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?