Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Parenting Tweens and the "Tiger Mother"

If you haven't already come across an article on this - don't worry, you will. Yale Law Professor Amy Chua is a Chinese-American and mother of two daughters. She's published a book today called the "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" in which she explains why Western parents and their permissive parenting styles have it all wrong, and how strict Chinese mothers manage to raise successful children.

The book is an ode to the traditional, strict upbringing of Asian children. Her husband (also a professor at Yale Law) is not Chinese, and they have raised their two daughters both in the Jewish tradition and as Ms. Chua herself was raised - with a very traditional Chinese parenting style. Her book preaches "no playdates, no sleepovers, no school plays, hours of classical music practice a day, and never a 'B' grade."

As expected, the most outlandish comments are being hyped as part of the press tour and in the name of promoting the book: her comments about grades (Chinese kids would never dare to get a B), dating (never), camp (a waste of time), praise (never in public), and self-esteem (a non-issue) are deliberately provoking.

As for me, an Asian parent myself, I find myself asking:
  1. How can a parent claim to have mastered parenting when her own daughters are still teens and not even through the difficult adolescent years?
  2. How can she, or anyone else for that matter, claim to absolutely define and then prescribe parenting success? Isn't it different for each parent and each child?
As adults, we are all products of our own upbringing and struggling to do the best we can with the circumstances we've got. As parents, we develop a parenting style based upon our partners (although sometimes we go it alone), our economic constraints, the neighborhood/village/community surrounding us, and a million other factors. Ms. Chua fails to account for most of these in her "advice," relying instead upon stereotypes of parenting styles that differ from her own.

Have you read this book? Are you an "Asian parent"? Do non-Asian parents settle for mediocre with the kids? What's your take?

UPDATE: More discussion and reactions from tweens on the Tiger Mother here.

Photo credit: Erin Patrice O'Brien for the Wall Street Journal

P.S. My own Asian mom sent me this article to read with a nice "Hah!" to go with it. So Ma, you can see that I do read what you send even when I don't agree with you.

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Anonymous said...

wow. that sounds like a very strict lifestyle. i think that it is fine to have your daughter live by a strict lifestyle, but it is not ok to go over the top and try to completely control your daughter and her what she wants to do

Ms. Twixt said...

Wow - what a great observation! I think you're right that this is a very controlling take on parenting, and I have to agree that controlling your tween is not parenting. I wonder: how can tweens learn to make good choices if they never get to make their own decisions?

desmoinesdem said...

When the girls grow up they will may write about their upbringing from a very different perspective.

Suzanna Narducci, Co-founder TweenParent.com said...

I read this article this weekend and haven't been able to get it out of my head. I think that author, Amy Chua, raises an important point, but misses the big picture in doing so. I agree that high self-esteem is related more to the struggle for success, than easily achieved accomplishments. So, when Amy's daughter, after much frustration, learned how to play a complicated piece on the piano there was much to celebrate. The question remains at what cost? I can't help but wonder if dictating the terms of a child's success means that the child never grows to find their passion as a grown-up. Does this type of childhood lead to depression and the feeling of emptiness that goes along with having achieved someone else's goals at the sacrifice of your own?

Ms. Twixt said...

Desmoinesdem: Thanks for commenting! I agree - her daughters will recount their childhoods, such as it is, wholly differently from Ms. Chua's perspective. In, fact, all children do. Isn't parenting success by definition in hindsight - I mean, don't the children have to grow up first before we declare victory? And isn't parenting tough enough without it becoming a competition?

Ms. Twixt said...

Suzanna, thanks for your comment! I love your take that she "misses the big picture in doing so." Your response is very balanced and measured, and I will strive to maintain your cool-headedness on this topic. And your point about "someone else's goal" is spot-on. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Ms Twist, thanks for your eloquent response to Chua's book, and the WSJ article.

My "beef" with Prof Chua is that I don't believe she holds herself to the same standard as she does to her children (and the same could be said of Chua's father, whom supposedly she had "infinite admiration" for)

If Chua threatened to burn her children's stuffed animals if they made mistakes playing their instruments, then why shouldn't she be ready throw away her engagement ring if she does poorly in an academic review, or if her book is a commercial flop? (incidentally her second book is indeed not well received)

I sincerely don't believe Chua accomplished her slew of academic achievements through someone constantly terrorizing her. She didn't write a good book out of fear, and when she failed she didn't derive encouragement from someone calling her "worthless garbage".

Her comfortable and smug tone is extremely disconcerting, and so to add some polemics to the discussion ~_^ ...

