Wednesday, January 12, 2011

best quality crab

I would be in remiss if I didn't respond to the numerous comments and e-mails and tweets that I received about this article in the Wall Street Journal, titled simply, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." If reading that headline elicited any emotion in you at all, in any direction, welcome to the human race, because this article has really be making the rounds and getting a lot of notice. Which, quite frankly, is probably exactly what the author intended, especially given that she--surprise!--had a new book that just came out this week. So kudos to her on that canny piece of marketing and publicity, first off, because if she wanted to get a lot of attention, IT WORKED.

If you haven't read the article yet, you probably should do that first. Go on, we'll all wait. (Foot tapping, tuneless humming, awkward throat clearing.)

So anyway, the gist of the article was this: Chinese mothers are superior because instead of coddling their children's fragile little psyches, they expect and demand excellence from them (mostly of the academic variety) with methods that I daresay would be considered extreme in Western culture. We can discuss whether or not this is true in the comments, I'm sure everyone has opinions, myself included. But what I would like to say first is that this is exactly the kind of topic that causes fist-fights on the internet. It has all the crucial elements, namely, a lady parent who holds one extreme point of view on a topic who writes what a heartfelt (possibly baiting) piece that implies (well, more like explicitly states in the title) that those lady parents who hold a different point of view are doing things wrong. THIS IS HOW INTERNET FISTICUFFS GET STARTED, PEOPLE. So before we talk about this, let's all agree that we're going to talk about this but not, you know, hurt people's feelings, even if we disagree with each other.

OK, now here's my opinion.

I am Chinese. I am a mother. But I don't think I'm the kind of Chinese mother described in the article. Perhaps this is in large part due to the fact that I am significantly Americanized, having been born and lived my whole life in this country. This is not a bad thing, and ultimately I don't raise my kids based on any kind of theory or cultural boilerplate--I don't even think I consider my approach to capital-P "Parenting" as much as the authors of Redbook or Women's Digest or Parent and Child Weekly would insist we surely must. I just have kids and enjoy them and for the most part I try every day to help them a little bit so that someday they will be happy, successful adults. That's definitely not the quote-unquote Chinese Mother approach described in the article. Is that good or bad? Time will tell, I guess. I've got two case studies developing as we speak.

My parents are Chinese parents more in the classic mold. I don't think they were as extreme as many (in my mind, an Asian parent is like an overbearing stage mom, only for academics. "What happened to the other two points?" was a common shorthand at my high school for getting a 98% on a test--nearly half the student body at my high school was Asian) but the ideas put forth in the article are true and cultural and deeply ingrained. And growing up, I definitely felt it. My parents pushed me, but they did it because that's what you do when you love your kids. You pushed them to be the very best. As the article stated, there is the sense that allowing your kids to not be the best is the worst kind of parental neglect. I was raised "the Chinese Way" and every day I am grateful for it.

There were some downsides to it too, though. In a culture where every child is expected to be "the best," there ends up being an awful lot of pressure on the child, because the fact of it is, not every child can be the best at everything. Everyone wants to think of their child as "above average," but by definition, 50% of all kids have to be average or below that, right? Is it fair to insist on the superlative if, statistically, it's impossible for everyone to be at the top? And how much of it can be shaped by work ethic versus intrinsic aptitude or desire?

Between me and Joe, I think I'm definitely the stricter parent. It doesn't always come out in the most flattering ways. Though I don't insult or shame them, I do yell at our kids more. I tolerate a lot less guff, though much of my short leash is related to etiquette and behavioral issues rather than academics per se. That said, we do push the math and the reading. We think about this a little more with Cal than with Mack since Cal's older and actually in school, but the fact is, as great as the school is, we just don't feel like Cal's working up to his potential. And who better to assess his potential than us, his parents, right?

But we're not strict about it. We don't set a timer for his work. If Cal's having a bad day, we'll sometimes skip it. If he starts getting overly frustrated about not understanding something, we'll take a break. We do have the sense that we want to make the experience of learning enjoyable so that it can ultimately be self-directed, rather than academic exercise just for the sake of the exercise. Those are the ways in which we are more "Western" in our parenting than the Chinese Mother that the article so lauds. Because ultimately, the most important thing for us is not that our kids are the best, but that they're happy.

