Amy Chua Why Chinese Mothers are Superior Pragmatic Mom

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: My Take 2

Asian American Moms Don’t Agree with Amy Chua

My, oh my, has this article become incendiary.  Could it be that excerpts from Amy Chua’s book were taken out of context?! Or is she just a nut case?  I wanted to share some more interesting articles rebutting this article to shed some light on this controversy.

p.s.  Here’s my first post:  Why Chinese Mothers are Superior (!or?) WSJ, My Take (I’m Asian)

Is Amy Chua’s parenting style typical of Chinese parenting or extreme “Chinese Parenting”?

My personal take is though she is second generation, she parents like a new immigrant.  For a second generation Chinese American, she’s extreme compared to other Asian moms that I know, including myself, and some of the moms I know are immigrants.  In the Nutty Asian Parenting Olympics, she’d be in the final heat up against second or later generations of Asian parents, but she might not even make semi’s of new immigrants. But is she or was she really this extreme at the article made her out to be?  If you read to the end, you’ll see that she changed her style of parenting after being broken down by one of her daughters … and it turned out fine!  Extreme “Tiger” parenting was not necessary.   Amy Chua changed, but are there other Extreme Nutty Asian Parents out there?  Yes, indeed…

Does Extreme Asian Parenting Backfire?

Oh yes! Of course, this will depend on your children but (and these are all true stories of Asian kids I know) the results can be:

  • Meltdown senior year (after getting into Harvard0 such that much class was cut such that gpa dropped into 2’s .
  • Severing ties with family completely after dropping out of college (MIT).
  • Mid-life crisis after pursuing successful medical career (brain surgeon) resulting quitting work to possibly open a cafe.
  • Suicide attempts (2 attempts after become lost because a piano performance career wasn’t going to be in the cards).

But these are just people that I knew.  As you can imagine, being raised under so much pressure can have negative effects.

UC Davis study about suicide rates among young (and old) Asian Americans:

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among asian american men ages 15-34, and among women 15-24.
  • Asian Americans, ages 25-34 years, have the highest proportion of suicide deaths (16.8%) across race for the same age group.
  • Asian American women, ages 15-44 years, have the highest proportion of female suicide deaths across race for the same age group (with the exception of American Indian women, ages 15-19 years).
  • Asian American men, ages 25-34 years, have the highest proportion of suicide deaths (17.6%) across race and gender for the same age group.
  • Asian American women, ages 15-24 years, have had the second highest female suicide rate across race for the same age group from 1990-2003.
  • Asian American adolescent girls (ages 5-12) have the highest rate of depression across race and gender.

Source: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/aacdr/nohoct08.pdf Eliza Noh, Ph.D.

Quote from Amy Chua’s Article:  “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.”

There is some truth to this.  My oldest hates math because she thinks she’s bad at it.  But the more we do it, the better she gets at it.  She still has an aversion to math but now she says that word problems are fun.  In fact, the word problems we do at home as supplementation are more challenging that the math problems she does at school.  My approach to get her to do math is bribery and timing.  I don’t let math supplementation get in the way of social fun things like play dates and I bribe like crazy.  We also work on them together and she gets to stay up a half hour later to work on this together (usually on a Friday or Saturday night) AND we play a doodle game for every correct problem.

I think it’s especially important for GIRLS to feel confident at math and that math is like sports; the more you practice, the better you get.

What I take issue with is that she is a control freak; she selects everything for her kids from choice of musical instrument to extracurricular activities.  Unless she really is taking her children’s preferences into account, how exactly does this serve her children?  That’s a little nutty.  Though I do know moms who selected fencing for all three of their kids because it was a sport that would help them get into a god college.  But it did turn out that her kids actually liked fencing.  Maybe, as they got good at it, it became more fun?…

Why Western mothers are inferior to ‘Chinese mothers’ (but feel better about it) by By Alexandra Petri from The Washington Post

In fact, the categories Chua singles out as ones in which she did not require her children to excel are telling — gym, dance and theater; in other words, the ones that require a natural affinity rather than simple dedication. This seems like a tacit acknowledgment that the Chinese Mother Method only goes so far. It can create competence, expertise, even, but it can’t manufacture inspiration.

