Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"superior" motherhood

I read the most interesting article yesterday.

It was from The Wall Street Journal and it was called "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior."

The title alone was enough to suck me right in (thank you, Amy, for sending me the link!).

You can read the whole thing here, and you really should because it is pretty interesting. It led Dave and I to another discussion to re-evaluate how we parent. (We do this a lot, but I love things like this that spur new ideas and help me think in a different way.)

The article explains why the author, Amy Chua, (a Chinese-American mother) feels "Chinese" (an admittedly broad generalization) mothering is better than "Western" mothering (again, the terms are used loosely to incorporate two different schools of mothering).

Mrs Chua brags that her children were never allowed to "attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, 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, not play the piano or violin."

Sucks you in, right?

She goes on to explain how Chinese parents expect nothing but the very best from their children, and because of that, they excel. She labels "Western" mothers as being the ones who coddle their children too much, making sure there is an "award" for everything they do. She feels this does nothing but hinder their self-esteem.

She says, "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.' By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out."

Very interesting stuff.

There are thousands of comments. I only read a few ranging from horror to complete accord.

For me it just made me think about how I parent. Maybe I need to be more strict. Maybe I need to expect more of my children and not let them give up so easily on things. But even if I could use a little more "Chinese" mother in me, I'm so thankful for the love we exhibit openly to our children in this "Western" culture of ours.

I want my children to succeed and do well in life, but most of all I want them to be happy. And I believe happiness comes from having a lot expected of you as well as being adored. To help children find true happiness I think parents have to find a "happy medium" in how much to push or praise (which I wrote a blog post about back here).

As I mentioned, I had Dave read this article and it got us back on the topic of helping our kids learn independence. It reminded me of these stories as well as one that happened last week:

Max has been a little forgetful lately and hasn't been as responsible as Dave would like (me too, but remember I'm the "praise-er" not the "push-er"...more like the "push-over"). Max had forgotten some jobs he was supposed to do and some assignments at school, etc. Dont' get me wrong, Max is such a good kid. It's just normal teenager stuff and he was slacking a little. Dave was frustrated. We got a message that Max was supposed to be at a relatively early meeting for church the next day. It was set to be in a neighboring neighborhood from us. Max (and I) just expected we'd drive him over. But Dave told him he needed to be sure he was up on time and ride his bike over.

Wow. I am such a coddle-er in my mind I thought, "no way, it'll still be dark and there's a busy street and it'll be way too cold" (yeah, we live in the desert, it wasn't really too cold). But I zipped my lips and it was amazing to see how Max's attitude changed. He was totally fine with riding his bike. He turned into responsibility mode and quickly looked up the address, asked me to show him where it was on a map, and set his alarm. The next morning he was up an hour early and ready to go.

Yes, Amy Chau was right in some regards. Expecting more out of our kids can be a good thing.

But not forcing them to conform into the same mold and loving them for who they are individually is so important too. We just have to find the right balance. And oh man, sometimes that's enough to throw me for a loop with five such different children.

30 comments:

  1. I have to say that I agree with very little of what she said. I understand what you mean about wanting them to succeed and do their best in life, but as an 18 year old, I can categorically say that in some cases, expecting a lot of your kids won't encourage them to do better. In my case, it would make me feel although my parents have expectations of me that are unattainably high. It would make feel like I'd never be good enough.

    Don't get me wrong, my parents want me to do well, of course they do. But there are things more important in life than ordering children to be better at math than their friends are.

    Of course, I know nothing of parenting, just adding in a teen's opinion.

    I'd gladly be bottom of my class because I have a wonderful, imperfect, 'Western' mother, who even now I'm a senior, still comes to kiss me goodnight, pray with me and tell me she loves me.

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  2. I actually saw her on the TODAY show and haven't read the article. I was thinking of getting the book. Two important things she pointed out on the show (and Meridith, the interviewer was giving her a very hard time, I might add) Her book is a parenting JOURNEY and she has discovered, and evoloved and tweaked some things along the way. (True for all of us, yes?) And the second thing she said to Meredith (who kept pounding in that "Chinese Parenting" title) is that Amy thought it was kind of funny how she kept saying that, because really, her parenting values and style she thinks of as good old fashioned WESTERN PARENTING!! Its a pretty sad shame that we have, as a nation, drifted so far away from that. I was intrigued by her interview and agreed with much of what she had to say and applauded her "no-excuses" way of answering Meredith. It sounds like her book is a little more hard-core. I was actually going to write my thoughts (a post) about it, you beat me to the punch!

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  3. I think her philosophy stems from living in a very Communist country where the government tells them what to do and it filters to their children. Sounds an awful lot like another "plan" that was suggested before we came to this earth...MAKING their children be good instead of teaching them concepts and letting them choose for themselves.

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  4. Can't wait to read the whole article. Historical fiction about childhood always does the same for me too...gets me thinking about how WE, our generation, is raising children, compared to the past. (And some of what you quoted about coddling and so forth...it is easy to make similar judgments.)

