Everyone has something to say about their relationship with their parents. Everyone has some grievance or complaint. And for Asian families, this child-parent tension seems particularly intense.
Why do we hear so many stories of parent lectures and rants? Of unfair rules and standards? Of excessively high expectations?
In an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua, professor at Yale Law School, Chua observes that Chinese parents implement these practices because they feel that if their child fails to achieve high success in life, they have failed as parents. Her book paints a grim picture of Chinese parenting which many might be able to identify with: demands for hours of music practice, perfect grades,and no playdates — only the best is acceptable.
But with this system of parenting one has ruined the imaginative capacity of one’s children, the “self-discovery” that Chua’s Jewish husband Jed encourages their children to have. One Western mother’s response to Chua’s excerpt points out that although many Chinese excel at music and academics, few of them love what they are doing.
True, love for music may come with time as one excels at it, but author Hanna Rosin suggests that letting a child develop personal interest in a musical instrument or an academic field before pushing for success may have better results in the long run. Rosin observes that “the Chua women rarely express pure love of music; instead they express joy at having mastered it.” Indeed, in the documentary From Mao to Mozart violinist Isaac Stern finds that Chinese musicians, although exceptionally talented, lack the deep passion that forms the essence of music.
Yet leaving life to self-discovery alone will have meager results unless the process of discovery is combined with hard work. Above all, discipline, the hallmark of Chinese parenting, is necessary for any significant success. But if you have a passion for something, you will push yourself to succeed in it.
Certainly we must work hard, and as Christians I believe that we must pursue excellence. But we must understand how much is enough and sometimes accept less than perfect. Sometimes achieving that A is not entirely the child’s fault, although the teacher and the school should not receive all the blame: Success is a mutual effort.
Modern, Western parents realize that their method of encouraging their child’s self-esteem by pampering and bowing to every request does not bring either child or parent happiness. As Judith Warner says in her New York Times article “No More Mrs. Nice Mom,” Western parents are beginning to turn towards the more stringent parenting methods of Chinese mothers like Ms. Chua.
The Chinese method has more successful results because the child is returned the proper place of a subordinate to the parent; for too long American parents have listened to their children. But where Chinese parents fail is that their standards tend to be unreasonably high and destroy their children’s ability to enjoy the beauty of life as hours are consumed by prep schools and academic activities. Chinese parents are often too close-minded and unwilling to consider other possibilities for their children’s lives. They want the best, but in whose opinion?
Yet not all parents are of these Chinese and Western extremes. The best parents find the middle ground between showing rational concern for their children and pushing them towards higher standards, a point just beyond their best. But somehow the discipline must be done with love, so that the children understand that what’s most important is what they make of their lives, that their parents and the world do not exist to serve them but to be served. As Chua says in response to her reader’s questions, she does not believe that Chinese parenting is superior but instead that:
“Love, compassion and knowing your child have to come first, whatever culture you’re from. . . . I don’t believe that grades or achievement is ultimately what Chinese parenting (at least as I practice it) is really about. I think it’s about helping your children be the best they can be—which is usually better than they think! It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else—even more than they believe in themselves.”
In response to Chua’s article, Chinese parents in Hong Kong blame their social circles for the pressure they give their children. Many Asian countries impose tough examination systems and place great emphasis on school rankings. In such an environment, not pushing your child to do just as well or better than your peer’s children will make you look bad. Naturally, Chinese parents then bring this mentality to whatever country they go.
But life is more than scores on a chart. By focusing on grades and achievements Chinese parents have missed the point of life. As Chua herself writes in her book: “The truth is, I’m not good at enjoying life.”
The bottom line is that good parenting should teach children how to live and enjoy life according to God’s purpose for them, which will always require hard work — and discipline.