I don’t think I have ever read such a provocative piece on parenting as this Wall Street Journal op-ed on “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.“
I am not sure how many American parents are going to rush to adopt Chinese-style parenting, which is far more Oliver Twist than Benjamin Spock.
After reading this piece by super mama grizzly Amy Chua, I wasn’t sure if I should congratulate her for raising two accomplished daughters or help the poor girls escape through a bedroom window.
Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, credits the academic success of Chinese students to a take-no-prisoners parenting style that has zero tolerance for sleepovers, playdates, TV or computer games or even school plays. Chua says her highly successful daughters could not bring home less than an A, could not choose their own extracurricular activities, could not play an instrument other than piano or violin and could not be anything but the No. 1 student in every class except the unimportant ones, gym and drama.
As Chua notes: “For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.”
Chua cites a personal example. When her 7-year-old daughter Lulu insisted she could not play a complex piano piece, Chua forced the little girl to keep at it, dragging the child’s dollhouse to the car and threatening to give it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t nail “The Little White Donkey.” Chua also threatened no lunch or dinner or presents for holidays or birthdays. She made the child practice, refusing her even water or bathroom breaks. And finally, Lulu played it perfectly. And both mother and daughter rejoiced and all was well.
Among her comments in the piece, which I urge you to read in full:
Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can’t. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me “garbage” in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn’t damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn’t actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.
As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)
Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.”
– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog