Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Different Approaches

One thing I never expected about the world of being a parent is the judgment that flies at you from everywhere. It seems that everyone knows the "right" way to parent and it's interesting to see how different all of those right ways are.

This week there has been a lot of buzz about Amy Chua's WSJ article on Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. I read it and it made me sad for her children. She describes an incident with one of her daughters who can't get a piano a piece and how she forces her to sit there until she's learned it. I feel sad that this moment of abusive parenting has been broadcast for all the world to see - probably to help sales of Amy's book. Of course I don't think practicing the piano until you get something is abusive. I played the piano as a kid and I enjoyed repeating a piece until I learned it. But that's the thing - I was the one who chose to play long hours or not at all. Of course, the proof is in the pudding; I'm far from a virtuoso pianist. I would be hard pressed to play anything at all today besides plunking out "Twinkle Twinkle" on the iPad for Anna. But I loved playing piano and it was an enjoyable activity for me.

I definitely recommend having a look at the article, as well as the discussion about it on Motherlode, which puts it into a bit of perspective. I just feel like here we are again - pushing our kids to be only the best - "A" students who go to Ivy League schools. At what cost? But that's the thing - everyone in life has their own goals and rates success and happiness differently. Who am I to judge this woman who is clearly financially successful and raising children that can go on to choose from top-notch colleges? I know I didn't want to go to a private all-girls school but my parents didn't give me a choice. And yes, I am thankful now. This just takes it a bit further.

In the end, I have to agree with Lisa Belkin at the NYT. Given that the latest research shows it's more WHO you are as a parent than WHAT you do ... I'd rather give Anna the benefit of the doubt. I'd rather raise her with respect and listen to her and try to help her find her joys and passions in life. I've been enjoying this journey as a parent so much lately, just being with her and learning about who she is, I'm not going to let it all be run-over with thoughts of her educational and monetary success in life. All I can do is let my heart guide me and believe in my choices. It's all that any of us can do.


  1. What a great post, Erica!

    The thing that struck me in the Chua article was the part where she says that in the Asian perspective, western parents don't care enough about their kids to make them "turn out well." I immediately thought: gee, the truth of that statement depends on your definition of what it means for kids to "turn out well." I think that Chua's perspective is that accomplishments are what matter, while I'll consider that my children have turned out well if they have love for themselves and for those around them and a strong sense of self-worth. And I honestly believe that (1) this will happen best if we their parents show them that they are precious to us apart from anything they accomplish, and that (2) having a confident and realistic sense of their own abilities will make them most effective at accomplishing things in the world.

    We have a good friend whose ethnic origin is Taiwanese (although he grew up in the US.) He has a passion for political science and knows more American history and political theory than almost any US citizen I know. He's incredibly intelligent and I think he would have made a wonderful professor... but instead, he has a PhD in biochemical engineering. I once asked him, during a discussion about his passion for politics, why he didn't follow it and do what he loved. And he told me, ruefully, "I have Asian parents."

    He, at age 30, seems resigned to his life (and he is quite successful) but it has always seemed sad to me that he felt he couldn't do what he really loved because of the pressure his parents put on him. I would not want to do that to my children - I really want them to be able to live their passions.

    All this to say - I agree with you, and I think you have some great points! Anna is a lucky little girl.

  2. I'm with you. I'm all for high expectations, but this just seems excessive. It's so restrictive -- that there is only ONE right way to be.

  3. I read the article, too, and found it disturbing. I agree with you on all points!

  4. It's definitely a person by person thing. I lean towards wanting to cultivate an incredible work ethic in my kids, not because I don't care about their happiness, but because I think a strong work ethic is essential for happiness as an adult simply because being an adult is hard sometimes and it takes real effort (to make relationships work, jump through the hoops of education, accept setbacks and so on). I grew up in a very strict household and while there were downsides to it (as seen through the eyes of a child) I feel my adulthood is happier because of it.

  5. one of my favorite posts. really made me think about how i define "loving my children" and where i might be missing the boat. thanks, e!

  6. Yeah, I think that's been the hardest part of parenting for me so far, trying not to internalize how many strangers think that whatever I'm doing at any given moment is wrong.


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