Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Average, Part One

This is one of the most thoughtful responses to Chua I've read:

Chua assumes we all agree on what equals "success" for our children, and the only question is how such success is achieved.  Success on her terms means producing "math whizzes and music prodigies" who earn straight-A's and attend the highest-ranked universities and become affluent doctors or engineers or investment bankers.  This is easily understandable given the immigrant experience, which is often characterized by financial insecurity and a desperate desire to be publicly successful in their adopted society.  But it is not the only image of success, and perhaps not the best one.

My parents' view of success–for themselves as parents and for me as an individual–was for me to be a good person who loves others and loves God.  They didn't much care how much money I made, or how prestigious the school I attended.  And they're not alone.  Many American parents just want to raise children who are happy, healthy and able to provide for themselves and enjoy their families.  We only have 80 years on this rock; our grades and our diplomas and even our piano skills really don't count for much.  And for those who believe in an eternal life beyond this one, everything else necessarily pales in comparison to the importance of securing our eternal future.

Chua's response could be that you find happiness and satisfaction in excellence and achievement.  And that's certainly one path to fulfillment.  But it's not the only one, and it's not the surest one, either.  Some parents would be mortified to see their children become socially-isolated, one-dimensional engineers, no matter how financially secure they might be.  They would rather see their children live lives of faith, of family, of purpose, of creativity and self-expression, of justice and service, or etc.

…I will go into this more in the next installment of this series, but I have known many children subjected to these kinds of parenting methods who, once they had escaped from their mothers, lost their sense of purpose and motivation, threw themselves into self-destructive behaviors, or even lapsed into severe depression and multiple suicide attempts.  I have also known many who performed well enough in college and early in their professional careers, but never developed socially and remained caught in a kind of suspended adolescence, failing to form families and spending all their non-working hours playing video games.

Time will tell whether Chua's daughters–or more generally whether Chinese-American children–are more prone to: (a) feel deeply estranged from their parents due to anger and resentment over how they were treated, (b) suffer anxiety and depression as their parents so controlled their lives that they never quite learned to deal with life's uncertainties and responsibilities for themselves, (c) suffer social alienation because their social development was stunted, (d) prove less successful professionally than their peers because the workplace rewards the kinds of social and teamwork skills that are developed in sports and in the pursuit of a social life, or because they did not learn to think for themselves and color outside the lines, (e) suffer eating disorders (I have known many, many young Chinese-American women with eating disorders, and they absolutely hate it when the older generation calls them "fat") as a consequence of their parents' comments, or as a way to try to control their world, (f) have difficult forming happy families, or (g) generally find their lives empty and unenjoyable because they never learned how to relax and enjoy the recreation for which we were intended.


Why Chinese Mothers Are Average, Part One

Thursday, Jan 13th 2011

Amy Chua with her daughters in Connecticut

By Timothy Dalrymple 

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