Do Chinese Moms Really Make Better Parents?

Posted January 13, 2011 by

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A recent article in the Wall Street Journal called Why Chinese Moms are Superior has the blogosphere on fire. In it, author Amy Chua maintains that Chinese mothers’ methods of parenting her children — including no playdates, no choice over extracurricular activities, no TV or video games, no sleepovers and no dating — raises more successful, academically superior kids. Ms. Chua’s two daughters are not allowed to get anything less than an A in all of their subjects except for gym and drama. Her other methods of discipline include telling her kids they are garbage and “shaming” them into getting better grades and, in one case, badgering her youngest daughter for hours until she learned a difficult piece on the piano.

To quote Chua in her article, “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.”

Is this control freak behavior, or something the rest of us should aspire to?

I lived in Japan for ten years, and the Japanese, Chinese and Korean moms I knew were extremely committed to their kids’ educations; by American standards, they would definitely be considered strict. However, nearly all of the parents I met there were also loving and kind. They balanced their high expectations with praise and rewards. The problem for me with Ms. Chua’s assertions is that there seems to be a distinct lack of kindness, compassion and humor in her approach. I believe she loves her daughters and is a dedicated parent. Her girls will no doubt excel in whatever profession they choose — but at what cost?

An interesting rebuttal was written yesterday by another Chinese-American mom, Patty Chang Anker, called Why This Chinese Mother Chose to Evolve. While parented in much the same way Chua was, she completely changed her parenting style after realizing that her daughter had special needs.  In her article, she says, “Chua’s conviction that her way is superior eludes me. She assumes strength but I have seen fragility. And you can’t treat them the same. I have traded in conviction for the agony of questioning and experimenting. It is painful, not having the answers all the time. But in humility I have been able to get the help my kids need.”

Bravo!

What do you think?

About

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Jessie T Report

    I’ll bring this topic up to date to say this. If my mother would’ve called me garbage in attempt to make me get good grades, there’s no way I would’ve translated that as, “I love you and think you are capable of more than what you’re doing.” I would’ve translated it as what it is: “You’re garbage, you disgust me, and no matter how good you do, it’ll never be good enough for me.”

    I’m not saying she actually feels that way, but that’s certainly the message that she’s sending. She needs to pick her words more carefully. I’m definitely not suggesting to pamper and spoil your kids, never disciplining them. In fact, I’m a staunch believer of tough love. But this isn’t love, it’s cruelty. Sure the kids will be great academic stars, and will most likely earn the top grades in the school, and will succeed as far as brains in the world. If that’s all she’s aiming for, she’s done it. But she’s also damaged their self-esteem, and more than likely her relationship with her children. In my own humble, personal oppinion, this is just as bad as spoiling your kids. One way or another, they’ll be emotionally scarred, and the world will probably be a tough place for them to live when they get older.

    Jessie

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  2. lisa Report

    I see the value in chau’s parenting. We are hearing a couple of examples but it reminds me of the type of behaviors that I allow in my own children. I have good kids. They work hard at various tasks, but could they work harder? sure they could. I could be a bit more strict and set better limits. I am not worried so much because I set limits, but Chau has taught me that kids do excel and grow self esteem with strong firm limits and expectations. For me this is like going to a religious service, simply a reminded that I can be a little bit more firm with my kids and get over my own worries of making them sad if I do not do this. I get that she called her kids garbage. Of course it was not kind, but in the bigger picture it had a different meaning to the child. the child did not see herself as true garbage. she was clear in what her mother was telling her, which was, your behavior is not acceptable because I know you are capable of doing better. what a comliment to hear your parent tell you that you are capable.

    Reply
  3. Yoko Report

    I grew up in Japan and came here to study at a graduate school, eventually marrying my American husband 22 years ago. My mom was a “tiger mom”. After my brother was accepted by one of the best business schools in Japan, she said to him, “I really wanted you to be a (medical) doctor.” That’s the way she was.

    Growing up under constant criticisms and praises for other people’s kids, but not for us, I constantly questioned my decisions and self worth. Now that I live in the US, I can finally be myself, not worrying about what other people think of me and not hearing her constant criticism.

    I went to an all girl Catholic school in Japan, one of the best prep schools in my home town. Most girls there grew up with “tiger moms” under strict guidance. Do you know what happened when we went off to colleges? Most girls went wild, having too much fun because strict control did not prepare us to balance the fun and the work.

    I agree that Chua’s book is stereotypical of one culture and there are variety of parenting approaches in China (or other Asian countries). If all Chinese parents are tiger parents, there would be no criminals and poverty in China. But there are plenty of those who live in the fringe of society in China. Personally, I think she was just plain lucky to have kids who did not rebel against her and obeyed. I am not a tiger mom to my son and never will be.

    Reply
  4. JazzyBelle Report

    Cool, she’s creating a perfect breeding ground for her children to become another suicide statistic. I refuse to read anymore of her dribble.

