Do Chinese Mothers Raise Successful Children?

This past weekend, a friend (who is Chinese) sent me a link and I read, with a mixture of horror, amusement, disbelief, and slight agreement, the Wall Street Journal article by Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”

Being Chinese myself (and not even an American-Born Chinese or ABC), I wish I could tell you scary stories of what it was like growing up with an exacting, overbearing, and terrifying Chinese mother who would verbally beat me into submission.  Except, believe it or not, I don’t have any.  Growing up, I attended sleepovers and had play dates, watched TV, chose my own extracurriculars (including theater, but I didn’t act), rarely got grades less an an A (until college), and never played the violin (piano, yes, though I was far from being Lang Lang).

However, I did have Chinese friends with mothers like Amy Chua – and, those friends did excel better than me and also went on to Ivy Leagues, but some of those friends also grew up crying, feeling inadequate, and believing parental love and approval came with straight As.  They extinguished their creative and artistic sides and prepared for life-long careers in medicine, engineering, and law.  Over 147, 718 people (presumably Asians), including some of my friends, have shared Chua’s story on Facebook—and most of the comments have been the same: they remember what it was like growing up feeling criticized, never good enough, and uncertain whether the paths they chose was what they really wanted.

Amy Chua would probably say my parents became too Westernized when they moved to America and didn’t try hard enough. My own parents would probably be considered hippie Chinese parents even though they aren’t familiar with the term “hippie.”  My parents never once yelled at me or called me “stupid, “worthless,” or “garbage.”  They let me pull out of Chinese school when I refused to go and they encouraged my love for reading, art, and writing.  As Patty Chang wrote on Huffington Post, not all children are the same so they can’t all be force-fed the same parenting style.

Chua’s kids will (no doubt) grow up to be accomplished musicians, score very high on their SATs, and get accepted into an Ivy League (probably Yale, since Chua works there).  I just hope they won’t grow up too rebellious and oppressed by perfection—often excellence becomes equated with perfection.  My parents expected me to excel, but they never expected me to be perfect.

Ironically, the only person who expected me to be perfect was myself.  My parents’ lack of pressure to be perfect actually made me feel I had to be perfect—I drove myself to earn good grades, get into a good college, and get a good job. I was still an honors student and I still went to a highly-respected college—Barnard College, a women-only liberal arts college (which is, if you’re curious, affiliated with an Ivy League).  I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider Barnard because of the Ivy League connection, but I’m not lying when I say I decided to attend Barnard because of its excellent English program.  So, yes, I majored in English and then went the non-traditional, not-very-lucrative career of a web editor (try explaining this one in Mandarin Chinese to curious parents).

Throughout the years, I never once doubted that my parents loved me and wanted what was best for me – and even while they expected me to do well in school, they didn’t suffocate me with the idea of success. Had my mother been a stereotypical Chinese parent, I may have graduated as valedictorian or salutatorian, gotten a perfect score on my SATs, and became a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or investment banker. And I probably would have hated her.  Instead, both my parents protected me and prepared me for the future by showing me what it meant to be an ethical, honest, driven, and hard worker.  Their parenting style taught me that while excelling was important, not excelling in everything was ok—I was encouraged to pursue my passions and be a creative individual.  This helped boost my confidence and self-esteem since I was able to nurture my natural talents–and my parents are still proud of their daughter, which is (to me) the true reason why my mother (and father) are superior.

What are your thoughts on what makes a “superior” parent?  What experiences did you have growing up?  What’s your parenting style?

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  1. by melektaus

    On January 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Chua seems to be spewing very misleading and potentially harmful garbage. She needs to look at all the available literature on parenting styles and ethnicity before spewing nonsense she has no business talking about. Studies show that Asian American (and Chinese American) students succeed in school *despite* the parenting styles of their parents and not because of it. They have the least parental involvement in their school work and the parenting style that is the most detrimental to school success (authoritarian and permissive as opposed to the most conducive, authoritative). See the book, “Growing Up the Chinese Way: Chinese Child and Adolescent Development”

    Chua is a lawyer, not a developmental psychologist and it is no surprise that someone who’s occupation involves speciously distorting the facts and presenting one-sided, superficial arguments to sway others for monetary gain would do this kind of thing. She, I fear, is doing a tremendous amount of damage to parents and especially children of all ethnicities.

    She also oversimplifies Chinese parenting styles. Chinese American parents, though tend to be very authoritarian (which as I pointed out is detrimental to school success) is also the most “democratic” and on many studies also tend to be extremely permissive according to research conducted by actual developmental psychologists.

    She may have just ruined the future lives of many people with her book.

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  3. by chinese parent

    On January 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    Sorry but Chua forgets she committed the ultimate act of disobedience/disrespect to the “Chinese way” by marrying a foreigner. I guess her parents weren’t as strict as she is.

  4. by Brooke W.

    On January 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    As a Westerner, I suppose my parenting style will never match up to Chinese Mother status. Personally, I’m glad for that. I really couldn’t see sitting my child for hours on end at a piano and refusing to let her have a glass of water or anything until she “got it right”. I can’t see calling my daughter “garbage”. Yes, I agree that we are too worried about our children and their self-esteem and so we tip-toe around issues, looking at our kids as if they are fragile little beings.

    My little sister, who’s now 16, began taking piano when she was still just a kid. At first she loved it and she gladly went to work practicing it instead of working on her schoolwork (we were all homeschooled). When she hit the teen years, she began slacking. It was hard for mom to get her to practice. She tried being nice about it, but eventually she had to team up with my sister’s instructor. She had to be strict about it, and she would often remind my sister that her instructor was about to drop her. It really helped motivate my sister, and now she practices regularly.

    You have to be strict at some point. Practice does make perfect, and sometimes your kid won’t want to practice. If you know it’s something they enjoy doing, and yet they have lost interest (and you know if they drop it they may regret it later), then yes I think its fine to force them to stick with it — at least a while longer. If later on they decide: “No, I still really hate piano.” then there is no problem dropping it. At least you tried to get them to stick with it.

    Basically, find a balance. Let your kid have room to explore new opportunities and express their creativity while also making sure they stick to it and don’t just hop from one thing to the next. I plan to be supportive but strict. It comes easy for me because that’s the type of mother my mom is.

  5. by AAMama

    On January 21, 2011 at 8:45 am

    This is the third article I read regarding Chinese mothers, and I have to say, this is all much ado about nothing. Yes, there are many strict overbearing Chinese (or Asian) mothers who drill their kids to score perfect on their SAT or master a piano recital, but then there are also as many who are non-Asian who do the same. There is nothing appalling about a parent, regardless of race or ethnicity, who firmly believes their own parenting style is superior. Would we be as surprised if we discovered a White American coach was giving tough drills to his football athletes? I believe we are perpetuating stereotypes by judging this Chinese mother or any other mother for raising her kids the way she feels is right.

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