random lurker, a commenter here, popped over to my blog a couple of days ago to ask me what i thought about this piece in the wall street jounal about chinese mothers. it's written by a chinese mother, one amy chua who is a professor at harvard and has raised 3 daughters.
dr chua (i'm assuming the phd, given she's a professor) basically compares chinese parenting to western parenting. though she does make the effort at the beginning to say that she is using these terms loosely & that she acknowledges that many in both groups don't fit the stereotype, and what she labels as "chinese" parenting is practiced by people of many cultures & countries.
she then goes on to stereotype these parenting styles throughout the article, and her basic premise is that western parents are soft, chinese parents are tough but better because they expect & demand more of their kids. what she calls chinese parenting is really an autocratic & dictatorial style of family management, where failure is punished, success is rewarded, and giving up (for the child) is not an option. these parents are direct in their criticism of their children, because children can handle it, because it's better for the children, and because this motivates children to behave and achieve in ways that won't be criticised. in all, she believes this style of parenting is better because chinese children are more successful.
of course, feel free to read the full article for yourself, and let me know if i've missed out anything or if i've unfairly mischaracterised what she has tried to say.
as to my reaction, well, where to start. my own parenting style is much more "western" ie more relaxed than the dictatorial model which dr chua describes. not surprising since i've grown up in the west and am basically a westerner with an eastern ethnicity. however, when she goes through her experiences as a parent, they are quite familiar to me.
but i hate her labels so am not going to use them henceforth. i'm trying to think of terms that are less loaded and judgemental, but i'm struggling. so i'll go with autocratic and relaxed.
my gut reaction as i read through the piece was one of disgust. i tried to think about my own internal bias as i read, i looked at my reactions from all angles to see whether there were elements of racism, of a blinkered world-view that i was projecting on to the situation. was i simply being intolerant? those are difficult questions and i'm not sure i know the exact answer.
the basic problem for me is that the autocratic style she described didn't seem to allow enough respect of the children: respect of their wishes, their preferences, and sometimes of their essential humanity. she speaks of achievement, but it seemed to me that this achievement came at too high a cost. on the other hand, we haven't the voices of the children in this piece. we don't know how they feel about their structured lives, and maybe they're actually very happy. maybe the positive benefits of their achievements make them feel good about themselves and the lives they lead. even so, i don't think i could do.
on the other hand, i don't think i'm a completely relaxed parent either. i do expect my children to do well, i expect them to try hard. but i try not to criticise them for their failures, unless i believe that they really haven't put the effort in. in other words, the message i give them is "as long as i know you've worked hard and tried your best, i don't really care what result you achieve. i just want to know that you really, sincerely tried". i've also set more concrete expectations, but unlike dr chua, i'm not prepared to put the details of my children's lives into the public sphere and open them up for scrutiny, so you'll just have to guess at those.
i'm relaxed in that i've let them make their own choices about sport and music. i've let them make choices about the school they attend. i certainly haven't and don't intend to direct them into any area of study, though i've made a couple of suggestions. some of these suggestions have been ignored & that doesn't bother me at all.
my definitions of success tend to be quite different to dr chua's. i'll never judge my children's success by what they own, how high they reach in their career or such things. i want to know that they're happy with what they're doing and i want to know that they spend some of their time in serving the community they live in. i want them to have enough of a social conscience that it translates into action. but even with that, i'm not prepared to dictate it or criticise them for failing to do so. i'll continue to encourage them in that direction, but in the end it's up to them. even community service often depends on privilege - on having the time and money available to put towards those causes.
so. i can't say that i'm particularly impressed with the parenting style espoused by dr chua. i'm not impressed with the self-righteous tone of the article, nor with the stereotypes it portrays and buys into. it completely rubs me the wrong way, and some of that may be because i look at it with western eyes.
here's another review of the piece at racialicious, and they don't like it either.