In response to Amy Chua’s article “Why Chinese mothers are Superior” in WSJ

Like most people who have read this article, I too have contention with this article and Amy Chua’s position.  Unlike many, my prime contention is not with her parenting philosophy.   I do not agree with her parenting style, but more on that later.  After all, there are as many parenting styles as there are parents.  This is one human behavior on which more books are written than any other, and yet it is one behavior that no one has mastered enough to consistently produce the perfect result.  My prime contention is with some other factors.  First, she stereotypes and cultural stereotypes are wrong, inaccurate, they don’t always apply, are demeaning, and polarizing to one group or another.  That is not to say we all don’t speak and subscribe to stereotypes from time to time.  But when an author, a Yale professor, writes a whole back based on stereotypical notions, it lends credence and validity to the extent that there are many dangers lurking in it.  The dangers cannot be disregarded because she included couple of sentences as disclaimers regarding her intention to stereotype.  For one thing, people may judge others and may even make decisions about them based on the group a person belongs to, rather than taking the time and learning to know another person.  A reader may buy into and play into the stereotypes even to the detriment of the individual, family, or society, as if these behaviors are fixed set of norms and rules, outlined by an expert.  Books and articles highlighting cultural stereotypes have always generated controversy and do however serve to raise books sales.  If that is her motive, then her family may thank her.  But her notion of fixed behavioral norms among different cultural groups, do not serve a larger audience well.

Now regarding her parenting philosophy, I also have disagreement with her.  There are two aspects, the effect of such a strict parenting style on the children and the effect of this on the parents themselves.  Much has already been written about how it impacts the children so I will not dwell too long on that.  Strict parenting that Amy Chua prescribes in her book, may indeed work well for a small minority of children who are right in the narrow middle range of the normal curve.  Indeed, I cannot imagine how it could well serve a child who is extremely precocious, bright, thinks outside the box, and plays to his or her own rhythm, in absorbing life’s lessons.  Similarly, it could be totally destructive to a child who is simply not able to get all A’s regardless of how much the child is punished or shamed, the remedies prescribed by Chua.  Much has already been written on this topic.

Let us now talk about the parents who bring the child into this world.  This is often the most joyous event, in the lives of new parents.  If their union is a happy one, the creating of a little being, further solidifies their bond, as they marvel at the miracle of life.  As the child grows and explores the environment, exercises his/ her own will, and pushes the boundaries, parents begin to not just love, but also teach, indeed sometimes with love and sometimes with reprimand.  But should teaching become predominant aspect of parenting, to the extent that one is less a parent and more a ring master in a circus, making the child perform?  What kind of stress such a style of parenting, of being, of relating to another person produce?  Let us for a brief moment consider that the end result at age 18, when a child leave home, is a perfect human being who graduated with a perfect 4.0, secured an admission into Cornell, and plays Piano well enough to be invited to play at Carnegie Hall.  In my opinion, it amounts to living a lie for 20 years.  It seems to be completely out of integrity with respect to what one signed up for, as new parents.  Welcoming their bundle of joy into the world, new parents brimming with love, may not say the vows, but pretty much sign up to love this little being above everything else, not to put all of their energies into turning this fully formed little person into a perfect little adult.  I cannot but imagine that love and joy are greatly compromised in this adventure.  Chua’s own words say if a child brings home anything less than an A, in a Chinese home there would be “screaming, hair-tearing explosion” and then the child would be “excoriated, punished, and shamed”.  This is not about teaching the child with love and joy and in order that the child may live a happy life.  It is about stroking one’s own ego and throwing a tantrum when one does not get what one desires.  In fact, Chua further says, “when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home”.  The question also remains that after a perfect 20 year old is let loose into the world, will he or she manage to remain so perfect in the absence of parental pressures?  But more importantly what is a parent to do at that point?  A parent’s entire existence was about producing this perfect entity.  Should the accumulation of stress allow them to live long enough, beyond the parenting stage, where else are they going to look for satisfaction, in life?


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