If musicians and mathematicians are what you value, then this is an excellent system. But it seems to foreclose the alluring possibility of — well, anything else.”

What I’m wondering here is if Chua’s children begged to be allowed to drama, dance or sports and she said, “No.  You are doing debate, science club and Chinese (or whatever) because I could give a sh*t about what you prefer to do.”  It is true that it’s sad that her kids do not seem to be allowed to explore their own interests and this, no doubt, will result in a career crisis down the line like a train wreck waiting to happen.

Mother, superior? by Jeff Yang of San Francisco Chronicle, SF Gate.  This was the most insightful article …

“…for many Asian Americans, the path to adulthood is a sustained, multi-decade-long three-legged race, in which mom drags offspring through a furious gauntlet of piano lessons and college prep, violin lessons and more college prep, disappointment and anger and blowups and reconciliation and then more college prep.

We survivors commonly call this the “Crazy Asian Mom” phenomenon.

Always lovingly, of course. And never to her face.”

Another interesting quote:

“Su isn’t alone in accusing Chua of “child abuse.” The charge has been made both by those who experienced similar parenting firsthand and those who didn’t but find the notion of requiring perfection from children and forcing them to drill for hours at a time to be barbaric — even sadistic.”

“It’s one thing to say, ‘This is my particular hardcore way of parenting, take it or leave it, do whatever you want,'” says Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, a mother of four who writes the syndicated column, Adventures in Multicultural Living. “But the article is saying, ‘This is how Chinese people do it’ — implying that we all treat our kids this way. You spend so much time trying to break down racial stereotypes and after something like this, it all goes out the window.”

“The book isn’t a how-to manual, as the Journal excerpt would have you believe — it’s a memoir. As such, you’ll see some truth in it, and you’ll also see glaring blind spots and a sometimes-woeful lack of self-examination. That truth, instead of making you hate Chua, will cause you to reflect on your own upbringing — and your own parenting style, good and bad. And I think this is especially important for Asian Americans who feel that they were parented Chua-style, and are bitter about it — that is to say, most of us.”

Was Amy Chua Misquoted?!

Apparently, it had been edited without her input, and by the time she saw the version they intended to run, she was limited in what she could do to alter it.

“I was very surprised,” she says. “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

While the Journal article was unquestionably good for sales and awareness of the book, which has already hit #7 on Amazon and is only headed upward, it has been painful for Chua. “I’ve gotten scary messages. Death threats. All from people who haven’t yet read the book,” she says. “And while it’s ultimately my responsibility — my strict Chinese mom told me ‘never blame other people for your problems!’ — the one-sided nature of the excerpt has really led to some major misconceptions about what the book says, and about what I really believe.”

“I don’t think people pick up on this enough, but I’m an unreliable narrator!” she laughs. “My daughters kept telling me, ‘You’re exaggerating this, Mom. People are going to think you’re so harsh!’ But the truth is, even though I was maniacal about music, I did actually let my kids go on playdates. And I say in the book that ‘I don’t care if my kids hate me,’ but if you read on you’ll realize, that’s not how I actually feel. Who wants their kids to hate them? I’m very close to my daughters, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

That’s what leads to the “humbling” mentioned in the coverline: The book climaxes with a wrenching confrontation between Chua and her indomitable younger daughter, Lulu, who has resisted Tiger Parenting throughout her childhood. It’s she who ultimately makes Chua accept that she’s gone too far, and vow to change. And, as it turns out, letting Lulu make her own choices doesn’t prove to be the disaster that Chua fears.

Finally, here’s Q and A from Amy Chua:

Amy Chua is a professor of law at Yale University and the author of two acclaimed books about globalization and free-market democracy. Her new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, recounts raising her two daughters, now 15 and 18, using what she calls “Chinese parenting” methods.

