Superior Parenting: Why Chinese Mothers are Superior — Are they really?

You are in for a long, intense article today. I hope you’re up for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m sure you’ve all read that controversial article on WSJ by Amy Chua — Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.

Few of things first:

  1. If you haven’t read it, I’ll wait here while you climb out from under your rock & do so
  2. It was blown out of proportion for the publicity of her book & article
  3. I don’t think she is a monster
  4. I don’t think she hates her children
  5. I don’t believe in everything she says, but I do agree with some parts
  6. If some of it isn’t true, why did it strike a chord in us when we read it?
  7. I think her daughters (and her) are stunning! I also covet their wardrobes.

Standard blog disclaimer:

I won’t tolerate being rude to anyone (including myself or even in reference to the article), talk civilly and argue your point nicely …..or face the wrath of being marked as spam! ๐Ÿ™‚

WHAT I AGREE WITH AMY CHUA ABOUT:

  • Hard work = Results
  • Not letting them quit
  • Expectations that you really try your best
  • Loving your child by setting those rules which can vary (no playdates for example)
  • Being the best parent you can be
  • Setting rules and disciplining them (No meansย NO, not maybe)
  • Encouraging them to develop skills like learning another language, an instrument, etc
  • Do what you think is best as a parent, not what others think you should do
  • Understanding that your kids are in the majority, not the minority — See Note 1
  • Not building false self-esteem byย calling them “gifted” or “special” — See Note 2
  • Not treating them like an equal — See Note 3

Note 1: Understanding your kids are in the majority not the minority

This sounds counterintuitive because her kid is playing at Carnegie Hall, and Asians are considered a minority (and half-Asians even more so, I’d imagine), but what I mean is that you should assume you and your kids are average.

Thomas J. Stanley (whose books I love), writes about how the millionaires he profiles, are not high achievers who put a lot of stock into being smart in school.

This is all well and good, until you consider that millionaires are the exception, not the rule.

What are they, like 1% of the population? Or less?

And where are we?ย Well if you’re not a millionaire, you’re in the majority of the population with the rest of us ๐Ÿ™‚

So wouldn’t you want your kids to have a general chance at doing well in life?

While I disagree with some of the extremity of Chua’s parenting style, we should prepare our kids to be hardworking achievers, because it is the best chance they have to succeed and thrive in life.

We cannot hang everything we have on general trends of millionaires or other success stories.

Stanley’s research on millionaires is a very small subset of the population, and while it’s interesting and very informative, it isn’t applicable to the general population.

We have to assume we and our kids will be average.

We also cannot force opportunities to happen, because there are so many variables we can’t control. Stanley also says that most millionaires are self-employed, but does that mean that you can only be a millionaire if you’re self-employed?

Heck no.

Grades and academic achievement are not everything.

I was not a stellar student.

I was great in elementary and high school because I needed those grades to get into the right colleges, but once I got into business school, I relaxed.

I didn’t try to be the best in my business classes, and I just weighed and maximized the balance of time and effort put into studying and the grades I got, to keep my status as an honours student.

And absolutely no one has ever asked me what I scored in Accounting. Ever.

Which leads me to my next point….

NOTE 2: Not calling kids gifted, unique or special:

This is something I have a dislike of.

I find a lot of parents subscribe to the idea that their kids are special, unique or gifted.

I’m not sold.ย I know we’re all unique individuals and there is no one else like us in the world, but does that make us “gifted”? “Special”? “Superior“?

I am skeptical of this kind of self-esteem building that is hollow, without a base of achievements to back it up.

If I was called “special” or “gifted” for just showing up at school on time, what does it mean if I’m the #1 student in the class? A goddess with magical powers to make sushi appear at will*?

*Actually that would be pretty freaking awesome.

If my parents told me I was special and amazing for just going to school, I’d think the rest of what they praised me for was not as important. Their words would hold no meaning for me.

Their withholding of praise until I did something well, was something that made me glow when I heard it.

This would not have been the case if they praised me for every stupid little thing I did.

I also think we set levels of praise too high for average expectations.

As mentioned above, most of ย us are average people, myself included. ย I don’t mind being called average. It’s the truth.

I’m not the founder of a billion-dollar company like Facebook and I didn’t play the piano like Mozart when I was 5.

My parents never called me special, unique, or wonderful.

