When I saw the full-page article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” with the photo of the mom with her arms folded in a “it’s my way or the highway” kind of defiance and her two perfect daughters practicing the violin and piano, while my own 14-year-old daughter was sprawled on the couch watching a rerun of “That 70’s Show” I took the bait. I had to read what she had to say.
The article was an excerpt from a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor. Ms. Chua certainly meant to be provocative about her child rearing methods because in the first 100 words of the article, we learn that the reason her daughters fit the stereotype of high-achieving Chinese students is because they were never allowed to “attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, get any grade less than an A, play any instrument other than the piano or violin,” or complain about any of the aforementioned rules.
One of Ms. Chua’s points is that “nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” She goes on to tell a story that from my perspective, borders on child abuse. When her daughter was 7, she insisted that she master a particularly challenging piano piece for an upcoming recital. When her daughter wanted to give up on learning it, Ms. Chua refused to let her. “We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not even for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone.” According to Ms. Chua, the end justifies the means; her daughter mastered the piece and Ms. Chua describes their hugging and giggling that night in bed as evidence that all is forgiven between them. Hmmm, her daughter doesn’t have any lingering resentment about her mother’s treatment of her? I have to wonder about that.
I think back to the seven years my son spent in Karate. Steve also took Karate and insisted that Ethan practice along side him. What was the net effect of those years in Karate for our son? I’m not going to say it was nothing because you never know in life how an earlier experience will benefit you, but the day after our son hung up his Gi, it was as if Karate never had happened. Disproving her theory, he got good at it but it was never fun. He felt no sense of accomplishment. He really just wanted to get back to video games which were the activity that really captured his imagination at the time.
Like most parents of girls, I made sure Jennifer and Valerie took ballet classes. As much as I would have liked them to follow in my pointe shoes, it wasn’t something they were interested in. Valerie happened upon rhythmic gymnastics and there was no stopping her; in spite of having only one arm in a very two-handed sport. Although Jennifer hasn’t found a passion in some type of physical activity, she is passionate about creating art. Would my daughters’ futures be brighter and their worlds happier if instead of letting them pursue their self-identified interests, I limited their extra-curricular options to playing piano or violin? I don’t think so.
While Ms. Chua certainly seems tough on her daughters, I think that her method of parenting is really taking the easy way out. For her, everything is black and white; there aren’t any gray areas, and it’s the gray areas of parenting that challenge us.
For instance, should I let my daughter sleep over at someone’s house when I don’t know the parents that well? For Ms. Chua, there are never any sleepovers. Decision made; no need to give it a second thought. And for any other questions that may come up about school activities, classes, or friends, all Ms. Chua has to do is follow her list of established rules: “no” to everything except straight A’s and three hours of practice on the violin or piano.
Apparently, she sees parenting as a science and not an art: follow these steps and the result will be a child with the perfect application to Harvard. No thanks; I would rather raise a human than a robot.