Q: So, are you ready to be pilloried as the ultimate tough-love mum who threatened to burn your daughter’s stuffed animals if she didn’t perform piano practice perfectly?
A: I’m not sure. I did not write this book as a parenting book; and it’s not about promoting the Chinese parenting model, although some people will take it that way. I was raised by extremely strict, extremely loving Chinese immigrant parents whom I adore and feel I owe everything to them. By instilling a work ethic and self-discipline my parents allowed me to have choices as an adult and be who I wanted to be. I tried to raise my daughters the same way. With my first, Sophia, things went smoothly, but then Louisa [Lulu] came along and I got my comeuppance. At 13, she rebelled. I wrote the book seeking catharsis.

Q: You were an obsessive taskmaster, demanding your girls be top of their class, be fluent in Mandarin, practise classical music for hours every day and do chores. You also banned TV, computers, play dates and sleepovers.
A: I didn’t want my kids to fall into a familiar pattern as the granddaughters of immigrants. I was fighting the tendency for them to be entitled and consumerist.

Q: In the book you write “I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother’ loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.” So why call it “Chinese parenting”?
A: It’s Chinese people of a certain demographic, along with other immigrants. And there are patterns; it’s not just stereotypes. I also say Western parents come in all varieties. I have Western friends who are very strict. But I think the current dominant Western parenting approach is much more protective, much more permissive. Western parents are shocked by some of the things that Chinese parents say and do, it seems so harsh. But a lot of immigrant parents are horrified by many aspects of Western parenting: how quickly they let children grow up, how much time they let them waste, and how poorly they prepare them for the future.

Q: You insisted your girls also have hobbies so they wouldn’t become “weird Asian automatons.” So you chose classical music. You didn’t want them doing crafts which “go nowhere” or playing drums which “lead to drugs.”
A: For me classical music symbolized refinement and hard work and delicacy, and a certain depth. Both the piano and the violin are capable of producing such beauty, something more meaningful than watching TV or doing Facebook for 10 hours.

Q: You believe rote repetition is undervalued in North America.
A: Yes, and this is where my book is really against stereotypes. I hear people saying, “Oh, Asians are born good at math, or good at music.” That’s ridiculous. So much of it is just hard work. When Lulu was 10, she had done poorly on a math test, and said, “I’m bad at math, and I don’t like math.” Some Western parents might have deferred to that and said: “That’s just her . . . she doesn’t like math.” But I made all these practice tests, and we drilled them and on the next test Lulu did very well and some of her friends called her a math whiz, and now math is one of her favourite subjects.

Q: You’re a critic of play dates and sleepovers, which you describe as “punishment parents unknowingly inflict on their kids through permissiveness.”
A: Westerners romanticize the sleepover: they say it’s about self-actualization and letting the kids explore. From my experience what that means is you go over to your friend’s house and the two of you do Facebook stalking or you watch reality TV for five hours.

Q: You maintain Western parents believe in choice; Chinese parents don’t.
A: Yes. Many things kids choose for themselves don’t bring happiness. I feel kids actually feel unhappy on Facebook because it seems everyone else has more friends and is having more fun. You’ll hear, “Oh, I want my children to pursue their passion.” Well, if you give a 10-year-old her choice to pursue her passion, it’s not going to be playing the violin for three hours, it’s going to be computer games. I think Westerners defer too much to their children in the name of respecting their individuality. There is a common pattern you’ll see: an Asian and a Western child will start with a violin; six months later the Western child will want to switch to the clarinet because the violin sounds terrible, and then four months later the clarinet turns out to be hard so their choice is the guitar, and then you’re at the drums.

Q: As you present it, the Chinese approach engenders more self-esteem because it focuses on mastery and accomplishment.
A: Yes. The techniques may sound harsh, but the Chinese parent is saying: “I believe in you so much that I know you can be excellent, and I’m going to be in the trenches with you for however long it takes and I’m not going to let you give up.” Now, eventually if your child says, “I don’t like math, I want to be a poet,” you have to let them.

