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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Better or Worse?...Definitely Different...

I stumbled upon a very interesting article from this weekend's WSJ entitled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior".  It is an excerpt from a new book "Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother" By Amy Chua.  It sheds light on the way that the Chinese rear their children and its sharp contrast from the typical American Way.  I found the article fascinating and even somewhat scary, but when I finished, I was unsure if this type of child rearing is genius or detrimental to a child's psyche.  It may, in fact, be both.

The book is written by a Chinese Professor and Writer from Yale Law School, a prototypical overachiever herself (interestingly, it seems that she is married to a Jewish Man).  She starts by describing a few things that she has forbidden her children to do including "going on play dates, acting in school plays, getting any grade less than an A, and not being the #1 student in every class".  And no, she is not kidding.  She, and other Chinese mothers do not believe that learning should be fun and that "academic achievement is a reflection of successful parenting."

Now, the reason I am so perplexed by my overall feelings on this article is that I strongly agree with it and disagree with it all at the same time.  The author makes the point that "nothing is truly fun until you are good at it" and that "practice, practice, practice makes perfect."  I agree with this.  I think it is difficult to tell at a young age what your child will excel at, and often I find myself encouraging the Boober and the Hot Pocket to do things that I would like them to do.  But...to a point.  I would not override their preferences with forced coercion.  I would not push them for fear of retaliation.  I would not degrade them if they were not good at something.

Last summer I came face to face with this type of "Chinese Parenting" when I decided that I NEEDED to enroll my oldest in Kumon.  I had heard about the merits of the program from many other doctors and felt it was important, no crucial, to start at a young age.  And so like many other things that I set my mind on, I took the Boober for her testing that week.  We walked into the center.  We were probably the only Caucasian people there.  The Boober was very afraid of this place.  She clearly was not ready and did not want to do it.  But, I persisted.  She sat down and was tested by a pimply faced 14 year old girl, a Kumon student herself.  She quizzed her for 15 minutes on a math workbook and 15 minutes on a reading workbook.  When we left there, I was scared.  Scared to push my baby academically.  Scared that she would not find a love for learning if I forced it on her.  Scared that she wouldn't feel like a kid if she had daily homework at age 3.

We haven't gone back.

I have written before on my thoughts about our primary goals as parents.  The cornerstone of child rearing is to raise bright, motivated and self assured citizens of the world.  There surely are various ways of doing this.  I adhere to the typical "American Way" of encouragement and praise.  Chua brings up a wholly different principle of essentially forcing a child to be good, no great, at something which will result in self fulfillment and esteem due to talent rather than inflated ego.

Her children will surely go to Yale or Harvard.  Mine will likely be Wolverines.  Hopefully, they all will be happy.

Her ideas are interesting, indeed.  I bought the book.  And now, I am contemplating enrolling the girls in piano.

19 comments:

Dani G said...

Every so often something like this comes up, makes me pause, and be grateful that having a disabled child has helped me put things in perspective. Because I doubt as an old lady I'll ever look back and judge my child's success based on her grades or which college she went to. Rather, the things that will stick with me are the fact that she is happy, that she's learning to love and be loved, and that when she sees coins on the ground she picks 'em up and shouts "tzedakah!" That's how I know I've already given her the best tools I can. And now to hone those skills...

marcia fenton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

I'm annoyed by this Tiger Mom stuff. Maybe the kids are different, but I'm sure treating an American kid that way would cause them to run away from home. I'm all for limits and boundaries and achievement. Crazy goals like always getting an A+ are just dumb. No one cares in the grand scheme of things if you were the high school valedictorian. It just doesn't matter when you become a grown up. There's so much stress you can avoid by being a well rounded person.

Anonymous said...

How many doctors do you know (or scientists, or high achievers of whatever sort) that can't hold a conversation about anything non-academic and don't know the first thing about simple customer service. There is so much more to success than academics. I know...I was one of those VERY pushed kids. First place in every science fair, spelling bee, 2 of my brothers and I are physicians. However, I completely fizzled by the time I graduated from high school. I was exhausted, depressed, and very much aware that all of this striving for my parents' approval was never going to pay off. I eventually regrouped, but now, having my own practice, it is not intelligence or some award that makes my practice successful. I have found that social skills are just as important if not moreso, ie, having compassion and understanding that patients are my customers and must be treated with kindness and above all, respect. Embracing a little humility and sometimes allowing the patient to take the lead and make choices in their care. These are not traits that are usually taught in academia, but they are oh so important in all of life.

I now have 3 children of my own, one of whom has special needs. He too, gave me a gift. I couldn't wait to see how quickly the first two could meet each milestone. When he came along, he taught me that life is not a race. Every person has a potential and a purpose. And yes, we need to do our very best, but there is so much more to life than achieving.

Thanks for this blog. Very interesting.

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