    Reply
  5. Lorne Marr Report

    She is willing to do everything to boost the sales of her book. I hope parents won’t take her advice since this could have detrimental consequences as far as the natural development of their children is considered.

    Reply
  6. Dr. Jim Report

    Here’s my two cents. Mrs. Chua probably thinks she is setting her children up for success, yet her shaming and constant degrading as a method of “motivation” is creating deep damage. I don’t have the statistics with me, but I read somewhere that the suicide rate among young adults with a strict, unyielding, rigid, performance-is-everything background is MUCH higher that in more traditional families.

    Truth is, none of us were raised on the Good Ship Lollipop. My parents expected me to behave myself and do well in school, but it was not a condition for their love, affirmation and the most valuable thing they could give me: themselves unconditionally.

    Mrs. Chua will certainly create some high achievers in her children, but she will likely see precious little of her grandchildren down the road.

    Reply
  7. Steve Report

    This is a really bad stereotyping coming from a person who knows very little about what is real Chinese culture and value system. Maybe be it is true from the author’s experience and the surrounding, Chinatown and immigrants from difficult background have it hard but that does not mean all Chinese raise their Chinese this way. It is uncommon actually in Chinese culture whether in US, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China to disrespect their children, at least most Chinese know they should not, certainly not do it purposely. All culture has its diversity, this article almost like a parent or participant of Jerry Springer show writes in Chinese saying this is how ALL Americans raise their children; I like Jerry’s show by the way.

    Chinese culture values education and respect to other is without question, including respect to parent and to children. I have many relatives and friends second generation in US, more doctors and lawyers than I can count and I yet to see one parent yell at their children. I think expectation is a powerful force especially from within oneself, I see this is one major force in Chinese raising their children; as how to build the expiation in Children minds is a subject of a book.

    Reply
  8. Dr. Joan Report

    From a psychological perspective, none of Ms. Chus’s assertions can be healthy for a developing child. Of course pushing your child to do well and promoting their inborn skills is always something every parent should pursue. Her methodology scares me though and I cannot imagine any child finding true happiness and contentment in their life when their mother refers to them as “garbage”. If you want a depressed, repressed, anxious child, I suppose that would be the way to go.

    Reply
  9. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    LOL, Kris — “Save your yelling and buy a robot.” And I agree with you; there is no one right way to parent.

    Reply
  10. Kris Report

    I am of the belief that there is not “one right way” to parent. Furthermore, the US ranks 22nd(??) among nations in math and science; so we don’t have all the answers. But I do hope we encourage the development of the whole child. Yes, that is a trickier achievment with constant self doubt and many parenting mistakes. But regardless of “your” goal for your child they should absolutely know they are loved and cherished. If you are not up for that, save your yelling and buy a robot.

    Reply
  11. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Dear Kiriannomama: Thanks for weighing in — it’s good to hear from someone who understands this particular parenting dynamic, along with the pro’s and con’s of being raised with extremely high expectations. It sounds like your husband has done a really good job of balancing compassion with good, solid parenting. Bravo to him! Darah, I agree with you–the costs of parenting in an overly rigid way — where the shaming of children is involved — outweighs the benefits a hundredfold.

    Reply
  12. Darah Zeledon Report

    This is totally wrong on so many fronts. Any extreme is illogical and in poor judgment. It all depends on how you measure success. Are these brilliant prodigy children growing up to flourish socially, emotionally? Do they have stable, fulfilling personal relationships? Are they admired by others for something outside of their obvious academic and musical successes? How well-rounded are they as young adults? Are they in touch with others emotionally, and exhibit compassion and empathy? This Chinese mother perhaps would have made a perfect drill sergeant. Young recruits needs that type of structure and discipline, but to deny children a childhood full of dreams, imagination, creativity and exploration is just plain cruel. Kids are independent beings, and much more than an extension of their parents. Certainly, they are not objects to own and control with such a visceral force. I’d imagine many Chinese adults raised under such extreme conditions are suffering silently and grappling with self-destructive thoughts. What are the stats about suicide and depression amongst Chinese adults raised under such conditions? Additionally, upon reading her excerpts “between the lines,” one cannot help but detecting the marital friction she experiences. I would venture to say that her marriage is less than exemplary. So at what cost are her “successes” gained? In the end, I say the costs outweigh the benefits—on many levels.

    Reply
  13. kiriannomama Report

    Thank you for this article! My husband if French ethnic Chinese and he grew up exactly as Ms. Chua describes. The way I see it, Chinese parents are extremely dedicated to their children but sometimes they have trouble adapting their traditional methods to other mainstream cultures. My husband is a sweet, loving man but he is often uncomfortable in social situations, and his upbringing partially explains this. He is happy enough organizing playdates and birthday parties for our son though, thank goodness!

    Reply

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