“One of the most eye-opening parenting articles I have ever read, and sort of making me feel like garbage.”
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
- 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.
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal via online.wsj.com
It’s worth it to read the entire piece (go ahead, I’ll wait!) but her basic argument is that Chinese mothers (who do not have to be Chinese — it’s the attitude that counts) raise kids who are more successful than Western mothers do because they demand success in academia and music and will use tactics unthinkable to Western parents (threatening, yelling, shaming) to guarantee the desired results. There is no other option but success. She says that this does not harm the child and that Western parents are too concerned with their children liking them.
Reading it made me feel like a skewered insect, desperately waggling my feelers while being pinned to a styrofoam board. Why? Because I’m afraid she’s right.
You can argue with the tactics, but you can’t argue with facts, and I’ll admit I’ve wondered why The Smart Asian Kid is not so much of a stereotype as a fact of life, especially when you live in Southern California.
Chua claims Western moms are too soft. “ ... even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers,” she writes. “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.”
I remember an interview with Branford Marsalis, who is definitely not Chinese, but whose parents forced him to practice in the basement for hours on end instead of seeing his friends. He hated it at the time, but now he’s Branford friggin’ Marsalis!
Chua says Western moms are too concerned with their kids’ psyches, that they have an assumption of frailty, whereas Chinese moms assume their kids are strong and will rise above their draconian methods to succeed with no emotional damage. She says Chinese moms are willing to sacrifice more and that Western moms are content to let their kids be “losers.”
She calls herself a Tiger Mother, and there’s nothing like calling my parenting into question to make me react like a cavewoman facing a Saber Tooth. I feel angry and defensive, but I’m not willing to go to her lengths to ensure my daughter’s success. I’m also not convinced that such measures don’t come without an emotional cost.
The Artist’s Way material I’m working through now address the very fruits of this type of upbringing where a child is not allowed to experiment and experience the missteps and mistakes that come with any creative endeavor. If we had insisted our daughter continue with piano, which we let her quit after five years when she seemed to so thoroughly hate it, would she ever have picked up guitar?
Tiger Mom would likely scoff, but there is one important lesson she’s not teaching, and that is how to fail. How to fail thoroughly and completely and have it not destroy you because your identity is determined not by what you do but by who you are. Failing gracefully and starting over, as many times as it takes — that is my definition of success.