But there are times--more often now that Cal is getting older--that I think I should be pushing him more. I think back to when I was Cal's age, and, in an academic sense, I was able to do more than he is doing now. Multiplying three-digit numbers by three-digit numbers in my head, which my dad would use to drill me, often while walking home from school or waiting for the bus. (It is somewhat inconceivable to me that I could do this at age four and five, since I can barely do this now, as an adult, but I did.) Playing the piano. Reading more. Writing more. I know it's not fair to compare, since we're different people, and there are things that Cal at this age is much better at then I was when I was five--but I was raised the way I was raised, and I worry that I'm not being tough enough on him. Not that the toughness is the important part, but I worry sometimes that I'm underestimating my own child, that I'm taking the easy way out, the lazy way, and that I'm failing him by not pushing him enough. I'm worried that I'm letting Cal down because I don't have the heart or the will or the patience to do what it may take.

I'm not saying that this so-called "Chinese Mother" approach is the right one, and there were certainly more than one descriptions in the article that made me wince, because the idea of doing it to my own kid was utterly unpalatable. So what do you think? Is Amy Chua a miserable, gloating harridan who pushes her children to achieve at the expense of their own sense of self-worth? Or is she a gutsy, uncompromising advocate for her children because she knows what they're capable of and she won't allow them to do any less?

Discuss. (But nicely, please.)


  1. I have a Chinese mother, and while she is strict and very much emphasized academics and hard work she also allowed me a lot of latitude in other things. One thing that she did was to instill in me a love of reading and knowledge of money management - so I might be "book smart" but I also know how not to go broke. (Plus, she never made me learn the piano!)
    She is nice and caring towards my boyfriend, who is another race. She reads parenting books to try to understand the pressures that kids today grow up under. In other words, for a Chinese mother (heck, for any mother), she struck a pretty good balance of pushing me when I needed pushing and letting me be when I need to be independent.

    Every parent should push their kids to a certain extent - too much coddling means that they get tossed out in a world that has no interest in coddling them. But I think the type of parenting that Amy described is ALSO coddling, just another type of ill preparation for the child. How do you learn to be a gracious loser, to learn from your mistakes, to challenge authority in a respectful manner, to voice your thoughts and opinions, to persuade and relate to others, to have the emotional resilience that today's competitive world demands, if your own circle at home is so tightly circumscribed and the success is so narrowly defined?

  2. Google "Chinese suicide" and you'll be horrified. All that pressure to "be the best" carries a significant price.

    Another thought: Amy Chua believes her daughters are successful - but how pleasant are they to be around? Their mother certainly doesn't seem concerned about their feelings, and brags about treating them cruelly. They must have developed coping mechanisms. I wonder, have her daughters turned out to be bullies themselves, or are they attracted to abusive men? A list of accomplishments on paper doesn't mean anything if you are a miserable person.

  3. "How do you learn to be a gracious loser, to learn from your mistakes, to challenge authority in a respectful manner, to voice your thoughts and opinions, to persuade and relate to others, to have the emotional resilience that today's competitive world demands, if your own circle at home is so tightly circumscribed and the success is so narrowly defined?"

    I really like this comment. Success doesn't have to be so narrowly defined, and there are plenty of medical students, lawyers, businessmen, etc, who will tell you that they didn't have perfect 4.0 GPAs, who didn't play only piano or violin (and nothing else!), who went to sleepovers, who were allowed to take breaks.

    I also have "Chinese parents" (although they aren't by race Chinese) who pushed academics and were always finding extra classes, extra tutors, and making sure I read and did math above and beyond what I was required. But they were also lenient on letting me choose my own extra curriculars and on backing off when I was tired or didn't want to continue.

    As usual, balance is the key, and every child is different. There isn't a perfect formula to turn out perfect children into functioning successful adults. I think parents can only try their best by listening to their instincts and adapting to their specific child.

  4. Anonymous9:43 PM

    I was raised with Chinese mother and she was nowhere as extreme as the article described. I suspect that the article is a satire to some extent. I think the biggest "flaw" in chinese parenting is the lack of support for individuality. While Amy Chua pushes her daughters to play the piano perfectly, it doesn't seem like she pushes them to appreciate music as whole. I wonder if they even "feel" the music or if they're more worried about hitting every note. That's not what music is about in my opinion.

    And why the piano? This goes back to my argument about the lack of support for individuality. Maybe her daughters could have been a great rock guitarist. Instead of letting her daughters become who they are, she's forcing them to become who she thinks they should be.

  5. Molly9:47 PM

    I read the article and agreed with the commenter who stated that this article is definitely attention-getting, and sterotyping all Chinese Mothers. I teach high school with a population of about 1/3 Chinese in NYC, and there are all types of parents.
    Just this year I had a first, I had the Chinese Dad and son in my parent-teacher conference and the son had a 93 - one of the highest grade in the class!
    I am telling Dad how much I like Jimmy, he is so social, and pleasant to have in class. He particpates in class and is very polite. And - he had a great grade, that can only go up!
    Dad says, "How can he get this higher?" NO smile. Poor Jimmy standing there grim and silent.
    I say, "Well, it's pretty high already. but he can do this..... By the way, Jimmy's great! YOu have a great son! etc."
    My white-American self-esteem boosting stuff coming out of my mouth.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Thank you for clarifying that you can barely multiple three digit numbers now, whether it's the truth or not. I may have quit PA school right now otherwise.

  8. Anonymous10:01 PM

    I think the follow up Q&A with Amy Chua will shed a little more light on the issue. As an ABC, I sense as if Ms. Chua has inserted a bit of satire in this whole thing, even though most of it appears to be way over the top. I mean, heck, my parents pushed me hard (piano, school, not really able to hang out w/friends that much), but what she describes seems extreme. But, wow, did I laugh throughout that article...because I could totally relate to it!

    This is the link to the article...

  9. I'm not Asian, but when I read that article last week I saw a bit of my parenting style in it. I'm more of a Chinese mom with my daughter than my son. She's 14, plays piano and viola, has straight A's and isn't allowed to go to sleep overs. So that part struck me.

    But she's studying piano and viola by her own choice, not mine. And she gets A's without any pushing from her parents...she just does. And the sleepover thing is because nothing beneficial ever happened to me after going to sleep at someone's house, but on a few occasions some bad things happened...I just like having my kids safe in their own beds when they're unconscious. She also doesn't have a cell phone or facebook, and we only watch PBS Nova and Nature on tv as a rule.

    Meanwhile, my 11 yr old son doesn't study any musical instrument. He's not a straight A student, has more esoteric interests (one example: making stop-motion movies) and doesn't like sports. He has been slow to embrace academics, but now loves reading and is starting to actually enjoy school this year, which makes me happy. Riding him hard over school would have made him miserable (and been treacherous for our relationship as well), but that doesn't mean we let him just do whatever. He has to do his homework and chores, and we expect quality he has to do his best, but that isn't = to perfection.

    Both kids are enjoying happy childhoods which we try to infuse with as many magical moments as possible for them, and that's priceless because you never know how long you'll get to live. They're developing hearts that are kind, a strong sense of gratitude, a positive outlook, good values, and a solid sense of identity. Bonus that they're being prepared educationally to have productive, successful adult lives on the way.

    I also had the thought when I read the article last week (it went viral pretty fast, too) that it could be nothing more than a marketing ploy for her book, but I've known people like her and their kids do tend to be highly accomplished, productive citizens. Don't know about their intrinsic happiness, but who am I to judge?!

  10. My mom was the polar opposite of a "Chinese mother." Of course I was glad at the time to be allowed to run amok and get C's in school, but now I wish I'd had a firmer hand to help me form some good habits. Now that I have a kid of my own I want to incorporate the *good* parts of this sort of parenting... being involved in my child's academics, encouraging hard work and self control. That said, he will certainly be allowed to attend sleepovers, play sports, and whatever other life-enriching activities he is interested in. I feel so sorry for those girls!

  11. I think American culture tends to coddle our children too much and give them pats on the back just for being "unique snowflakes."

    As someone who's thinking ahead to parenthood and thinking back on how I was raised, I do think there's something to be said for not letting your children give up easily. My parents gave me a lot of freedom of choice and I chose to quit the piano after a year, and I wish I hadn't. But I grew up to appreciate music and go to medical school anyway. Balance, as Sara, Well Healed and Michelle have said, is key.

    Also, internet fist-fights are silly. Thanks for providing a forum for mature, grown up, constructive discussion.

  12. Anonymous10:18 PM

    My parents (Western) were almost completely the opposite of how Chua describes in the article except for one thing: if I ever got less than an A (or A+), my mother asked why. There was no consequence (except for the question itself) to a bad grade. In all other respects, I had complete freedom: to choose my classes, activities, friends, even which school I went to (starting in first grade). I did very well in school (no music) and am now faculty at a medical school.

    My younger brother did much worse in school - in high school he didn't show his report cards to anyone but me - but my parents believed that he would pull it together, and after nearly failing out of college, he did. He went to medical school, graduating one of the top students in his class, and then went to a top residency and is also faculty at a medical school.

    Sometimes I wonder whether we are successful because of what they did, or despite it. I think my brother's path could have been smoother with more parental attention, and I wish I were more organized, but we also have skills that many people I encounter seem to lack. To my eye, we are more self-driven, willing to take risks and really able to learn on our own.

    Now I have a young son, and I wonder if I will trust him and myself as much as my parents seemed to trust us.

  13. Is that article supposed to be satire? It reads like something from the Onion.... Either that, or the author is trying to pump herself up as a martyr to her kids.

    I'm not Chinese, but my parents emphasized academics way more than my "Western" classmates'. Like your kids, I did plenty of extra workbooks from the local teaching supply store. These were never required, though; I don't even remember being bribed with cookies. From the point of view of a grown-up kid, children are pretty good judges of their own ability. The worst thing, academically, would be for learning to be frustrating or a chore.

    I'd be terrified of a mother like Amy Chua though. She comes across as an old school prison guard. Maybe her style works on her kids, but I definitely wouldn't try it at home.

  14. Found this article interesting after reading the WSJ piece:

  15. I wasn't raised by a Chinese mother, but I was raised by an Indian mother (same thing, right?). Anyway, I was horrified by Amy Chua's article. I don't think that children should be pushed to the extremes that she described--namely when Lulu was 7 and learning a piano piece. I was also turned off by her condescending attitude.

    I do think that my mother pushed me to be excellent academically, but she also encouraged me to have balance. When I wanted to quit piano at age 7, she let me. I later took up cello and was fabulous at it. I wanted to do it, so I had the motivation. She always used to tell people, "I don't have to tell her to practice. She does it herself." It was true.

    I don't agree with forcing your children into extracurricular activities that they don't get to choose or depriving them of social engagements and contacts with the outside world. Even if that makes them awesome children/teenagers who get into ivy league schools, what does it do to quality of life as an adult? Being able to appreciate other people and their contributions to society is equally as important as making your own.

    If Amy Chua isn't exaggerating about her parenting methods, I think her daughters may grow up resenting the fact that they don't know how to form solid social relationships with people because they were so focused on academics as children. (Or maybe I'm over-exaggerating now.) I do get the impression, though, that Amy Chua is sort of milking the extremist perspective to her advantage. As you mentioned, it's lighting up the internet and she has a book to sell.

  16. Non-Asian Med Student11:04 PM

    I agree 100% with the Asian parent style. Kids nowadays are soooo coddled and so spoiled. Studies have shown that the whole self-esteem crap and patting them on the back doesn't help. My parents did the same with me and I learned to appreciate that a lot.

    I've seen parents that were "understanding" and the kids never even learned to appreciate. The more soft you are, the more they think it's unfair. Discipline is a virtue and if you instill that in your kids at an early age, that is a merit.

    I wouldn't agree with calling my kid "garbage", but Amy Chua is right on about parenting.

    It's also important to reward the kids after they do a good job.

    That's the only way your kids won't end up at McDonalds or not going to college. It depends on what you want your kids to turn out to be...

  17. Non-Asian Med Student11:07 PM

    "My parents did the same with me" --> as in, my parents did a lot of what Amy Chua and her parents did*

  18. I was raised by very strict and abusive parents. My mother expected straight As and would beat me if I brought home an A minus. I have a dent in my head where she fractured my skull when I was in elementary school.

    When my oldest started school and brought home his first B I was horrified by the rush of rage that came over me. I had to bite my tongue to keep from demanding to know why he brought such a terrible grade into my house.

    Even now, when all my boys are in college, I sometimes slip. My youngest got a 97 on a biology exam after bringing home 100s and I asked him what happened. Not in a mean way, but it still brought home all those terrible feelings from when I was a kid.

    When I was in college a Chinese friend of mine tried to commit suicide as graduation neared. She had taken all the classes her parents wanted her to take and was about to start a career she hated and could only see one way out.

    Articles like the ones you linked to make me sad. Maybe the kids will bring home great grades and learn to play music but at what cost? It's too high from what I've seen.

  19. Anonymous11:14 PM

    I grew up with a mix of styles... my parents were immigrants, and in once sense failure was not an option, but I do think they let me quit things that weren't academic-oriented too easily sometimes. Fortunately, I was pretty hard on myself regarding school subjects (I was that kid in tears if I got a 95 on a test if someone else in the class had a 96). I only wish my parents had pushed me with the extracurriculars (i.e., piano lessons, gymnastics, etc) because as a kid, I had a difficult time doing things that didn't come easily to me and I feel like I probably short changed myself.

    I think it's the parents' job to not let their kids be too hard on themselves for things that aren't a big deal (i.e., 95 on a test) but to push them when they want to give up too easily.

    On a sidenote, I don't agree with the American notion of praising every little thing kids do as the greatest thing in the world. If your kid keeps getting C's and one day brings home an A, go ahead and celebrate for them, but if they consistently bring home Bs that's not a reason to celebrate, that's a reason to push them to work harder!

  20. I know an Asian father of two sons. One is a doctor and clearly a source of pride for his father. The other is "only" an engineer. It's clear to me that this son is somewhat of a disappointment and source of frustration for his father, despite being a good student (though not as good as his brother) and a successful, independent adult. That son had a nervous breakdown in college, and I can imagine why.

    I raise my children with the expectation that they will work to the best of their abilities. I hope they don't grow up thinking that my love is conditional on their level of accomplishment.

  21. islandgirl12:20 AM

    I am not sure if anyone saw the interview with Chua on the Today Show yesterday (1/11). I did not see the first part of her interview but caught the second part a little later in the show. It was interesting hearing her somewhat contradict herself about the Chinese way of parenting. She was asked about her younger daughter who apparently rebelled against her during some kind of trip to Russia. It sounded like it was for a performance, and there was mention of her younger daughter breaking some kind of glass. Ms. Chua stated even though she pushes her daughters, she also knows when to step back and essentially made her daughter think she was backing off. Ms. Chua also stated that the Chinese method of parenting was really an American style of parenting because all parents want their children to work hard, be successful, etc. This seemed contradictory to me since the book title suggests the Chinese style of parenting is better? I have not read the book myself and skimmed the article.

    I grew up in an Asian household (not Chinese) where my father's dream was to see his children graduate from college. Though I was not verbally pushed, I had more of an "understanding." At the same time, my parents tried to give me and my brother opportunities that were not available to them growing up, no matter the cost. I can still remember them coming up with the money for a class trip to Washington, DC. With my own children, my older son (4) pushes himself. He can already read, gets frustrated when he cannot figure out something, can do simple math, etc. Neither my husband (non-Asian) or myself push him to do anything. He's the one who wants to play sports, learn new things, is interested in science, knows all 50 states and where they are, knows all the planets, etc. My younger son is 1. It will be interesting to see how similar or different they will turn out.

  22. James Anthony12:27 AM

    I have Jamaican parents, and they raised me with a similar style as Mrs. Chua. I personally don't have an issue with the method she used. I actually think many of the parents I see today are way too lenient with their kids and let them do whatever they want.

  23. My Caucasian mother acted passive aggressive with me whenever I came home with a "B." So there was none of this "what about those two points" stuff for a 98%, but she definitely did hold me to a high academic standard. I was pretty self directed though. Nobody had to tell me to do my homework, and really, I wanted the A also.

    My understanding of the Asian parent model is that it isn't just about academics, but in how children relate to adults. I.e. adult = always right, and child = deferential and respectful no matter what. American children talk back and challenge their parents, Asian children do not. At least this is the stereotype. I was a little disappointed that the article didn't touch on that.

  24. Anonymous9:37 AM

    I am a Western mom who had kids too young and did some things better than others. None of my three kids reached their potential, but they are nice kids who are slogging their way into adulthood and I expect they will have nice lives surrounded by nice people who they have time to enjoy. Somehow I think that was my goal--if I really had one. I have been watching the explosion of attention on this writer and it has taken me back to a very sad time in my life. I was a hall director at a college with a large Asian population. I met a tiger mom at an airport after I found her 18 year old son hanging from his dorm room closet rod. He had used his own belt to end his life. He couldn't get into college at home so the parents sacrificed to send him to the US. His efforts were not good enough to continue his he ended it.
    When I read about pushing your kids and drilling your kids this is the image I see. This happened almost 20 years ago and I am still haunted.
    Michelle in Iowa
    Michelle in Iowa