Q: You also point out that in assuming their children are strong, Chinese parents often appear brutally critical.
A: It’s really important to put things in cultural context. When I won second place in a history contest once my father said, “Never, ever disgrace me like that again.” When I tell my Western friends they think, “What a horrible man!” But that’s not how I took it at all. For me, what he was saying is, “I know you could do better. I believe in you.” But I do understand why Westerners react the way they do, because not knowing my family, these things sound harsh.

Q: You were a closet Chinese mother; in public you’d say things like, “Good try, buddy.”
A: That’s another reason I published the book. After I wrote it, I showed it to my sisters and some Chinese friends and they totally related to it and thought it was hysterical. But they all said, “You can’t publish this! You’ll be attacked!” And I thought, “Why?” I certainly learned a lot from what I call the Western model. That’s how the book ends: I become more of a Western parent than I thought possible. I loosened up. Sophia has a boyfriend. Lulu did just get a sleepover. They still aren’t allowed to watch TV, but they can use Facebook, with limits. Where I did not give one inch is academically. I’m still the tiger mom on that front. There is a strong theme in favour of rebellion in the book. I identify with Lulu. Even though I was the obedient Chinese child, I disobeyed my father too. I married a white Jewish guy and now my father adores my husband. And writing this book is a completely non-Chinese thing to do, it’s a rebellious, very Western thing.

Q: Discussing ethnic differences has become a taboo, yet it’s your favourite topic to write about. Why?
A: The world right now is one in which there are definite cultural and ethnic differences. I heard the way my parents talk at home, and I know the way my colleagues talk at Yale law school, and it’s night and day. I’m against stereotypes, but I think not being able to talk about ethnicity or cultural patterns is worse. I was also trying to puncture a stereotype— there are all of these books portraying Asian mothers as callous people who don’t care about their children’s interests. My book is the opposite: it’s a heartfelt memoir about me as a Chinese parent trying do the best for my children because I love them.

Q: Given the focus of your previous books, I wonder whether you see parents as having a larger social responsibility to raise self-reliant, productive citizens.
A: I’ve taught students of all backgrounds for 18 years, and it’s not my experience that kids raised in permissive families are happier than kids raised in strict families—it might be the opposite. We have some serious issues in the West—very high rates of teenage depression and falling behind in terms of education. So it’s going to be hard for our kids to compete and to get jobs when they’re adults, and not being able to get a job is not a recipe for feeling fulfilled with their lives.

Q: Many people will think your parenting regimen was all about your agenda, and not for your kids.
A: That accusation is so hurtful. When I talk to my Chinese friends, we feel it’s the opposite: how easy would it be to say, “Oh, in the name of my child self-actualizing and socializing I’m going to leave them at their friend’s house for six hours and I’m going to a Pilates class and then go have a glass of wine.” So many times I’ve felt, “Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to practise today?” I hope people know that when I write, “I don’t care if my kids think I’m like Lord Voldemort,” I really do care.

Q: Your daughters were raised in the Jewish faith. What’s your husband’s child-raising role?
A: My husband was raised in a liberal family. He adores his parents, but wished somebody had forced him to learn an instrument and speak a second language. And because I was willing to put in the time, he supported me. But from day one he insisted we take family bike rides and go to Yankee games, all things that I thought were a waste of time, but they helped bring balance to the family.

What do you think? Chime in and join the party!

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

14 Comments

  1. Great measured look at all the heated responses that are flying around and nice Q & A with Chua. Nicely done.

    I also think it is so important for girls to be confident in math – go figure, and me a “Western Mom”. Both of my girls are strong in math (now, but it wasn’t always that way). It was a practice and support that helped them to gain confidence.

    • To Capability,

      I agree with you that math for girls is one area that we parents can demand competence and that practice makes perfect AND that practice makes math more enjoyable. In this way, we can help break down gender stereotypes.

  2. Alison Strausberg

    Very insightful!

