Saturday, January 15, 2011

I am Tiger Mom, hear me roar?

I know this has probably been over-blogged, but I can't help but jump on the bandwagon and throw in my reactions and two cents on this. A few days ago my dad sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal with the subject header "Wow."

If you haven't read it (or even heard about it), you should read it - it is fascinating and very provocative. It is written by Yale law professor Amy Chua and discusses her "Chinese" philosophy of strict, regimented, no holds-barred parenting. Printed just as her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother hit the bookstores, you could consider it brilliant marketing since all the debate and uproar has shot the book up the bestsellers list. But I think this shake-up is timely in other aspects, too - at least for me. I struggle with how I will approach raising (and homeschooling) my child. So this has given me the opportunity and fodder to examine my own approach to parenting.

Just as a side-note; I was raised by a Japanese mother and it was nothing like the "Chinese" parenting described in the article. It wasn't quite the "western" paradigm either. Expectations were there to succeed, but there was never any belittling...

But to be perfectly honest, I sometimes wish my parents had been a bit more strict and pushed me a bit harder. I don't say that in a critical way - my poor mom carries enough guilt and regret about her parenting as it is (she is crazy - she was/is a most wonderful mother and so was/is my dad). But no parent is perfect (though we expect them to be, don't we? And some people can never quite forgive their parents for that). I know I have so much to learn about how to be a good mama, but I assume the Chinese model and the Western model are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps a better method is finding a way to integrate the two paradigms? Strictness with compassion? High expectations with room for fun?

One of the most interesting thing to me in this article was this quote:
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.
I actually had to stop and ask myself what I assumed about Mayumi's psyche, and though I would describe her as a tough kid, I think I behave as if I'm terrified that I'll cause some psychological damage that will result in years of expensive therapy. Oh, that is bad, isn't it? I could never condone calling your child garbage, but the strictness and the emphasis on hard work and achievement is something that I think is missing from my own parenting. I've noticed I'm too quick to give in when Mayumi is whining or crying. I'm so afraid that she is going to be unhappy in the present moment that I'm unable to see the bigger picture and understand that sometimes I have to be the tough one and not indulge her whims and fancies all the time, for her own good.  So, in addition to trying to create a more tranquil and less rushed environment, I am now trying set stronger boundaries and expectations of proper behavior in our home (in a loving and compassionate way, of course). It's only been a few days, and it is a constant struggle, but I think we're starting to see some changes.

But not allowing her to participate in sports and school plays? Now, that is a little extreme... (so says this actress!). The troubling thing for me, in this article, is not just the demoralizing that can go on, but the over-emphasis on academic achievement. Mayumi is only three years old and though we participate in some informal "schooling," I'm a big believer that an important part of development is play and exploration. I don't think academic prowess necessarily makes you a successful person. To me, success is about knowing how to find your happiness. What good are straight A's and a high salary if you are miserable? For some counterpoints to Chua's article you may want to check out this article from the Examiner about pushing preschoolers and this oped from about letting kids play. Fascinating stuff.

Forgive my rambling, but it helps to clarify my own thoughts and who knows? Maybe you can shed some light on this stuff for me, too!


MJ said...

This is a tough one for me too :). I listened a bit to this on NPR yesterday and to be honest, I had to shut it off. Let me preface by saying I am a big proponent of unschooling and peaceful parenting, so yes, the Chinese parenting is on the opposite extreme.

Like you, I had lenient Japanese mother (luv my mum), and my father was strict career military. He had high expectations for me that perhaps made up for the lack of discipline from my mother (though she gave an occasional smack when we really crossed lines).