  25. I think what we can all agree on (thanks to Ms.Chua) is that we all believe in a unique parenting style. Looking through the comments, I notice that nobody agrees 100% with any other person's style; not Ms.Chua's and not even of their own parent.
    I have Indian parents. While they pushed me to be better; not only at academics, but also at other things I loved. They supported me for my extracurricular activities.... but only if I continued to do well at academics. Not the best, just well enough.
    I mentioned to my husband recently, that I was never allowed to buy fiction/non-study books but encouraged to borrow them from the library, in contrast to study books. He felt horrified that parents would push their kids away from other activities in such a (albeit subtle) way. He is Indian too (though raised by much less strict parents).
    I actually think i like the way I was raised. Sure I would have loved to go to design school (where I was accepted) rather than medschool, But my parents were only trying to make sure I was going to be able to fend for myself.
    So, while I can relate to Ms.Chua and agree with her regarding not mollycoddling your kids, I think she's way too extreme and Asian parents also have a spectrum:)

  26. I thought Chua was sort of exaggerating for the sake of entertainment/attention.
    I'm the Caucasian daughter of two Caucasian parents and "what happened to the other 2 points?" was also very common in my house. I don't remember it being mean or scolding though... it was kind of like, "Great job! Now what could you have done to get a 100%?" I was definitely annoyed by it growing up, but grateful for it as an adult.

  27. Here's another Q&A in the Wall Street Journal:

  28. I'm all for pushing excellence but the extreme seemed really sad to me. The other thing was how she didn't let her kids pick their activities. Reading and math are fundamental. But what if she had wanted to be a clarinet player rather than piano? And what is so bad about drama or sports?

    My parents held me to getting A's, because they knew I could. And whatever activities I did, I had to do my best, which meant consistently improving. There were requirement that there had to be something musical, something physical, something that brought in money (no allowance for us, I earned all my own money from age 12 up) and after that we could do whatever else fit in. But I could pick the details of each of those.

    I am an extremely laid back parent now. Course I only have a very small toddler. But there aren't a lot of things I bother enforcing. For right now I'm just trying to foster imagination and curiosity, letting her explore and enjoy the world. I have very few rules No to certain breakable items, No hitting, No tantrums, No candy or junk food, and that's it. Of course, things change with age of child. So we'll see how my case study works out.

    I'll define her as successful if she's (a) happy in life, (b) able to have a successful career she enjoys, she doesn't have to be a working individual, I'm okay with a stay-at-home Mom, but I want her to have the skills, (c) contributes back to her community.

  29. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I am curious. What happens to the successful, accomplished women (raised by tiger mothers) when THEY become mothers? Do they quit the law firm/medical practice/solo violinist career to raise their daughters to grow up like them? Because I am a working doctor mom, and I have about one waking hour a day with my young children. Even if I wanted to I couldn't drill them all day long.

  30. twinkienic8:59 PM

    It's been great reading everyone's comments and stories. Thanks especially to people who have posted the links to Q&As with Ms. Chua as that really helped to balance the article.

  31. Anonymous9:22 PM

    "not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama"

    Bwahahaha.....gym and drama grades were definitely eyesores on my report card.

  32. Anonymous11:53 PM

    Totally unrelated to the hot hot hot button topics of this blog entry but...Michelle, what font do you use for your blog entries? Is it Georgia? (How fitting that would be for where you currently reside! Har har har.)

  33. Best quality crab - I love that line!

  34. Louise8:53 AM

    Regarding your point about pushing Cal to do a bit more work on math outside of school, whilst I can appreciate that there is some benefit to being challenged for the sake of enjoying the challenge, I also remember noticing how the math whizz-kids aged 5/6 were rarely the ones that turned out to be the best mathematicians by the time we got to aged 17/18. In fact, many of the kids who just progressed at the 'normal' speed turned out to just be significantly more mathematically talented that those who were doing long devision before age 6.

    So, again, I do understand that lots of kids like the challenge of pushing ahead with school work, but I also think that in terms of ensuring future success, having a parent push their kid a lot when young may not make any difference. Pushy parents can't make you any brighter.

  35. Anonymous1:24 PM

    I went to Harvard for undergrad, where lots of kids had parents who pushed them quite a bit. Though these students had some academic success, overall they didn't know how to "live" as well as other students in terms of making choices about how to construct a happy, meaningful life. The students who truly excelled were not the most disciplined or obedient, but the ones who really had a passion for what they did and who made time to cultivate friendships and interesting extracurricular skills.

    A lot of things go into having a happy, successful adult life and being able to put your nose to the grindstone when necessary is only a small part of that.

    I think that overall, parents do their children a disservice if they force them into activities and make them study beyond what is necessary to do well in school.


