Living With Fear

by Marinka on January 12, 2011

For the past few days, I’ve been living with fear.

The fear that my Mama will read the article written by the Chinese Mom and tell me that I should become Chinese and that my new-fangled Western methods are ruining my children.

If you’ve been living under a rock, or abroad, or just out for a two-day foot binding session, The Chinese Mom is Amy Chua, a Yale professor who wrote a book,  Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, about the superiority of the Chinese Way of Parenting.  (And no, it’s not tips on leaving your daughters on the roadside.)

The basic premise of this way of parenting (and the good news is that you don’t have to be Chinese, although it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you could swing that) is old-fashioned values like hard word and obedience.  Which sounds great in theory.

But here are the things that Chua said that her daughters were never permitted 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 extracurricular activities,  get any grade less than an A,  not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama,  play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.

Holy fuck.

First of all, I do not understand the “not allowed.”  As a parent, you can enforce the no-TV rule, sure, and have your kid be the only one who has no mainstream media frame of reference, but how do you enforce “no grade less than an A”?  As in what happens, exactly if your child gets a *gasp* B?

Second of all, why are the piano and the violin superior to the cello or the guitar?  And why is music more important than theater or sports?

Third of all,  the kids are not allowed to complain about being in a school play?  Are they allowed to express any kind of displeasure or are we going straight to the internalization of “unhappy feelings”?

I read an wonderfully thoughtful article responding to the Chinese Mom, Is Amy Chua’s Chinese Parenting Strategy Good for America by Kristen Chase.  And Vicki Boykis has an interesting take on it too.

Overall, I am happy with my parenting.  Definitely, I can work towards an improvement in my children’s behavior and attitude, and there is no question that there are times when I push them to work harder and do  better, but there is absolutely no reason to disregard things like self-esteem and the children’s happiness.  The happiness that comes from the silliness of being a child, of knowing that your parents adore you no matter what.

Even if you don’t excell.

But please.  Don’t tell Mama.

(Disclosure:  This post has an Amazon affiliate link.)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

anna see January 12, 2011 at 9:50 am

I would fail as a Chinese mom. Big-time.


January 12, 2011 at 10:03 am

The thing I found most aggravating about her article was that she kept referring to how the Chinese mother would tutor her children if things didn’t click or sit with them at the piano and such. As if all other women do not try to help their children with their homework.

I was also very confused by the superiority of violin and piano to drama and other instruments. What if your child is actually a really talented little singer? What’s wrong with that?


January 12, 2011 at 10:25 am

Aside form my horror at her calling her children garbage, I was stuck by the lack of balance in their lives. There has to be some sort of play and/or joy in life to balance the work.

What’s the old saying? All work and no play . . .


the mama bird diaries
January 12, 2011 at 10:30 am

Haven’t we recently learned that life is way, way too short and that finding as many moments of happiness in the present is what we really should excel for? Not endless A’s.


January 12, 2011 at 10:38 am

This reminds me of the Anorexia Diet. Yes, you’re thin, but at what cost.

Having no children myself, I have very strong opinions on child-rearing: I think the secret to raising kids is to let them know you love them unconditionally. But you also expect them to always DO THEIR best, not necessarily BE THE best. There’s a huge difference.


January 12, 2011 at 10:45 am

My Eastern European mother never called me garbage. Ever. But she would slow down and pull up right next to the garbage truck pointing. “You see him? He got a B in Math.”


Kate Coveny Hood
January 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

I’m so far on the other side of the spectrum that I couldn’t even get close to that parenting style if I tried.

As the parent of a special needs kid – I could point out that she’s assuming all children should *be able* to achieve these check marks on her priority list. What do you do if your child can’t? Never mind – I don’t think I want to hear the answer. She obviously has no concept of people having different talents, preferences and gifts to bring to the world. Aside from being an incredibly limited point of view, it’s just sad…

Other than that – she sounds like a super fun person. Probably #1 on everyone’s party invite list.


Megan January 12, 2011 at 11:10 am

I’ve pointed out on another blog that I do actually agree with Chua in one aspect: Sometimes you have to challenge your children to do their best. But never, never at the expense of balance and fun. Life is too short.

My son has a physical disability which makes everyday tasks difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. To be independent, he needs to do them, so I make him do it, even when it’s very hard. I challenge him and let him know that he can do anything if puts his mind and heart into it. I will express my disappointment when he is lazy and not trying, but I don’t berate him.

As with anything, I think the extreme is never the way to go. Balance in all things.


Renee January 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm

My God – I think I may be having an aneurysm while I type…I am SEETHING from that article. Your child has to be THE best in every class except gym and drama? What if we all had that mentality? By definition, only one kid can be first – so all the other children and parents are failures? (Maybe my kid can at least get ahead of hers in drama because I – Gasp! – let him attend drama camp.) The language she uses to her children is sickening and honestly borders on child abuse. And, while arguably less important as he is an adult, I really wonder about her husband and how he manages to sleep in the same bed as that A*$hole. Doesn’t he get any say in the parenting philosophy – poor weak-kneed Westerner probably doesn’t have a chance! Yes – it’s true – I guess you can’t really argue with her results – her daughters are obviously very “successful” in terms of academic success, playing at Carnegie Hall, etc. Maybe (probably?) my children will never do that, but there is a way to balance high expectations with a softer touch and an acknowledgement that not all children can be the best at everything, at least not at a cost that is worth paying…(Now excuse me while I seek medical attention…)


January 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

I’m all for the positive strokes.

Lots of ’em.

Being a child is still having one foot in heaven, don’t ruin it with earthly things yet.

That’ll happen soon enough, with no help from us.

Hoping to see what awesomedude had to say here…


elizabeth-flourish in progress
January 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm

To a certain extent, the Chinese way of parenting was the way I was raised. Even though I’m not Chinese. It had the total opposite effect on me. I didn’t want to excel at anything, I partied like it was my last day before going to prison and I definitely didn’t want to go to college.

Just yesterday, my mom told me I should start putting my legs up when I sit at the computer. Said my legs were getting fat. Probably one reason I never pressure Cal about school or anything else. Scared to hell she’ll have the same childhood I did.


Lady Jennie January 13, 2011 at 9:18 am

I lived in Taiwan for two years and I must say that I am very happy with most aspects of American child-rearing (except the over-consumption and sometimes allowing kids to take the lazy-way out).

In general, I would never want to raise my children in the traditional Chinese fashion. There are a few points to be learned, but that’s where it ends for me. I once had a mother in tears (I was teaching her daughter) because her daughter was in so many activities after school she burst into tears because she couldn’t finish her coloring and she knew she wouldn’t have time at home. Her mother actually listened to me and removed all activities except Math and violin, I think. Her daughter changed drastically for the better without all that pressure.

On the other hand, I was really good friends with another mom and she took her children to so many museums and cultural exhibitions that I was inspired. I have never since met children so curious, intelligent and alert.

I fondly remember that as my own kids are watching tv.


Loukia January 13, 2011 at 10:53 am

So. I wrote a long post about this yesterday (indulge me and go read it?) and I talked about how Greek mothers are superior, yada, yada, yada, and how I was never pushed to be perfect and how my parents were great and even let me go to sleepovers.

Then my mom emailed me back and said I only attended very few sleepovers and all in Greek homes. And that if she could go back she’s have been way more strict with me and more disciplined and please Loukia, have more rules with your boys. And more guilt…. and how if she had been tougher with me perhaps I’d have more than just a Bacholor degree from University… so now… I hate Tiger mom even more.


mari February 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm

affiliate link takes you to an error page on this site — need to remove the “a href” part before the amazon link … or something.


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