Looking back now, and even with the way I am parenting now, this is not an either/or, black or white scenario. It is ALL gray and I believe it all depends on the parent's personality and the personality of the child. Just like one diet doesn't fit each person, I do not believe there is one way to parent. My brother and I were completely different, I responded to the militant standard while he retreated and rebelled. I see this in my own children. My son responds to praise and rewards because it makes him feel like he has accomplished something, but my daughter could care less. Both individuals respond in different ways and we have had to accommodate based on their personalities on what makes them tick, respond, etc.
We try to respect them individually, all the while instilling our values clearly and lovingly. We model, we try not to lecture. We take into account what is important to them, and let them know what is important and valuable to us. In this way, I see confidence growing, personality shining, and a freedom for them to speak and be who they are. They are 8 and 6 so it's easier to see at these ages than 3. I see that my son needs more structure and direction, while my daughter revels in the freedom to self direct. Each personality comes with their own challenges :).

My biggest issue with the Chinese method is that it completely disregards the individual, which would make sense in their society. Yes they have highly successful prodigies, but how many Chinese children do we hear about that do not succeed in this manner? Are we to assume that this has worked for all? And at what expense? Can happiness be completely and successfully measured by accomplishments and rewards their *entire* lives? Perhaps, if that is all they are conditioned to know.

In our society, where individuality, spirit, ingenuity, and creativity is valued if not revered, as well as extrinsic success, the molded child will eventually break free, because they can. I personally have heard and witnessed this scenario where children who are raised in a severely strict home eventually rebel, runaway, or crumble in one way or another. I am happy to live in a society that values emotional well being and the search for true happiness, authenticity, integrity and inner peace. Well, I guess I shouldn't speak for society -- at least that is what I value in my home. I could never imagine belittling, berating, and controlling a child to the point where they feel like they don't have any choices, or are powerless in their own lives. Because, in reality, they do have choices and will regain that power. One day, they will know it and what they do with that knowledge will remain to be seen. I know that my children will always have a choice, and I will be right there along them to guide them with those choices.

I think the biggest irony that I struggle with is this Tiger mother paradigm comes from a culture that gave us Taoism, which honors balance, nature, selflessness, and peace. Taoism warns what goes up, will always, eventually, come down.

Anyway, I am sorry this is so long. Feel free to clip :), but this is an amazing topic and thanks for inviting us to discuss :)!!

MamaQ said...

mj, thank you for your thoughtful comments. i, too, am a proponant of peaceful parenting as well as attachment parenting and i have always believed that kids are super-capable and don't need to be micro-managed by adults - so there were many things about chua's philosophy that was disturbing to me. you are so right that approaches must differ and be constantly adjusted according to individual needs of both parent and child. thank you so much for sharing your insights and opinions!

angie said...
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Julia said...

I've seen this article lighting up the blogosphere but hadn't actually read it until now. It is very interesting, disturbing in parts but definitely makes you think about and examine your own parenting. I found myself questioning my motivations and why I do things the way I do. I, too, am an attachment parenting advocate but sometimes I think I do need to step back and analyze whether I'm doing things a certain way because I feel it's best for my daughter or just because that is what an attached parent would do. At the end of the day, I hope I am doing what is right for my individual child. I don't know if that make sense and actually doesn't really relate to "Chinese parenting" but that is what the article caused me to question.

One said...

So, Chua is my cousin's favorite professor. He says she is real and warm and wonderful (in person). But, of course, no super-achieving tiger woman would ever let that get in the way of selling books :-)

The excerpt in the NYT made me sad, but it also inspired some good introspection on how I hope to find balance and harmony while helping my kids become the very best (people) they can be.

MamaD said...

Perhaps this deserves a separate post but PapaD posted this article on Facebook and it really helped me to put the original article in perspective.

This Girl loves to Talk said...

balance. Yes too many parents 'give in' these days. Kids are too spoilt. I too need to be stricter (in a kind way)

However as homestay family for 5 years the amount of asian students I had that found living in australia a 'breath of fresh air' they said life is so much better here, less stress and more slow moving. I think both sides have something to learn. I do feel sorry for people in countries of high population who are pushed because 'if they dont succeed.... you will be nothing' its sad really.