  3. Liz

    After reading only the first article I thought much of what the author had to say was very insightful and made me think about how many times I have lowered my standards without intending or really wanting to. After reading the above, I am even more sure of the fact that I can raise the bar a little more for my children-and myself as a mother-and that we will all rise to meet the challenge.

    • To Liz,
      There was something about this article that really set all parents off. Either it made us feel like slackers or it was vehemently rejected. I suspect that it touched both buttons in each of us. I know it made me feel conflicted; that I am a slacker Asian mom though I should know better, and yet, I don’t have it in me to be so extreme. That’s an exhausting uphill fight to maintain such strict standards. But should I be setting the bar higher?

      I think we all know deep down inside of us what is right for our child and we will all find that inner strength to push for battles that can be done and that don’t damage our child. It’s a good wake up-New Year-call to think deeply about how we parent whether or not we agree with Amy Chua. Thank you for sharing your point of view!

  4. This sounds very interesting. I grew up with many asian friends and my children also have asian friends. I have seen a difference in child raising for sure, but nothing that I would have condemned the asain moms for.

  5. Great summary!

    When I first read the article, the thing that resonated most with me was the author’s notion that a parent’s very high expectations of a child’s capabilities can actually serve to increase that child’s confidence level.

    If, on the other hand, a parent continuously permits a child to turn away from tasks or goals that, at first, seem insurmountable, then it sets a bad precedent and the child becomes lazy, and perhaps even a lifelong underachiever.

    The argument may be a bit oversimplified, but it does make sense to me. What I, as most people with any amount of compassion, found disturbing was the idea that to accomplish one’s parenting goals, (whatever they may be), one is entitled to berate, belittle and downright terrorize a child.

    Perhaps, it was overstated for the purpose of selling books, but if even half of that behavior actually occurred it’s cringe-worthy and, I think, rises to the level of psychological abuse.

    • To Jill from MomsGoneGlobal.com

      You bring up a good point; high expectations can be good up to a point, but too much is too much and bad. And also, high expectations should align with the child’s interests not solely what the parents want for the child. I think that backfires.

  6. An interesting examination of the Tiger Mother Debate. Thank you. My wife is from China and our daughter is first generation. Although we raised her using Tough Love parenting methods, we were not as tough and demanding as Amy Chua was.

    After all, studies for decades have reported that the average American parent talks less than 5 minutes a day to his or her children, and the average child spends 10 hours watching TV or playing Video games, or sending text messages, or spending hours on Facebook.

    What I find most valuable is that there is a discussion about different parenting methods going on. For almost sixty years, the soft, positive praise for anything-American style self-esteem approach to parenting has been the only method Political Correctness in the US has allowed.

    In fact, the self-esteem arm of political correctness in America has demonized any Tough Love methods of parenting.

    That fact that the debate has been so active and there is strong evidence that there is support for tougher methods of parenting, although not as tough as Amy Chua is but firmer than what has dominated the US culture for so long, is promising.

    It’s good that parents, both current and future, see that there are choices in how to raise children.

    I’ve read Chua’s memoir and it isn’t a lesson on parenting. However, if the Wall Street Journal had not published the essay with that inflammatory title, I doubt there would have been any reaction.

    It’s about time, parents think seriously, about what it means to be a parent and that it is a job that demands more than heaping praise on children and focusing on fun at the expense of everything else.

    • To Lloyd,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do think tough love/Tiger Parenting is more common that one would think … I see it everywhere in my town, but thankfully not as extreme as a true Tiger Mom. I think that you are right to point out that high expectations of children is a choice that a parent makes and to parent as a Tiger Mom, it’s not just being demanding but putting in long hours of 1:1 tutoring, supervision, and just general hands on parenting. But are Americans truly that “soft?” Not in my town … in yours or is this also an exaggerated mythical American style of parenting?

  7. I loved reading both your posts about this! Thank you.

    • To Kerri,
      Thank you so much for your comment. What an interesting observation your brother has made; and it kinda makes sense! Out of nothing can come beauty! I guess that is the power of the human spirit.

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