wonder. And I have to figure that my two [superlatives redacted for brevity’s sake] half Chinese granddaughters - whose father is a stereotypically overachieving first generation ABC (American Born Chinese) - have it half made, right? Maybe. Maybe not.
The author paints a rather grim picture of the rigors endured by the children of a Chinese mother (and, of course, she reminds us that one need not be Chinese to be a Chinese mother): no sleep overs, no TV, no playdates, no frivolous extracurricular activities, hours of daily practice on piano or violin, no parental tolerance for any grades below A. Who out there has not yet heard the story of the ordeal Chua’s younger daughter went through in the mastery of a difficult piano piece? The birthday card returned to its juvenile maker with a request to do better? The anecdote about calling her daughter “garbage?”
She explains, “The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable - even legally actionable - to Westerners.” I certainly have noticed that the Asian culture does not rely on the circumlocution which is preferred by Westerners. A Chinese mother would simply say “You are fat,” whereas, I might say “Have you considered cutting back on the all the simple carbs you’ve been eating? And, by the way, we moved the elliptical machine into the living room, isn’t that an improvement? Oh, and I think the dog could use a nice long walk.”
It is this stark communication style which is used to convey what is expected of the Chinese mother’s child in school and family life. It is the parent who directs the child’s life rather than the Western style of the parent helping the child in the divination of his desires.
I mentioned some sort of baby toy to my granddaughters' Chinese grandmother and I was chastened with “No toys. Books.” The older girl was not even old enough to hold her head up and the educational expectations were laid out. (I found this very funny since my fondness for books borders on concupiscence and the housing of my collection has become a sensitive issue in my marriage.) Education - indeed, total the formation of the child - is the good parent’s aim. How to go about is where we find the division.
Amy Chua’s assertion that the Chinese mother believes that her child is excellent and not in need of emotional coddling is interesting; contrast that with the common Western presumption that a child is delicate and in constant need of support and cultivation of “good self-esteem.” I don’t think I could ever call one of my children ‘garbage’ or excoriate her for bringing home a report card full of Bs. But I wish that I might have been a little less worried about their delicate psyches and, perhaps, a bit more of a task mistress. Sometimes I even rue the fact that I didn’t have a Chinese mother - someone who would have kept me focused on my early collegiate pre-med ambitions and steered me away from the art history and religious studies that have qualified me for supplementing the family income by alphabetizing altar servers, ordering incense and answering phones in a church. Sometimes. When contemplating the latest stack of utility bills, I like to think that I wouldn’t be sweating it so much if I were some sort of brain science rocket surgeon.
Parents want what is best for their children. What is best and how to obtain it is the essence of the Tiger Mother debate. What do I want for my children? Is it just excellence in a limited skill set? Is it success? Wealth? Or something more?
As a Christian mother I want my children to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. (Yes, even this mom has been known to demand some intense rote memorization) Parents have a monumental responsibility. Brain stimulating DHA supplementation, structured play groups, and violin proficiency are relatively superficial concerns. The real stuff is eternal.
Here is where is I really bristled at Chua’s essay. The denigration of a child, even if done with good intent, seems to have ramifications beyond self-esteem issues. If a parent’s unconditional love is what a child may use as a correlative jumping off point in her perception of God, then what do we make of the use of “garbage,” “stupid,” and “disgrace?”
I hope that the common denominator in all the ensuing conversations from the Tiger Mother phenomenon will be love. True love - willing the good of the other as other - that leads all parents to realize the privilege and responsibility that God has given them. And a love that sees beyond the excellence to be achieved in this world to the perfection of the next.