They never even really said “I love you” to me. They didn’t have to, I just knew it when my mom would wake up extra early in the morning to make me a quick hot chocolate for something warm in my stomach before I went off to school.

You know what they called me? Clever and hard working.

Those are self-fulfilling prophecies in my book because when I did something clever, they told me so.ย This made me want to do more, just to show how clever I was, and to make them continue to be proud of me.

My parents built my self-esteem by pointing out and praising concrete examples of what I did to be hard working or clever.

Just showing up to class was not something they praised. It was expected I would go to class and be respectful. What I actually achieved above that was more important to them.

Even then, they told me not to stress or worry so much about grades. My parents would tell me to relax because I was just a kid and not to push myself so hard in school! ๐Ÿ˜›

NOTE 3: Not treating them like an equal

Apparently it’s the hottest new parenting fad as of the past 5-10 years: treating your children like your equals.

Almost every new parent I know of, has picked up a parenting book and tried to put this into practice. Some succeed, but the ones I’ve talked to, failed miserably.

Bottom line?ย They are CHILDREN, not adults.

They don’t know what’s right, wrong, good or bad yet. It is a parent’s job to teach and shape them into what you think are good values for yourself.

We have children for selfish reasons, because we have kids with the idea that we’ll be able to raise kids with our own culture and values.

We ย want to raise children just like us, because we think we think our values and culture are so great that it should be passed on.

Isn’t that just the most narcissistic thing you’ve ever heard!?!?? ๐Ÿ™‚

I do want kids, but I am not deluding myself about this selfish part of wanting to be a parent.

My SIL (sister-in-law) tried to use negotiation on her kids to teach them how to act like her equal.

Guess what happened?

  • Kids won’t eat any food they don’t like. Only pizza or takeout. No veggies.
  • Kids are only doing the bare minimum (if that) for any activity, even fun ones like swimming.
  • Kids will only eat dessert now, claiming they have a tummy ache.
  • Kids have free reign in the house to do whatever they want. They’re little banshees!!
  • Kids don’t listen to her any more. Why the hell should they? They’re equals.

…it goes on and on. They think they can throw money at the kids, make them go to the best private schools and they’ll end up as amazing adults. I have my doubts.

And this isn’t an isolated case either..ย I heard of another parent reading the same books (or so it seems) and lamenting about how badly her kids are behaving now, and how she’s worried they’re not going to succeed in life.

I totally agree with letting your kid make choices, and to help develop, teach and guide them to have the best values and skills to navigate through life, but this is a strategy something I can’t understand.

Who’s in charge here, you or them?

To put it another way, if you want to treat your kids like equals, then don’t be surprised when they fight back against your rules and talk back like an equal.

For the record, I’m glad my parents treated me like a little kid. I simply didn’t know better, and they did. I’m better off for it.

WHAT I DISAGREE WITH AMY CHUA ABOUT:

  • Building solid self-esteem in children is very important
  • I hate the use of “Chinese” to mean all Asian kids let alone all cultures — See Note A
  • Being harsh to your children and calling them garbage — See Note B
  • Forcing your kids to do things they don’t want to do — See Note C
  • Not seeing the bad side of all this excessive pressure — See Note D

NOTE A: Using “Chinese” to mean all kids and cultures

I don’t like “Chinese” specifically to mean all Asian kids. There are other countries in Asia you know, and those Asian kids work just as hard as “Chinese” kids.

I also disagree that this is exclusively a “Chinese thing”.

What she is teaching can also be present in other strong cultures who have that mindset, including Western cultures.

Canadians and Americans don’t have a specific culture. We’re a melting pot culture, and while Native Americans were here before us, both countries as they stand today, are a mix of all types of ethnicities, cultures and races.

Plenty of Europeans who immigrated to the New World, came from hardworking, get-down-and-get-dirty backgrounds, and they’ve made the countries what they are today.

Even more from all around the world are coming here and working hard.

We can’t just lump every “Western” person into one boat, nor can we say that all Chinese kids are amazing.

NOTE B: Calling your kids names

That stuff sticks.

I know she said that she worked harder when her father called her “trash” or “garbage”, but what you do to one kid, will not affect another in the same way.

My parents never called me names.

If they did, I’d probably have learned from their example and grown up calling them names to their face as well.

Respect isย a two-way street.