  37. Anonymous8:59 PM

    I am Asian, and I am very much glad that my mom did push me academically to be where I am now. One Caucasian colleague who got the same treatment by his mom mentioned how he now sees it as "appreciation that he is actually very-very good that's why she won't let him be a little less than what she thought he was capable of"

  38. Anonymous10:55 PM

    May we protect our children from becoming this homeless guy:

  39. Anonymous10:56 PM

    re: above.
    I was just kidding around. No one is protected from homelessness....
    Just wanted to share this video (scary for New Yorkers!!)

  40. Clearly the article is oversimplifying parenting styles of both the Chinese and Westerners. People in both categories fall across a huge spectrum on parenting.

    I'm surprised no one has focused on the main difference everyone keeps hinting at between Western and Chinese societies. Western parents view happiness as a key piece of success as an adult. Ms. Chua basically states that Chinese parents do not view individuality or happiness as important characteristics. Clearly Western parents want their children to be successful. Success is defined differently in the two societies. Westerners view success as more than making money and being at the top of their field. Success has a lot to do with contentment and passion and joy.

    I was raised to motivate myself and strive for excellence because I wanted it. There was a silent understanding of expectations between my parents and I. My parents were always supportive, even during some mediocre decisions. My parents greatest parenting strategy was to let me fail and succeed on my own. Sometimes parents have a hard time letting go and allowing kids to fail sometimes. How else will children learn from their mistakes? Ms. Chua's method of helping Lulu learn the piano is alarming. I appreciate and agree that helping your child realize they can do something they originally thought they couldn't is the best way to build their self esteem. The Mother in this situation controlled everything. She could have just had faith in her daughter without controlling her. Possibly Lulu would have gone to her piano practice and felt ashamed for not learning the piece and then been personally motivated to go home and practice until she got it right. Ms. Chua sounds like she wants to be in control.

  41. I'm Chinese and a junior in high school. This article was brought to my attention a few days ago when a classmate brought it up during lunch.

    Being juniors, we all understood the importance of college and getting into a good undergraduate school. I recently looked up the common application and found an essay topic asking applicants to describe what makes them diverse and unique. So I pondered this topic, and I realized something: none of us are unique. We're all essentially the same with our straight A's, piano skills, volunteer hours, and the occasional science award. In the large pool of college applicants, how can any of us appear to be diverse if we can't even distinguish ourselves from each other?

    For this identity crisis, I blame our "Chinese mothers". I agree that control and strict rules are necessary to parenting. I even agree with some of the tactics that Ms. Chua uses, knowing that had my mother not raised me the same way, I would definitely resent her for it today. I see nothing wrong in raising children with high expectations and strict policies. I do, however, dislike how this lifestyle limits children so much. The tight control that Chinese parents place on their offspring restricts opportunities to grow. If these children are expected to stay inside and study all day long, how can they be exposed to the world? How can they develop their own tastes and interests? How can they be unique?

    I brought this up during the discussion with my friends, and we all unanimously agree that although we Asian kids may have better grades than the white kids, we're unarguably boring. Talk to any of us, and you'll find that the conversation will cease unless a school-related topic is brought up. This is even probably why the majority of my friends are Asian; we get by in conversations with each other by talking about school. I talk to Caucasian students too, but I notice that no matter how interesting they might be, all of these conversations will inevitably be about school at some point. And I'm usually the one to bring it up. But past this mundane lifestyle is the unavoidable feeling of unhappiness.

    Restriction is important, but freedom is even more so. My parents made me learn piano, just like Ms. Chua did with her kids. I hated piano. I counted the days until I took the Advanced Level CM Test just so I could quit piano and be done with it. The year after I "finished piano", I took AP Music Theory at school (Typical, right? AP credit and musical skills... basically everything an Asian mother could ever hope for.). I met interesting people who had piano skills beyond my own by tenfold. When I asked them if they finished the CM Test, they didn't even know what the CM Test was. (It's basically one of those over-glorified piano skills tests.) My parents sure found it strange when I took to the piano again, this time on my own terms with my own music. I realized that I don't hate piano. It's a beautiful, versatile instrument. But my experiences with piano, the experiences that my parents shaped so carefully in the belief that it would benefit me, almost caused me to give up what is now one of the most rewarding hobbies I have.

    Success means more than having good grades or money or fame. Success ultimately depends on happiness. So, if Asian parents restrict their children from opportunities to obtain that happiness, are they truly training their kids to be successful?

  42. Anonymous6:29 PM

    "I also remember noticing how the math whizz-kids aged 5/6 were rarely the ones that turned out to be the best mathematicians by the time we got to aged 17/18. "

    Not sure where you observed this, but it has always been the opposite from what I've seen.

