If you haven’t been living under a rock buried beneath Jurassic era sediment, you have at least heard of Amy Chua’s controversial book on parenting: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and the infamous excerpt, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” that was published in the Wall Street Journal. In it, she details draconian measures for raising her children: never allowing playdates or allowing them to watch TV, always demanding perfect grades, and dishing out insults—techniques that have both won her praise and criticism.
Personally, I believe Ms. Chua jumped the gun; it’s too early to say that her children are “successful”, because they are still minors, and far too early to say that her parenting is what has effected this success. Since her techniques aren’t exactly abusive (come on, yuppies, you’ve never been insulted once by your parents?), and as the NYTimes article pointed out, her daughters do have social lives replete with sleepovers and boyfriends. Overall, it’s too soon to evaluate Ms. Chua’s parenting techniques.
As a product of the pressure-cooker that is Chinese mothering, I read this excerpt with interest, but my enthusiasm rapidly petered out for two reasons: (1) I resent that she characterized her parenting as “Chinese” (2) the achievement of her daughters seemed centered on a Carnegie Hall debut. Though the sentiments she described—parents demanding perfect grades because they believe their child is capable, that children owe their parents everything, parents know best—are definitely Chinese cultural values, the way in which she applies them is not in a Chinese manner at all. How she uses these values to hardline her parenting are affected by her personal circumstances: her prestigious education, workaholic personality, and her parents’ immigrant status (for further clarification, read on). Furthermore, implying that the Chinese method raises more successful children is ridiculous considering that Chinese college graduates are having more trouble than ever finding white collar jobs. Also, from personal observation, I’ll tell you a secret: for every talented Chinese-American student that gets A’s in everything, there are twenty average Chinese-American students, who take honors classes anyway but get B’s and C’s. For every Chinese-American kid that gets into Columbia, forty Chinese-American kids go to Rutgers. The point is, Chinese parenting is like every other culture’s parenting: mostly average yellows, and a few truly dazzling, Class O, blue-white stars (yes this was an extremely nerdy astronomy reference).
Secondly, I do not mean to look down upon people who debut at Carnegie Hall, but I know several children who have debuted at Carnegie Hall, and at younger ages than Ms. Chua’s daughter. It’s not that I’m friends with an uncommonly large number of prodigies, but the people that I know that have debuted at Carnegie Hall are nothing to make a fuss over. They are not valedictorians, they have lax parents, they are lazy potatoes, and sometimes you think that they could care less about music.
However, there is still an Asian-American Whiz Kid stereotype, and this excerpt got me thinking again why this stereotype persists, because to some extent, it is true, for when Asian-Americans turn out to be prodigies, they fly high—for example, the only graduates from my high school to attend MIT, Harvard, and Princeton have all been Asian. I have been developing an informal theory on good parenting, based on the successful sons and daughters that truly inspire me. I believe good parents are: (1) educated (2) financially stable (3) attentive. Education makes parents aware of the opportunities available for their children, the finances help the children achieve these opportunities, and the attention fosters positive growth because of these opportunities achieved.
Immigrants from Asia tend to be more educated than the average American, because unless you live underneath a rock in Hades, you know that America actually restricts immigration.* Educated Asians have the best chance of gaining permanent residence, because they would be able to contribute greatly to the American economy. Moreover, higher education means higher salaries—my neighborhood is proof of that, where 70% of residents are Asian, it is highly likely that both spouses have Masters or PhDs, and houses cost upwards of $700,000. Moreover, as immigrants with few ties to America, Asian-Americans are more pressured to find their “American Dream” and subsequently may consciously or unconsciously pass this pressure onto their children. This pressure, coupled with the Chinese nosiness and “children-owe-us-everything” notion makes for attentive parents. So there we go, the perfect Asian-American cocktail of good parenting: high education, financial stability, and attentiveness. When just the right amounts are mixed together, they result in something truly spectacular, something that even white people can attest to, like Bill Gates, son of a banker and lawyer; Mark Zuckerberg, the son of a dentist and psychiatrist; Steve Jobs, son of a therapist and political science professor.
Yet, this Asian-American cocktail often manifests itself into scream fests and thoughts of suicide and shocking (to Western audiences, at least) cases of parenting like Amy Chua. These are the extreme cases, though I know that a majority of Asians who feel they have been scarred by their demanding, relentless, nagging parents. I admit that I felt this way about my mother, who actually threatened to disown me if I supported a free Tibet, or even remained neutral on the subject (Ignorant 10th Grader Michelle: “er.. yay Chinese Tibet.. I guess?”). The other night I asked my mother about Amy Chua, and I was babbling something like,
Michelle: “Thank god you never used those techniques!”
My mother: “I wish I did.”
My mother: “She just wants her kids to have a stable life with plenty of money and a good job. What mother doesn’t want that?”
Then my mother went to bed.
That really shut me up. It’s so hard to believe that your parents want the best for you when they’re being so goddarned annoying and intrusive, but beneath all that abrasive Asian pressure, they’re a big pile of squish. This does not marginalize any of the suffering Asian children have gone through, but sometimes, sometimes, it helps to remember that.
*Of course, the US hasn’t been doing well at restricting Latin Americans from jumping the fence. Fun fact: the Border Patrol was established in the 1900s to keep Chinese immigrants from crossing the border, because of the US’s racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Of course it would be the Chinese, and not the Koreans or Japanese. The Chinese.
I would also like to note that my theory on parenting is in no way professional, from any point of view, just personal experience. These are just my own thoughts, and not something empirical. Also, I’m not a parent myself, so I don’t make any claims that my theory is valid.