Mother, professor and Chinese American lady Amy Chua wrote a crazy piece for the Wall Street Journal where she seemed to have confused being a strict parent with being a control freak, then wrapped it in a pretty bow of "stereotype" declaring that it was common place for many Chinese mothers to make their 7-year-old practice piano for three hours at a time whether they had an interest in it or not.
In the piece she posits Chinese people are able to produce amazingly successful children by essentially beating the greatness into them through guilt and shame and telling them they are fat and worthless unless they do this one thing exactly the way mommy wants.
So, you know. It's a comedy.
From The Wall Street Journal:
Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. 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. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.
As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)
Oh. So a two-person study on being called "garbage" by your parent versus feeling like "garbage" due to self-esteem issues? SO IT MUST BE TRUE!
What she's really describing is how some people, regardless of Asian-ness or recent immigrant status, push their kids to succeed with varying results of success. Some of these parenting decisions have cultural roots and some of it is just doing what was done to you. (In Chua's case, her mother was strict and forceful and she felt this contributed to her success in life, hence she decided to call her daughter "garbage" when she's disappointed as her mother did to her.) To make her case though she has to paint both Chinese people and "Westerners" in broad brush strokes, neither of which tell the complete story of how difficult it is to make the "right" decision in how to raise your kids.
Of course you know all the awesome stories of Asian American kids with domineering parents who got into MIT and became doctors or whatever and went on to lead fantastic lives. No one wants to talk about the OTHER Asian American kids who, you know, grow up to be emotionally stunted and neurotic, or grow up to rebel against their parents, or who hate themselves and have emotional issues, or move as far away as possible and refuse to have anything to do with their parents. Because, um, that happens too.
Being a ... ahem ... "tiger mother" (*rolls eyes at continued exoticism of Asian people done by Asian person*), does not guarantee 100 percent perfect child results. Even the scene where she describes having a complete break down with her daugher and spending hours screaming at her to perfect a basic piano lesson, seems a little odd in the sense that she had a complete break down over a 7-year-old's piano lesson. Not over, say, the kid actually doing something bad or something could potentially harm herself or her family or for the kid being needlessly disrespectful. It was like reading about someone bullying someone for three hours then becoming shocked, SHOCKED, when the person they bullied finally snapped and ripped up their piano lesson. It was like she just wanted to fight with that kid about something. Didn't really matter what.
But, you know, she eventually played that piece perfectly, so ... it was worth it, right? Is she a famous concert pianist yet, selling out stadiums?
For every kid who does well in this environment there's a story of a kid who said "Screw this," and goes off to pursue the opposite of doctor/engineer. Like actor or porn star.
My parents, who are not Chinese, were pretty strict. So I could actually relate to a few things in Chua's piece. My sisters and I were also not allowed to go to sleep overs, could not date, and were encouraged to play a musical instrument (in our case, the piano which myself and my eldest sister started playing around kindergarten/first grade and played well into high school). We were also expected to get good grades, preferably As, to the point where all three of us felt we would be in trouble if we didn't excel.
The main difference, though, in Chua's stereotype-bonanza parenting lesson was that my mother is extremely affectionate and when she saw that any of us had a gift she encouraged us to pursue it rather than picking something she thought was nice and imposing it on us. Like, my youngest sister hated the piano. My mother tried to get her to play it for a brief time, but then, upon realizing Deidre had absolutely no interest in it, she dropped it and allowed her to later focus on dance, something she truly did love. This, though, did not change my sister's perfectionist mindset. My youngest sister still puts a lot of pressure on herself to be the best at whatever she does. She's just not going to waste a lot of time on something she doesn't like or care about, like piano. But she understood that math and English were important and understood that school and work were important and worked dilligently in these areas. In the end, my parents cared about grades and getting through college. Piano was something "nice." As in, "wouldn't it be nice for the girls to play piano?" But it wasn't a do or die situation like passing our advance placement classes or getting into a four-year college.
My parents usually understood that the three of us were very different, but the expectation was always that we should do well in school, that school was our only job and that we should go to college. There was never any real debate about this. But to make it seem like it's not love if you don't call your kid fat seems quite short-sighted. Because if insulting, berating and belittling your kids meant greatness, I know a lot of kids who got this treatment, but aren't running Fortune 500 companies or acting as chief of surgery at private hospitals. Quite a few of my peers who were still getting corporal punishment well into their teen years, who weren't allowed to go to any dances or socialize and were regularly insulted by their parents, to their face, in front of their friends, did not grow up to be come concert pianists, or doctors, or engineers. A lot of them, quite frankly, maybe made it to college, got a whiff of freedom and briefly lost their minds. Some got pregnant (or got someone pregnant) or took the first opportunity they could get to get out of the house no matter what that opportunity was. Some recovered from years of anger, disappointment and self-doubt and went on to do quite well. Other's never did. Some have good relationships with their parents. Some pretty much don't speak to their parents at all.
I know a lot of people think they have the key to raising the perfect child and like to Monday morning quarterback other people's parenting decisions like Chua is doing in trying to justify her decisions and how "the ends justify the means." She loves her kids, obviously. But some of her "tactics" sound more like wealthy privilege wrapped up in ethnic stereoytping to avoid the label of what would be called Joe Jackson-esque "child abuse" if she had a few less degrees and lived in a less posh neighborhood.
It's also true, some parents are more concerned with self-esteem than results and end up raising spoiled, indulgent, layabouts. But how children turn out, even if both parents are great parents, is pretty much a crap shoot. Sometimes you can do all the right things and still wind up with a tortured, problematic child. After all, I was a straight A student, well-behaved, bright and polite with two great, strict parents and I still ended up marrying the first guy who ever paid attention to me (then shortly divorcing him), then fighting a seven year scary battle with bipolar disorder that left me broke and nearly killed me.
I don't think that could have been avoided with just a little more "Chinese mother" yelling. But I guess they could have tried.