- Chua's father, whom supposed was disappointed at her for not receiving an award for the best student of her class ("Don't you ever disappoint me like that again"), did not, for the life of him, get into the Ph.D program at MIT (or any other "good" schools, for that matter), even though he was already enrolled in MIT's Masters program. He ended up going to U Illinois instead, which would probably have been "terrible" school by their standards.

- Chua earned a "cum laude" with her JD at Harvard. Impressive.. but for a woman who would not accept anything less than an "A" from her children, cum laude translates to a B+ average...

If anyone digs enough, they are sure to find a heap of inflated achievements that Chua has supposedly "casually" thrown into the book.

Perhaps someone should really ask his old man that questions about teh MIT program .. :)

Ms. Twixt said...

Thank you for your comments. I am not familiar with Ms. Chua's family history, but your point that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones is well taken.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that she should not use the term Chinese mother. I know many different Chinese girls from my school and they all have VERY different families. One girl was actually in our school play and was great! AND her mother encouraged her to do it and was at the performance! I think all parents-mom or dad- should encourage their children to pursue their dreams , goals , and what they think of a success not the parents.

Ms. Twixt said...

Thank you for commenting! I love when tweens themselves post comments, and your statement that "all parents . . should encourage their children to pursue their dreams, goals and what they think of success" as opposed to what their parents define as success is very well put.

Anonymous said...

I have been wanting to comment on this woman and her book since I first came across a review of it in Town and Country. It made my heart race, and not in a good way. First off, this horrible narcissistic harridan is a racist cow. My mother drove me in an interchangeable way from her - and she is Italian!! Her insult to the West makes me want to smack her. She is no one to admire. I feel sorry for her daughters, but as someone noted, it is too early to declare victory as this profoundly narcissistic woman does.

Friends of that time in my life, under the thumb of a tiger mother, remember me as a performing robot. They shook their heads and felt sorry for me. I practiced piano for 2-3 hours a day with her bellowing out What would the judges think?" as I prepared for competitions. I was a high achiever, ranked in Who's who among American high school students for two years in a row. I was never allowed to make decisions for myself, never allowed to explore my own choices and preferences. I was criticized constantly. Looking back at my artwork from that time, it is very dark and violent, yet I was consciously cut off from everything. I had no idea how I was feeling, my monitor was only 'if mother was happy with my performance'.

I became anorexic, down to 78 lbs at one point. Hey, it was the only thing left for me to control, and she fought me over that. I got into an Ivy League college, 94lbs at that point, and had a nervous breakdown. I could not function without my controller, and yet I could not get away. She was still hovering, still intruding and seeking control, calling several times a day, filling my mailbox with directives. I could go on.... I do not speak to my mother now.

I feel nothing for her, nothing but contempt. For those women foolish enough to follow this woman's example, remember this, you can never give back the time you steal with your ego-driven machinations. Your daughters will end up spending many years trying to reconstitute their minds and spirits, and if they survive, they may never forgive you. Ever. They will have buried you in their own mind, and breathed a sigh of relief. Your weakness and helplessness will be viewed with smug contempt. There will be no mercy, as you gave no mercy.

Be afraid. My mother used to flagellate me about 'what would Mrs. so and so say if I stopped playing the piano - how would they look at her?' There was never even a question of if I was happy, or if I even liked playing, if I wanted to do something else, which I did. Every time I went out for a play I won the lead, and my mother would make me give it back, or call and harangue until they let me go.

I still cannot watch the movie 'Shine', and I never touch a piano. Now she can make up excuses why her daughter does not speak to her, has written her off as dead so that she can live and not kill herself because the dynamic NEVER ENDS with such mothers until somebody dies. What these mothers inflict is just narcissism, narcissistic abuse.

There is a book called 'When You And Your Mother Can't Be Friends' by Victoria Secunda. I recommend it. My mother, and the author of this book, would fall under the category of Avenger mothers - most likely to be abandoned by their children and never spoken to again. There are mothers one has to divorce because they do so much damage you look at people whose mother's have died as prisoners of war getting a reprieve and release. You envy them.

Girls like me, and her daughters will have to find a way to forgive themselves for allowing themselves to be mulched and dominated, and they will have to find a way to listen to and validate the small still voice of their spirit within.

Ms. Twixt said...

Wow. Your childhood, if one can call it that, sounds incredibly trying. I remember close friends who had experiences similar to yours, and they are also thankfully out from under the (as you so well put it) "tiger's thumb". I hope that you continue to heal, and I truly appreciate your recommendation of Victoria Secunda's book - I will have to pick up a copy. Best wishes to you!

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