NOTE C: Forcing your kids to do things

You can only push children so far. You have to let up a little, loosen, relax. Let them be kids.

Maybe this is why I’m not playing piano at Carnegie Hall like her daughter, but my parents never forced me to do anything I didn’t enjoy. They asked us to stick with it, to work hard and to give it our very best. To REALLY TRY before giving up.

If we hated it in the end of the 6-month to yearlong trial period, then we could stop. They never had to force us, and while my siblings all gave up the piano one after another, I stuck with it until the end.

My dad always says: Thank god at least ONE of them can play the piano today. Not all the lessons were for nothing.

We just had to try, and it’s the same thing with eating new foods — you just have to try it, not like it. Just know what it is, what it tastes like and then form your own opinion about it.

I hated sushi when I was a kid. I thought it was weird, gross to eat raw fish (ewww!) and thinking about eating seaweed was a big “WTF were they thinking when they came up with that” moment for me.

Look at me now, eating sushi like an addict. I don’t eat it every day, but I am much more adventurous food-wise, because my parents pushed me to give things a try.

But they never forced me.

NOTE D: Not seeing the bad side to all of this pressure

Many kids kill themselves (Asian being the highest, perhaps, I don’t have statistics on this) because they cannot reach those (too) high levels of expectations set by their parents.

That kind of pressure is really tough. It’s sad, and it’s not beneficial or a good side of all of this pressure.

Parents want to have kids be awesome, caring, wonderful individuals, but being realistic is something they forget as well.

What do I mean by that?

Not everyone can be #1.

Just realize that kids can be pushed to be the best of their abilities, but if they can’t play like Mozart at the age of 7, don’t pressure them or shame them into not achieving your high ideals.

It would be so sad to hear of all the other cases of children who felt like they were trash and didn’t live up to their parents’ expectations and turned out to be less than their potential today, only because their parents were too unrealistic.

WHAT THE HECK DO I KNOW ANYWAY?

My parents basically raised me with a very laissez-faire, chill out, do what makes you happy, don’t work so hard, be a kid,ย mentality.

They were not traditional whatsoever, and I was allowed to do pretty much anything I wanted.

No curfew, no rules.

The catch was that I never did anything to push that, and I never even tried.

When I was a kid, I was home by 5 p.m. from school (school bus), studying, reading, making my own dinner, doing laundry and fighting with my siblings.

I didn’t go out past 7 p.m. unless it was to the movies, and in those situations there was always a family member or a friend of the family to drive me there and back. I also didn’t drink, go to keg parties and do anything I wasn’t supposed to do.

It wasn’t something I cared about doing andย I didn’t see the point, and besides…. I had homework to finish. ๐Ÿ˜›

I never tried any kind of illegal drug (still haven’t to this day, seeing as even a mild drug like caffeine makes me throw up), and I don’t drink alcohol unless it’s to try it, or if it’s cooked into food.

All of the above? Not part of my parents’ upbringing.

They would literally have to push me out the door to get me to get some sunshine. No pressure about practicing piano 3 hours a day.

My family loves to drink wine, go out at 2 a.m. (my parents stay out later than I do, even today!) and drink coffee. But they don’t do illegal drugs, at least.

They’re by all rights a “normal”, “Western” family in terms of how they brought me up, and for all of their mistakes and lack of rules, we all turned out to be decent kids for the most part.

BF marvels at the way my parents raised me.

He says all the books would say I should have turned out to be some delinquent drug addict, or lazy person uninterested in life, still wandering and trying to find out who I am.

His parents were a lot more traditional, and they really raised him in the extremes of what Amy Chua is describing. Maybe even stricter.

He wasn’t allowed any toys or fun as a kid because they were so tight with their money (they had it, just didn’t spend it). They were the ultimate minimalists, and believed that minimalism = no (things).

We turned out pretty much the same in the end, but the only time we clash in approach is when I want to tell him to chill out more and take things easy. Be optimistic, and don’t plan so much. My attitude drives him mad. ๐Ÿ™‚

So in conclusion? You can only do your best as a parent.

Sometimes you do everything you can and by the book, but your kids turn out to be monsters.

Sometimes you don’t do anything at all, and go against the book completely, but your kids turn out to be beyond what you had hoped for.

The only thing is to try, and not give up.

Did you read the article? What did you think about it?

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.