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January 14, 2011

A Nation Full of Wusses??

When I first heard the governor of PA say that when they cancelled the Philly game, I laughed and agreed. However, I did think due to the mass amounts of snow - the upper decks at the stadium and the craziness when the fans left would be just plain dangerous since it snowed so much...

but recently, the phrase popped into my head again while reading this article by Amy Chua "Why Chinese mothers are superior".  Now I know many of you don't agree with this article. In fact The Husband already told me he didn't agree with a lot of it... but i couldn't help but nod in agreement or comment "my mom Sooooo did that too" while reading the article (everything italicized is directly from the article).

Ms. Chua starts off with
"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
be in a school play [unless it was to sing or play an instrument]
• complain about not being in a school play
watch TV or play computer games [but we got a few reprieves after everything else was done]
• choose their own extracurricular activities [we had to agree upon it as a family, i ended up doing gymnastics, ballet, jazz, ice skating]
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin [i played the flute and clarinet, but that was in ADDITION to the piano AND violin]
not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties."

Now above i've bolded the things I was never allowed to do and in [ ] put my family rules.

So you are probably thinking.. how suffocating. But really, all my friends were the same so it didn't seem odd to me that after school I had tutor, kumon, piano or violin lessons or some sort of learning experience. There was little time to be idle but I never noticed that... i just know that my mom did a whole lot of driving for all these lessons and tutoring.

Ms. Chua goes on to point out the differences in parenting with actual studies...
"In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams."

I think at this point we can all agree spending time with your children whether its "drilling" them or supporting them at a sports event is meaningful to the child. We did not grow up with a lot of that support for our extracurricular activities.

She talks about the idea that "practice makes perfect" ... something my mother said to me all the time. In fact, i now can say that to her and she just laughs hysterically that the one thing she drilled into my head i can say back to her.

She proceeds to discuss that many things that westerners consider unimaginable or the norm in other families... i.e., calling your kid fat. Oh if i had a penny for every time a family member called me fat. Or even a friend's parent... in any language. Korean, portugese or spanish... or ENGLISH... but i just laugh at it now b/c its just the "norm" for me.

She also talks about how a chinese parent can demand something and expect results and notes three major differences:
"First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model."

While some of this seems cruel and awful to many people, I can't help but relate and feel that the discipline helped me in the long run. You see as the youngest of two and the only daughter, I got away with a lot that my brother did not. I did not come home with A's b/c I wasn't as smart as my brother. But daddy loved me so often overlooked my lack of smarts. However, the discipline that my parents instilled me taught me perseverance and motivation.  I took the SAT 2x and still did not do very well. I took the LSAT 2x and did ok with a 163. I took the MPRE 2x. I took the California Bar 2x. The devastating toll that failing standardized tests had on me was hard. I won't lie. There were times I threw up my hands and said "screw this, i'm done." but deep down, I knew I wasn't one to set myself up for failure. I knew that with enough effort - i could do anything. And i did. I give all the credit to my parents for that characteristic that I have.

and because of this, I know that in a way, I will be just as strict and expect a lot from my own children (should we be blessed enough to have them). and I can envision the scenario that Ms. Chua explains about a piano piece her daughter couldn't get down... and well... i can't lie... i can see myself saying these exact words to the Husband.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

And when i said that to the Husband, he knew that him and I are going to have some differences of opinions in raising our children.

And before you go feeling sorry for me for having such an awful childhood - which I did not. With age and with being exposed more to other cultures, I'm even more grateful to my parents for what they have done and i've had to catch myself from saying "i wish my mom pushed me more to continue with the piano" or phrases like that b/c at my own will, I stopped doing all these things... and its my own fault...

"For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."

So what do you think of this article? I know its such a difference of experiences and I think there can be a nice medium instead of two extremes, but can you relate or does it seem way too foreign? Do you agree that perhaps westerners are a little too soft on our children?

a nation full of wusses... well I wouldn't go that far, but could parenting have something to do with leaving that impression?

I highly suggest reading the whole article itself b/c I think taking the full context will leave you with your own impressions.


  1. I think it's interesting. I do believe at times that parents in my culture allow their children to slack off. I too was raised by strict parents. Not to the extreme mentioned here... But they encouraged us to refer to them on any big decisions instead of allowing us to run amuck! I still refer to them before deciding anything major because I respect them. I believe strictness nurtures respect. But I also feel that neither parenting style is right or wrong. They're just different.

  2. I was raised by a "Western" parent. My mom spent so much time tutoring us. She worked with us on our penmanship, math skills, reading skills - you name it, and she helped.

    We were allowed "one" activity per season. Fall/winter was the same seaonn. We could pick whatever we wanted for fall/winter and for summer (within reason) but we could not quit until the season was done. We had to do swimming in the spring (for safety reasons). We also got 1-week day camp in most summers.

    I had straight A (high 90s) in high school. My brothers both had mostly As. We all went to university. We all did sports. Over the years, I did drama, baseball, science camp (I picked it twice!), jazz, gymnastics, figure skating (for years!), and in school I did a slew of nerdy activities (band, badminton, science club, "reach" for the top). My one brother was a jock. The other was a nerd, like me. My mom encouraged in us to work hard. She encouraged self esteem.

    Not everyone can win, but everyone should try his/her best.

    Maybe my mom wasn't average, but as a very sensitive child, I can tell you that if I was told I was a loser, or fat, or ugly, it would have broken my heart.

    Sorry, I had to get that off my chest! :)

  3. I think it's presumptuous to even begin to think that one method of child rearing will work for each and every child. I believe that even within families children should be handled differently. Children aren't robots and they aren't as pliable as this article would have you believe. They have their own thoughts, feelings and personalities that should be at least put into the equation. Which I guess is at the heart of at least one of the issues I have with this style.

    "Oh if i had a penny for every time a family member called me fat. Or even a friend's parent... in any language. Korean, portugese or spanish... or ENGLISH... but i just laugh at it now b/c its just the "norm" for me. " - I am thankful that those words didn't seem to negatively affect you but said to another child, one that might take those words deeper to heart... well this could have easily developed into an eating disorder. Not that truth shouldn't be told... if you were bigger than you should have been then an encouraging talk, a plan of action and support may have gone a longer way than just ridicule.

    I'm definitely not a coddler with my son... ask anyone. I'll let him fall and learn... I'm more of a 'suck it up kiddo' kind of mom. I believe that failing is part of what makes us stronger and more humble... both of which I believe are necessary. I think with everything in life a healthy balance should be struck.

  4. Hey there! Love your blog, your writing is so opinionated and I LOVE IT!!!

    I agree that a certain amount of discipline is necessary to raise respectful and successful children.

    My parents always gave us the freedom to make our own choices WITHIN reason.

    If we were not allowed to do something there was a goo

    Parenting is tough, and I worry daily about how my husband and I are going to raise our child.

    My parents as well as his gave us a good example of strict parenting with flexible guidelines, so at least we have something to go on.


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