Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chinese Mothers vs Western Mothers

Have you read this? Featured in Time and Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, this book is getting a lot of buzz.

        Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

As it should.

This is a memoir that chronicles the joys and struggles Chua experienced raising her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu. Though married to a Jewish white man, she chose and embraced what she calls the "Chinese mother" parenting approach. Pushing her daughters to extremes, making sure they performed at the highest level in academics and music, bringing accolades to themselves - as well as to her -, she shares her "Chinese mother-ing" story.

Starting on page one, she starts out telling the reader what she never allowed her daughters to do:

"-attend a sleepover
-have a playdate
-be in a school play
-complain about not being in a school play
-watch TV or play computer games
-choose their own extra-curricular activities
-get any grade less than an A
-not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
-play any instrument other than the piano or violin
-not play the piano or violin"

Sound strict? That's just page two. Keep reading and she shares a few things she said to her older daughter while she was practicing piano:

"1. Oh my god, you're just getting worse and worse.
2. I'm going to count to three and then I want musicality!
3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM."

She now admits that those are extreme things to say to her child, however she spends most of the rest of the book defending her strict Chinese mother approach and, at the same time, being critical of the "Western mother" approach.

While she recognizes that some of her tactics are severe, throughout the book she firmly upholds the value of Chinese mother style parenting.

Which, I have to say, has its pros. In a chapter called "The Birthday Card", her daughter, Lulu, gives her a birthday card she made on construction paper.

"...it was a piece of paper folded crookedly in half, with a big happy face on the front. Inside, 'Happy Birthday, Mommy! Love, Lulu' was scrawled in crayon above another happy face. The card couldn't have taken Lulu more than twenty seconds to make."

She tells Lulu that she doesn't want that card. It obviously didn't take her much time or energy to make, and she, as the mother, deserves better than that.

"I don't want this. I want a better one - one that you've put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophie, and this one can't go in there." She continues..."I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled 'Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!' I added a big sour face. 'What if I gave you this for your birthday, Lulu - would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No - I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and eraser party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.' I threw the card back."

This chapter on the birthday card resonated with me. I am a Western mother and am the daughter of a Western mother. And my adult children have been known to put less (sometimes a LOT less) than 100% effort into gifts for me. As I read this chapter, I admired Chua's forthrightness in demanding effort and respect from her children. I wished I'd had more of that forthrightness in my own parenting when my kids were younger.

As Chua asserts throughout the book, there is value in expecting children to put effort into what they do, be it music or schoolwork or a birthday remembrance.

I found her choice of title interesting...BATTLE Hymn?...Is it a battle between herself and her daughters? Or between Chinese mothers and Western mothers?

Either way, I hope that this book can help people think about their parenting and maybe decide to do things differently. Me? My children are in their 20's, but I already am more forthright with them and other children in my life than I used to be. I could stand to be a little more Chinese mother-like.

Chua? She came to a non-Chinese mother revelation. Lulu had been playing the violin, and getting her to practice had been a battle (is this the battle she's referring to in the title?) for years. When Lulu was 13, she finally decided it was more important not to fight than it was to be the enforcer. She told Lulu she didn't have to play the violin any more. This was a huge realization and revelation for her.

Chua's point is that "Western mothering" allows for too much freedom. Children with no guidance, no structure, no parameters for expectations, (most often) do not strive on their own.

I think she has a valid point. As I know from experience, "Western mothering" is not always the best.

However, I don't think "Chinese mothering" is always the best, either. I think there is value in play, in allowing children to make and learn from their own mistakes, as well as having a say in choosing their own paths.

It seems to me that rather than having it be a battle - either between parent and child or between styles of parenting - there has to be a middle ground, where parents can have high expectations of their children AND allow for play and creativity.

You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

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