  43. Anonymous7:16 PM

    Chua does say that the WSJ piece doesn't accurately reflect the contents of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother—which, she points out, ends with her realizing that her overblown parenting is damaging her relationship with her daughter.

    Read more:

  44. Anonymous1:14 PM

    Poignant post, Anna, thank you for sharing.

  45. Anna, I enjoyed your post, too.

  46. Anonymous2:46 PM

    Although I like what Anna wrote, especially for her age, happiness is not a destination in life. Happiness is a way of traveling. Sure success, money, etc isn't everything, but realistically and practically speaking, it helps to not have the need to depend on other people (your husband/wife) for financial support and it helps to take advantage of all the opportunities that surround you.

    And, everyone is unique, not matter how boring you think you are. So, what if you got good grades, volunteer, and play the piano just like all your other classmates? Not everyone has the same mentality you have and not everyone will take advantage of those experiences. Everyone will choose to use them differently for their ultimate life goals or will choose to waste precious skills that not everyone in life can obtain.

    People, especially kids, need guidance on how to be independent and on how to achieve their utmost potential.

  47. They say your mothers knows everything, so always listen to them. But some mothers are strict and abusers to the fact that they don't considered the feelings of their child and they also have the capacity to think which is the best for them. Chinese mothers are very strict because they always want their child to have the best life but they never think how will they child feel everytime they want to rule the lives of their child. I think your article must be emphasize and even the comment to all the Chinese mothers.

  48. Anonymous5:37 PM

    The other (Americanized/Westernized) Asian spectrum:

  49. Anonymous3:44 PM

    So in Chinese communities what happens to average & below average students or to students with learning differences? How does one become a clerk or ticket taker? Is that a disgrace? Are there opportunities if you are the child of a low income worker? I think it is interesting that the responses above are mostly clustered around mastery of lessons, instruments, etc. I also find it interesting that many posts are appreciative for their eastern upbringing. I would argue that none of us really know any different than the way we were raised. I came from type b parents who let me find my way for the most part. I am sure the academic rigor could have been increased but at what cost? I grew up as a 6th child in a chaotic but loving family. I can't imagine a different life. So far we haven't talked much about the values of patience, kindness, empathy, humor and appreciation of the gifts we have been given. So I guess I will weigh in as the imperfect product of Western parenting. Although I often wonder what my life would be like had I been pushed to great achievement and then a great career, I feel like belong where I am. I work in education, I do volunteer work (animal assisted therapy (dogs and horses) and I have a lot of leisure time to spend with myself and my family.

  50. Anonymous3:52 PM

    Hey HGTV lovers! Did anyone see the episode of "income property" where the guy makes over the apartment of an asian woman and the daughter is the intermediary? OMG that episode was hilarious. Mostly the people on this show GUSH over the host and are SO appreciative of the renovation. But this one episode sticks in my mind because even though this apartment was a run down dive that she had badly neglected, the woman would not give up any control to the host. She HATED everything and her inane standards were out of control. Her daughter was MORTIFIED because after all it is on NATIONAL TV. Anyway, check it out. That poor guy found out what it was like to be an tiger child for sure. He turned white as a sheet on camera! He probably thought he was being punked!! No amount of success or money would be worth that kind of daily disapproval.

  51. Anna seems to have sparked a lot of conversation. I am the product of Chinese parenting, although minus the cruelty and intensity, and I am an MD violinist. Yes, I was denied the opportunity to do a lot of socializing and team sports playing as a child, and yes, I think there are social consequences that linger to this day.
    However, because I took the fast route to a medical practice with no fun detours, I find myself now, at age 46, in a position to enjoy things more, deeper, better... I've got kids who are getting to do the fun stuff, (but who also play the violin.) I've started learning the cello out of sheer joy. I shocked my family when I announced that I'm going to learn how to play ice hockey, (imagine 5'0" small-boned little woman with a little bit of grey hair, donning the skates and helmet.) So, though there was a lot of sacrifice earlier, I'm in a better position now to make choices and do whatever I want.
    I'm grateful to my mother not so much for the strict limit-setting, but for having values and insisting upon passing them on. I'm also grateful that I've been able to mature out of her hold and embrace things that she still discourages. I'm grateful that even though she thinks I've gone crazy, she is excited to see me play hockey. I only hope when I'm her age, my kids see my parenting style as my attempt to give them the best of me.

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