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  5. I may have to read this one...I thought we were strict, Haha!!! I feel that a large amount of pressure could be a negative thing for a kid. In the end I never want my children to think that they were not able to ever make me proud of them! I do set standards and goals and rules but I think this whole parenting thing is just as much of a lesson to me as it is to them! Thanks for sharing... I will read and think on!

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  6. I read this article right before I read your post. I agree with you. I think there is a delicate balance between pushing your children to achieve and coddling them so they feel entitled to anything they want. I liked her example of helping her daughter learn that piano piece (although I think I wouldn't yell nearly as much) because I think it's important for children to learn that they don't have to quit when something is really hard. My mom MADE me take piano lessons until I was in ninth grade. I hated every minute of it just about until the end of my ninth grade year. Then when it was time for me to decide, I started loving piano and I took lessons by choice until I graduated high school. I am so glad my mom forced me into taking lessons for those first six years because it's a talent I can use for the rest of my life.

    I thought many of her reasons for pushing her children were selfish. She expected them to be amazing because it brought her satisfaction. I don't want to push my children because it brings me satisfaction to see them succeed. I want to push them so they'll be hard workers and know that they can do tough things.

    Anyway, it was a really interesting article and definitely made me think that enforcing rules and pushing children to work hard isn't a bad thing. I know I won't be as extreme as she is though!

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  7. I read this article at my husband insistance because he coming from Germany feels I coddle the children too much. While I agree with some things in the article where is the joy in childhood. They have only one chance at being children. Also not mentioned that Chinese have the highest rate of sucide in response to that the children don't feel they can meet their parents expectation. I want a balance. Not really knowing your parents, but from reading your blog and your sibling I think your parents did a great job. So I would just use your parents as examples. The article also doesn't mention that some of the greatest inventions have come from Americans like Bill Gates, Jeff Bazos of Amazon, Facebook and Twitter and many more.

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  8. Thanks so much for providing the link to that article. Wow! Very different way of doing things! While I think American parents tend to be on average permissive and indulgent and overprotective, some of these parenting techniques seem a little extreme. I have stumbled upon a few books over the past several months that have some helpful insights into the way we parent as a culture...not quite as extreme! Nurtureshock is an excellent read and has a whole chapter on praise and how it backfires. The Self-Esteem Trap is an amazing book about the value of being part of a community rather than just the worth of an individual. And, The Blessings of a B Minus...lots and lots of wisdom about allowing our kids to have space to try and do without being afraid of failing.

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  9. Just to clarify from my previous comment, it sounds like her interview and the article+book were very different. Watching the interview gave me a different perspective; had I only read the article, I would probably feel very much the same as the other commenters. I do think there has been a lot of "drift" in this country. I know a LOT of parents who expect very little from their families and that encompasses grades, extra-curriculars, values, morals, etc. I grew up in Mesa, and had "strict" but loving parents which I very much appreciate. It's very different from where I live now. It is true: my children only have one childhood and I am a mama-bear in trying to protect that; but, they WILL be adults someday and I want to prepare them for that as well.

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  10. What a thought provoking article. I would have to agree that it has to be somewhere in the middle.

    While growing up, one of my best friends came from an Asian background. All of them were at the top of their class, they all played the violin, and when I was over at their house to watch a movie, at the end of it, they all jumped up to clean up the popcorn, cups from drinks, and quickly left the room immaculate without any parent to tell them to do so.
    I think I could be much stricter, but never want my children to think that the only way they will feel love is if they live up to my expectations.
    Thanks for the article!

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  11. I grew up in Silicon Valley with lots of diversity. I had one friend, Monica Tang, who was grounded unless she got straight A's. She was grounded her entire four years of high school. At one point, she even brought a petition to school, thinking that if she got enough signatures of friends, teachers, etc. then maybe her parents would let her go to Homecoming. I'm serious. Also, I have another dear friend who's Chinese who was determined to never have children of her own because her up-bringing had been so harsh. She eventually had children and is a great mom. Anyway, I think you're exactly right. You have to have a good balance of expectation and acceptance. My kids are all so strong-willed there is no amount of pushing, expecting, etc. that would make them do something they didn't want to do. One parenting truth I live by: "One can only control oneself." I could go on...Isn't parenting the most amazing journey?

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  12. I read the article yesterday and listened to the author on the Diane Rehm show this morning on NPR. The author said she was mocking herself in the article and was surprised that so many people took her so seriously. (I did.) She wrote the book the document her paradigm shift between cultures and how she has changed.

    One thing she mentioned that she discusses in her book is the entitlement that today's youth seem to feel. It reminded me of the book you mentioned that your parents are writing. I look forward to reading both books.

    And I enjoyed the story about Max and his bike. I need to remember to employ parenting tactics like that with my own kids. Thanks!

