Jan 12, 2011

Mother Superior

Amy Chua with her daughters. Photo from The WSJ.

There's a column in the Wall Street Journal by writer Amy Chua that I've been going back to for the last 3 days because of the reaction it's been getting on its comment thread. It's entitled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Really, that is the title. I want to give her cheeky editor a high-five. Thank you Bambi for sending the link. Interesting is an understatement!

So far, the column has garnered more than 3000 comments, and counting. Lots of not-too-happy commenters there, many of them Asian, particularly Chinese. Some of the comments I'm reposting here:

Xiao Chen:
I'm glad my mother didn't raise me up like this. She's always just wanted me to be happy with what I decide. If I've made a wrong decision or a mistake, she encouraged me to clean it up and right my wrongs. So what if your daughter can play the Little White Donkey perfectly, she could have been doing something more productive with friends, while developing her social skills and gaining her perspectives at the same time. Like the old Chinese saying, "One would find a teacher among three friends". I sincerely hope that you will allow your daughter to have more play time. No boyfriends, no dates, that part I can understand. But no sleepovers, no school plays, no A minuses? You have gotta be joking. So you are just trying to shove your kids into the stereotypical mold that we are trying to get out of -- nerdy, anti-social, cold, nonathletic, etc
How about taking your daughters to the Salvation Army or Wheeler mission, to give back to the society? We are by far one of the worst groups in regards to charity work and donations.
And no, not all Chinese mothers are like this, and thank God!

Anieh Yohbadad:
I never thought I would say this, but Ms. Chua should be ashamed. Asian American young women have an abnormally high suicide and depression rate, and according to those who study the phenomenon, most of that has to do with fascist parenting. It is utterly irresponsible and, frankly, disgusting, to ignore that in a piece highlighting and promoting that style of parenting. I sincerely hope that her daughters get counseling and help if they need it (and based on this piece, they just might).

Richard Chin:
This article should be titled "Why Psycho Mothers Are Superior." There are weird people in every culture, and trust me, this woman is not normal in any culture.

Of course, it's best to read the article yourself and see how it strikes you. I'd really like to know if you think ordering your kids to get straight A's (A- unacceptable), or motivating your child with statements such as hey fatty, lose some weight constitute superior parenting. Her style of parenting may  produce people who make lots of money, corporate-types, academics, doctors, lawyers, and music proteges. But while it's great to be rich, work in a top-tier corporation, be a doctor or lawyer, there is more to life... What if your child wants other career options? What about loving your work and being happy and fulfilled? 

Look at her explanation as to why Chinese children in America never, ever get Bs. 

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.
And if the child is a little emotionally vulnerable to  being excoriated, punished and shamed? Perhaps that's just not acceptable as well. 

Another thing that glares at me: I think Amy Chua holds little value for creativity, imagination and inspiration. The kind of sparks that hit a young Bill Gates when he was allowed to play with computers, Martin Scorsese when he  watched his first good movie, Michael Phelps when he hit the pool, Jose Rizal when he created his first comic stories, Einstein when he was allowed to layoff rote memorization to figure things out for himself.  

Me, I believe in imagination and creativity. Yes, kids have to learn to persevere and persist. Definitely, life can be a struggle and kids need to learn how to deal with it and work hard. But no, I am not "overriding their preferences" as Mother Superior prescribes so that they can "learn to love" what they are "supposed" to.  

It is possible to put in a good days work, even struggle with it, but at the end of the day, be happy about it. Because we chose our own path. Because we were inspired to get there. Not because a strident, perfectionist, screaming mother told us we should.


RONE said...

It's ridiculous. The first thought I had when I read that is, so you're pushing your daughters so they can in turn do the same with theirs? I really don't see where they are going with anything.

Nana said...

Amy Chua is kidding right?! She can't possibly believe that! Wrong, wrong, wrong in soooo many levels.
I am so glad she is not my mama!

Nona said...

Nana, she's serious just like the Gestapo was serious. That WSJ essay is an excerpt from her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Buying it? Ha : )

Rone, that's why a lot of Asian/Chinese commenters are upset because while many of them/us are trying to change those outdated ways of parenting... here she goes blasting about those old negative stereotypes.

