After I read the Journal article found here:
written by a Yale foreign affairs prof about her Chinese upbringing and approach to motherhood, I had to to respond.
Here's my letter to the editor:
As I read through the article featured in the Weekend Review on “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, I was alternately amused, chagrined, and alarmed. Amused at the pointedly provocative headline and smirking photograph. Chagrined at what I consider the wrong-headed assumptions that underlie Ms. Chua’s parenting approach. And alarmed at the idea that the answer to a child’s “substandard” performance is “always to excoriate, punish and shame the child”.
While I am Italian-American by birth and Irish by marriage—I am only partly a “Chinese mother”. But let me start with some premises I can agree with: that Western parents are extremely (and I would add, unnecessarily) anxious about their children’s self-esteem. That to get good at anything usually requires lots of hard work, regardless of natural gifts. That children benefit from high expectations; anything else can be insulting and condescending. And finally, that the supposedly Western idea-- that children didn’t choose to be born so consequently their parents owe them everything-- is foolish. We don’t owe them everything but we do owe them something, and that’s where Ms. Chua and I take a very different approach.
The idea that our children are some kind of validating experiment, that their progress in life reflects solely on us as parents, that their value as human beings should be totally measured by their academic excellence or virtuoso musicality—these ideas are simply awful. I do cherish my children because they are miracles, gifts from God that I am abundantly blessed to share. But that doesn’t mean they are perfect little darlings, above reproach and guidance. I don’t consider the point of parenting to turn out academic machines but the next generation of decent human beings: moral, caring, happy, responsible, and capable of much, including but not limited to all kinds of excellence. There’s no mention of goals such as these in the article.
Children desperately need adult guidance, limits and love, but they are unique creations and deserve the ability to learn to make choices, including bad ones, so they become capable of coping with these and all of life’s difficulties. Emotional growth is as or more important as mental growth, and that requires unconditional love for the child coupled with limits, choices and gentle correction.
Helping kids master difficult tasks can be done with encouragement and discipline, and certainly doesn’t require the kind of painful responses that Ms. Chua describes. Who on earth responds well to nastiness? You are more likely to foment rebellion or have your kids plotting revenge. For heaven’s sake, not only is it damaging to the relationship in the short run—but you are encouraging your kids to respond only to external stimuli, like lab animals. How will they learn to have self-discipline and self-motivation?
I respect any approach that demands excellence. But children are human beings, not machines, and are as complex and delicate in many ways as adults. Ms. Chua’s approach shortchanges them in assuming they are mere shells who need filling. That they won’t work unless prodded or scolded. That their emotions are somehow less important to their lives and relationships that those of adults. Somehow I doubt that Ms. Chua would manage her fellow department members at Yale this way.