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  13. I saw this on our news up here in canada too! I love your approach on it I too had a few moments where I sat and thought about my job as a parent and that I can expect more from my kids! Doesn't matter what we do it will be wrong in some way to someone always. But if my children are happy, have a testimony, work hard and are grounded and feel loved and appreciated is all I can ask!! I love your blog, your example and the kind of mother you are. Your an example to me!!

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  14. I saw an interview with the author of this book and it was interesting to hear her side of it because she has gotten a lot of criticism. I think it goes back to balance in everything we do. You want your kids to feel loved and secure at home but they also need to be pushed and be motivated to become the best they can be. It is such a tricky balance and every kids needs are sooo different.

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  16. Shawni I love your blog. I took a class from your mother a couple years ago where she mentioned it, and have followed it ever since. I especially the posts that make me think as a mother. I have a 20 month old, and a 9 month old. I found this article very interesting, in light of recent events. My nine month old had a bad habit of waking 2 or more times a night, even after a late night feeding at 11. We knew he was dry, wasn't hungry just needed to learn to self soothe. But this little dude would scream for 3 hours sometimes. His sister would wake up, and all of us were lacking sleep. I tried everything to try to help him sleep better at night, and nothing was working. Funny enough, one day last week I had the idea to just hand him his bottle at night, tell him he was a big boy, that I loved him, and let him feed himself in his crib before he went to sleep. No more rocking. He slept through the night 8 to 8. I couldn't believe it. We are going on 4 days of straight 12 hour sleep. I wonder if this newly found habit came from him knowing we were expecting more out of him. He has watched us put his older sister to bed like that, and maybe just knowing we thought he was enough of a big boy to sleep through the night drove him to strive for that.

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  17. I do believe its balance as well.

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  18. My husband and I were looking at that article just last night. You are right about there being a fine balance.

    I agreed with one of the comments from the article about how much is learned from team sports, band, etc because you are working with others and not alone. Chinese parenting focuses more on individual activities and academics. My husband and I then sat discussing examples in our own lives and that of our children, of how helpful teams and groups are to an individual. If you think about it that's why we are here on earth in groups of families and not as individuals because we can help each other in so many ways.

    Thanks though for all you share on your blog!

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  19. I actually listened to an interview with Mrs. Chua today on the radio and she was quite embarrassed with the way that her book was portrayed in the Wall Street Journal article. While she did say that she believed that the Western way of parenting was too permissive and had too low of expectations of children, she did talk a lot about balance and love. I really enjoyed hearing her point of view on parenting.

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  20. Wow, it seems like this article is all people are talking about right now! I liked your take. ;)

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  21. I found the comments so interesting to read on the article!I think I prefer a more well rounded student but I must say I wasn't allowed out a lot in the last few years of high school so I could focus on my studies and I'm grateful now!

    I think balance is the key and her method was so harsh I think I'd cry if I had to be that tough on my children

    thanks for the link
    corrie:)

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  22. I plan on reading the whole article. How interesting. Like everything in life there is a balance. I think it's healthy and good parenting to think about how we're parenting and make adjustments if necessary.

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  23. Amy Chau was interviewed on the Diane Rehm show on NPR yesterday. She talked a lot about her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and about that article. It turns out that a lot of what she is quoted as saying in the article is tongue in cheek. She expounded on the lessons she has learned from her own parents as well as parenting her children and concludes that methods meeting in the middle is probably the best approach. It was a great interview and her book sounds like a worth while read.

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  24. We need a nice long discussion about this at MFME. I did feel that I was deprived because I had to practice 2 1/2 hours a day when I was in High School but I'm so thankful for that now. I sure did go to a lot of "slumber parties"though ! Finding the balance is so important because the line is different with every child/family.

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  25. We live with a ton of asians here.
    And I must admit I see a fair amount of this, but I also don't see the parents loving the child's childhood.
    I would guess they have some regrets of now pushing love over achievement.
    It's all a fine line...

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  26. I just finished the article and wow, what a different culture. I read a book a while back about a Chinese pianist and his childhood, including his dad's attempt to have him and the dad commit suicide when he didn't get into the best school. I blogged about it on my blog here: http://handsfullmom.blogspot.com/2009/01/race-for-number-one.html


    I think we can be namby-pamby's, there are too many helicopter parents who swoop in to rescue their kids instead of letting them face the consequences, and the self-esteem movement went overboard, but I agree with you wholeheartedly about the love we show in our western culture.

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  28. If you can believe it I heard her on NPR the other day. Possibly a book club pick for March or April? xoxo

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  29. HI there! New to your blog via mormon.org (I'm LDS), and my dad just sent me this article written about the "superior Motherhood"

    thought it might interest you? But it pretty much sounds like your post :)

    The Tiger Mother and Us
    By Mona Charen
    1/19/2011
    I couldn't find the link, but if you're interested, there's the info!

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  30. Thanks for another inspirational post! I bought the book today and posted about a "shoe tying" example here: http://browntown-sal.blogspot.com/2011/01/i-dont-buy-books.html.

    Can't wait to read it this weekend!

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