By Kate Agliata:
In the face of a growing debate regarding lax versus ‘helicopter’ parenting, more and more mothers are beginning to question the fundamental cause and effect of their own parenting style. Much of the controversy comes on the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal piece written by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor. In the article, (excerpted from Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) she deems the super strict “Chinese style” of parenting (not all Chinese parents) to be a superior method, specifically in contrast to any parenting style used by Western parents. The arrival of her theory, accompanied by harsh accounts of her own intolerance as a parent, has stunned Americans, who tend to favor fostering a child’s healthy self esteem, over that child achieving prodigy-like status. Her theory stems from a notion that education is superior, and all else is meaningless. Yet does her brutal honesty—and it is brutal—merit her being portrayed as heartless mother, or an evil dragon lady? Or do we scorn her simply because we are afraid she may be right?
Many parents believe shielding a child from life’s cruel realities is equally as vital as protecting them from actual physical harm. Yet Chua’s philosophy views this notion as one that placates children with an over indulgence of comfort. The belief argues that parenting in this manner will foster dependence, not liberty; will hinder a child from mastering his or her own skill set; and ultimately, through inadequate preparation, will produce a mediocre member of society. Upon reading Chua’s thoughts, my immediate reaction was one of disbelief. Her haughty tone and almost reminiscent-like account of a time when she withheld water, food and even bathroom privileges from her daughter until she mastered a piano piece, were enough to make me want to dial child protective services. Who the heck is this woman? I thought. What exactly are her credentials, and why is it that she believes her parenting methods are superior to mine?
It all comes down to a parent’s implementation plan, and what that involves will determine the future success of a child. According to Chua, the core differences between Western and Chinese styles of parenting can be broken down into several concepts. She explains, Western parents constantly worry about their child’s self esteem. By continuing to reassure our children about how good they are, despite their possibly demonstrating an average, or even below average performance, she says, we are working to build up their psyche, rather than their skills. Chinese parents “assume strength, not fragility,” Chua says, “and as a result they behave very differently.”
Chua asserts that most Chinese parents believe their children should spend the majority of their lives “obeying” their parents and in essence, doing whatever it takes to make them proud. The Chinese style of parenting demands countless hours each day spent tutoring and working with the child in an effort to do nothing but excel. Chua believes that a parent’s sacrifice should be repaid to them by the child achieving nothing less than ultimate success. In contrast, it is often through recognition of true contentment within their children, that parents in the Western world gain a sense of appreciation for their sacrifice.
Overriding your children’s own preference is also a must, according to Chua. She explains that “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children,” despite whatever it is that child desires on their own. She says, “nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work.” She argues that because children will continually resist, it is all the more crucial for parents to make consistent demands. “Things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.” She continues (and twists the knife a little deeper), “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.”
Ouch. Chua’s remarks sting, but I am still not convinced that I should concede to her arrogance, and begin my own parenting pity party—nor should you. It’s true that the Chinese style of parenting typically transforms many children into some of the most successful members of society. Yet, at what cost is this established? Do the joys of these children revolve solely around securing successes? Isn’t there more in life that evokes joy, and if so, isn’t that too, worthy of attaining? When I discover that Chua is a woman who openly states that she is “not good at enjoying life,” and that “happiness is not a concept” she dwells upon, I begin to better understand the motives behind her theory.
For me however, I see myself belonging to a new breed of parents who believe that compromise doesn’t have to mean sacrificing success. I see value in feeling a variety of life’s joys—not just the kind gained from personal achievements. I believe my children should grow up appreciating additional joys in life. I work diligently with them and believe my efforts will help them attain necessary skills; yet, I also promote creativity, daydreaming, and climbing trees. I recognize when they need to put forth more effort, and promptly address their doing so, but you will never hear me call them “lazy.” Instead I choose to extend honesty through a compassionate voice. I emphasize the significance of respect from my children by demonstrating the same reverence toward them. And similarly to the Chinese style of parenting, my own personal confidence leads me to believe that I too, know what is best for my children. However, in contrast, I believe that my children’s own personal dreams are worthy of consideration.
Frankly, when it comes down to it, I’m okay with this compromise—as long as it means my children are still achieving joy in some manner. To me, it is the duty and privilege of a parent to expose children to all of life’s colors. Doing so may forfeit your child’s chances of reaching prodigy status, but will almost always guarantee a more rewarding life.
Kate, a freelance writer and mother of two, most often finds creative inspiration in writing, but occasionally at the bottom of an empty wine glass. She has hijacked her family’s former lifestyle and is in the midst of creating a simpler and greener approach to life. To follow her family’s challenges and successes in this endeavor, visit her blog, at Kate’s Musings. She and her family have lived in Birmingham since 2009.