Today in the Wall Street Journal, there was an essay, excerpted from a book written by Amy Chua, about why Chinese mothers are superior.
I was pretty excited to read it because I have been looking for a well-written account of the “Eastern” style of raising children, often known for being strict and believing that a child’s happiness comes from success and not encouragement. I was a couples and family therapist for many years, and parenting work with families was always one of my passions. I am not at all a believer that the “Western” way of raising kids is perfect- we seem to indulge a child’s every whim while the parents are exhausted and miserable, for example, but that’s another topic. It takes all kinds of parenting to make all kinds of kids that become all kinds of grownups, so I clicked the link ready to learn from Amy Chua… but does she have to be so smug and flippant?
It’s not that I disagree with her parenting style, although, I do disagree with a lot of what she said. She makes excellent points about not coddling our children, and about believing in them rather than letting them accept defeat. But that’s not even the point. It’s the flippancy and absolute over-confidence with which speaks about Chinese children that bugs me.
Listen: (I added the bolding for emphasis)
When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful.
If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.
Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me “garbage” in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn’t damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me.
It’s funny- I feel like a lot of non-white people are often annoyed that they are asked to speak for their entire ethnicity, to explain themselves to the white people of the world, but this woman seems to be absolutely insistent on taking her own personal experiences with not being “damaged” by being called trash, or how her yelling at her own child is motivating, and generalizing them to speak for all Chinese families.
It is true that Chinese school children are far more successful than American children on grades, test scores, and generally any activity they pursue, but you know what else they excel in? Suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Chinese youth aged 15-34, and China has the highest suicide rate of any country in the world. Suicide is not what happens to depressed people, it’s what happens to people who feel like they are climbing an insurmountable mountain with absolutely no other options.
That’s what a dichotomous, all-or-nothing style of parenting, no matter whether it’s Eastern or Western, can do to a kid. It can leave them feeling like they are out of options. And that’s something no one should feel at any age, but certainly not a child. A child should feel successful when they are successful, and they should be shown reality except when they happen to need a hug. There’s got to be more of a balance than just Eastern or Western parenting.
I think Ms. Chua was so pleased with her own child-rearing skills that she, unlike how cleverly she trained her kids, forgot to continually self-evaluate, forgot to excel. Maybe your kids turned out ok, and maybe you turned out ok, but good lord, no mother is superior.
As I’ve had countless mothers admit to me, including my own, every woman raising a child is just hoping they aren’t screwing the kid up royally. How dare anyone feel like they know any better than that.