Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Slave driver parenting

This article has been making its rounds on Facebook. It is some scary stuff. Sure enough, there's a lot of reaction to it online. Many parents will be chasing Amy Chua down with a pitchfork.

A mom who very proudly announces that she expects nothing less than perfection from her kids and drives them to achieve it in ways that are less than kosher by modern parenting standards. Part of me is appalled. The other part of me is in jaw dropping awe of her; that she managed to pull it off.

She pish toshes at the molly-coddling of self-esteems. She thinks her kids can take the amount of abuse she hurls at them.

The one academic memory of my childhood that stands out is the day I got my primary school board exam results. I thought I did marvellously. I couldn't wait to tell my mother. When I did, her response was "Only?" That was all I got? I remember being so heartbroken that she didn't think it was enough and had dissolved into a puddle of tears. On the occasion that I thought she was being too harsh on me and thought she was expecting too much from me, I would whip this out of my emotional arsenal.

Years later, she explained that it wasn't about pushing me. It was being disappointed for me because she thought I could have done better. I see that now. And even though I baulked at being pushed; mostly because I was internally driven, I wonder what it would have been like if she really had put me through the paces.

I look at what I've achieved and at almost every juncture, I think I could have done more, achieved more, learned more. But I also suspect that if she had driven me harder than she had, I would have chucked a manic fit one way or other. I remember there was already that sentiment when I was 14.

So, now with three kids of my own, what am I going to do? I have a husband like the writer's husband, who believes in letting them flourish on their own and not driving them so hard. I have a daughter that I suspect will be a stubborn learner; she flung her pen across the table last night because I was trying to correct how she wrote her "R"s. I do have a son who absorbs any sort of drilling like a sponge. I don't know what the baby will be like so for now, he is off the hook.

Deep down, despite all the enlightened and western ways of parenting I have learnt from reading child-rearing books and psychology text books, I think I am inclined to push. I don't know how far I will push- no sleepovers? No play dates? No parts in a play? I don't think I could bring myself to do that. I also don't think I would be so unbending and to be such a slave driver for want of a better word. Throw away toys if the kid doesn't perfect a piano piece? I know that is how Russia and China train their ballet dancers and athletes as well but a for a parent to do that, I really don't know. But to expect them to do as well as they can, in everything they do, I think that's inherently part of me and no matter how much I schizophrenically try and fight it, it's part of my parenting philosophy.

There is something to be said about teaching discipline, sitting at the table and doing their homework, without the television on. Practicising the piano if they are learning it, that sort of thing. But where is the the happy medium?

How much of a Chinese mother am I? Now, that's a Facebook quiz that they should write.

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  1. I highly recommend this follow-up to the article, which is a long thread of intelligent comments by largely 'successful' Asian-American netizens..

    Since it's a rather long thread, I would just like to point out the commentators who made some particularly good points or are rather funny:-

    James Shih, Kiam Meng Choo, Michael K. Loukides, Frank Mulligan, Stanley Wong, Ben Villa, Michael Luxton.

    I'm pasting this excerpt below because this comment is hidden within another comment:

    " Bob Lee wrote:
    Ms. Chua,

    By your argument, the entire nation of China should be teeming with incredibly successful, well-educated high achievers. News flash: It's not.

    Chinese kids in America are predisposed to be successful (as defined by the standards of our meritocracy -- a lousy standard, in my opinion) because their parents were hard-working enough and intelligent enough to be given the privilege to immigrate from asia to the United States. The immigrant population is highly selected. Many immigrants come to the U.S. for graduate school -- which automatically puts them in one of the most educated sectors of the population. Others come through sheer dedication, perseverance, and adaptability. However they get here, the Chinese who immigrate here are freaking strong people, and it should be no wonder that they raise very strong kids. The pedestrian Chinese are not given visas, so they stay home in China, and raise normal Chinese kids.

    The argument that these kids do well -because- of their parenting ignores how many Chinese kids have horrifically broken relationships with their parents. It also ignores how many Chinese kids sink into a pattern of low self-esteem and angry rebellion, dropping out of college as freshmen, getting hooked on drugs, getting involved in asian gangs, whatever. Those kids exist, and are actually quite numerous -- you just never see them, because the parents do a very impressive job of hushing it up."