Barni said...

Like we discussed: she proceeds from a wrong assumption—that the world considers what her daughters can do superior. What the eff do I care if mine can play the that dumb donkey song but doesn't have social aptitude to make friends. Mommy Amy: can you say, THERAPY?

Barni said...

Then again, does this exonerate her? http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-01-12/nese-mom-amy-chua-talks-about-her-controversial-new-parenting-book/?cid=blogunit

Nona said...

Good link Barn, and I quote Lisa Miller:

"Broadly speaking, Chua’s book is about how she raised her two girls “the Chinese way.” And for Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, the Chinese way includes parenting techniques that can come across as cruel and unusual. She makes her daughter stand outside in the frigid winter weather for failing to practice the piano as instructed, and berates them for taking insufficient care with the hand-made cards they created for her birthday."

And to quote part of Amy Chua's defense:

“My kids actually quite like me,” she insists. “They think I’m a comedian—a little bit wacky.”

Wacky? Sure.

I guess, she sort of came down her horse to say that, we all try our best as parents, to each his own blah blah. She claims Chinese way worked for her daughters though it may not be for everyone. I say raising them that way is a big risk for any human's psyche... case in point is this story from Christine Lu:

"Drawing from personal experience, the reason why I don't feel this works is because I've seen an outcome that Amy Chua, the author fails to address or perhaps has yet to experience.

My big sister was what I used to jealously call "every Asian parent's wet dream come true" (excuse the crassness, but it really does sum up the resentment I used to feel towards her). She got straight As. Skipped 5th grade. Perfect SAT score. Varsity swim team. Student council. Advanced level piano. Harvard early admission. An international post with the Boston Consulting Group in Hong Kong before returning to the U.S. for her Harvard MBA. Six figure salary. Oracle. Peoplesoft. Got engaged to a PhD. Bought a home. Got married.

Her life summed up in one paragraph above.

Her death summed up in one paragraph below.

Committed suicide a month after her wedding at the age of 30 after hiding her depression for 2 years. She ran a plastic tube from the tailpipe of her car into the window. Sat there and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her new home in San Francisco. Her husband found her after coming home from work. A post-it note stuck on the dashboard as her suicide note saying sorry and that she loved everyone.

Mine is an extreme example of course. But 6 years since her passing, I can tell you that the notion of the "superior Chinese mother" that my mom carried with her also died with my sister on October 28, 2004. If you were to ask my mom today if this style of parenting worked for her, she'll point to a few boxes of report cards, trophies, piano books, photo albums and Harvard degrees and gladly trade it all to have my sister back.

For every success story that has resulted from the "Chinese mothers" style of parenting, there are chapters that have yet to unfold. The author can speak to her example of how it's worked for her but it'll be interesting to see how long you can keep that gig up and pass it down until something gives.

As a responsibility to herself as a "superior Chinese mother", I think Amy Chua should do a bit of research outside her comfort zone and help readers understand why Asian-American females have one of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. -- I bet many of you didn't know that. I didn't until after the fact. It'd make a good follow up book to this one she's currently profiting from.

Full story here: http://www.quora.com/Parenting/Is-Amy-Chua-right-when-she-explains-Why-Chinese-Mothers-Are-Superior-in-an-op-ed-in-the-Wall-Street-Journal

tashie's mommy said...

Tiger mom will be the cover of Time magazine's upcoming issue.....

Nona said...

Hi B! All this has been very good for her new book....

Strategic Stiletto said...

I think the biggest of the mistakes she is making is this: she is denying her girls of the wonderful experiences of girlfriends, camaraderie and the social dynamic - for better or worse- that comes from the things that happen outside of the serious school things.

At the end of the day, who of us really cares how well our girlfriends play the violin, or what their SAT scores are? Life is a wonderfully complex experience, this one-note approach to success is short sighted. I really fear for her daughters...

Nona said...

Hi Tish! Agree, her definition of success is so limited, so short-sighted. Apparently in her book she ends up regretting some of the Superior Mother tactics she uses. One of her daughters rebelled...