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.”
What do you think?
Elisabeth Wilkins is the mother of an 8-year-old boy and the Editor of Empowering Parents.