Parenting styles teach lasting lessons
Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an article promoting Amy Chua’s memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Since then, the media, public intellectuals, countless bloggers and even one of Chua’s daughters have voiced their opinions on this controversial article and the overwhelming response it has received.
The article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” a compilation of the most titillating components of her book, painted Chua, a law professor at Yale, as an overbearing micromanager of her children’s successful lives as students and musicians.
After a plethora of heated comments and rejoinders, Chua later defended herself by stating that the Wall Street Journal only “strung together” the most provocative components of her book to attract readers and that she had no control over the title of the article.
Chua claims that her own memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has much more of a narrative arc. She discusses her experiences raising her two girls in a traditional Eastern way, fighting cultural battles in a Western society and eventually gaining a more tempered perspective of both styles of motherhood after her thirteen-year-old daughter’s rebellion. However, this was not what caught the media’s attention.
The debate centered on the juxtaposition of more strict Eastern parenting styles with so-called lenient Western parenting styles.
While Western parents focus too much on promoting their child’s self-esteem, Chua claims that Asian parents value creating hardworking, achievement-oriented students.
By limiting their social time, drilling schoolwork and shaming their children for not reaching the top of their class, Asian parents teach their children that success is more than intelligence: it also takes much discipline and practice.
While the majority of readers of the original Wall Street article agree with Chua, many of the comments verge on blatant racism against immigrant parenting styles and ethnocentrism.
One reader states, “This is exactly the reason why Chinese parenting style will produce excellent…robots, not people, who can think freely, dream freely, be free-spirited and found Google, Facebook, invent thousands of new things and improve lives of others.”
At worst, Asian parents are viewed as mechanical producers of children who are only taught unquestioning obedience and rote memorization. At best, Asian parents are seen as savvy providers, who understand the determination it takes to become financially stable and respected in a society.
While wading through these arguments, one point that struck me is an increasing awe, even fear, of Asian dominance in the United States. In light of China’s economic growth, perhaps the passionate Western defense of giving children the freedom to make their own choices regarding academic and extracurricular activities is less about fostering independence, and more about challenging Eastern increased prevalence as an economic powerhouse.
In this vein, the undertone of immigrant suspicion and distrust has been apparent in the debate. What has been forgotten in this debate is that the United States has always been a melting pot of immigrants, and that Irish and German immigrants in the 1800s were just as infamous as modern Asian parents for their children’s disciplined upbringing and a pointed emphasis on their education.
For these reasons, the differences between Eastern and Western parenting styles are too dichotomous. There are helicopter parents in both traditions, as well as parents who take a more laidback approach.
As a daughter of a Taiwanese mother born in the year of the Dragon and the daughter of an American father born in Missouri, I feel that both worlds have blurred.
My mom taught me how to read as a child and allowed me to explore a world of knowledge on my own.
Yes, I did engage in stereotypically Asian activities. I played the violin, practiced every day and performed in the Houston Youth Symphony for several years. I was not allowed to go to sleepovers or date in high school. I had a high GPA. However, it was my father who was the disciplinarian, who encouraged my musical development and who set curfew times.
Still, in college, my parents let me choose my classes and pick my own major. I was not forced to become a doctor or scientist, and my parents have never asked me about my grades or pushed me to study harder. For this I am grateful. I am grateful that my parents gave me the tools that I needed to do well in school and in life, but did not dictate a path to do so.
This is ultimately the point Chua tried to make. She recognized the individuality of her daughters, and eventually learned to shape her parenting style around their different personalities.
Erica Fletcher is an anthropology senior