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Of Chinese mothers...

The item that showed up most often in my feeds last week was this provocatively titled WSJ article: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" by Amy Chua.

I had really mixed feelings about the article. There were many things I didn't disagree with particularly the pieces around how Chinese parents (she uses Chinese loosely and acknowledges it may apply to other Asian parents as well) feel differently about disciplining their kids, worry less about self-esteem issues, and tend to have a greater sense of responsibility/ownership in the child's success.

But there's a general brusqueness in her tone, and an apparent lack of understanding (or just acknowledgement) of what can go wrong with this approach that bugged me.

It started when I read the section on how when her 7-year old was unable to play a certain musical piece, she basically bullied her into keep trying until she got it. She makes the case that since she eventually got it, this made her daughter happy, and they hugged and so everything was alright.

My first take was - WTF??? Was it really worth it? Mistreating your seven-year old, so that she could play a tough piece and be appreciated by other parents?

But then I thought about it for a second more, and I realized how often we actually celebrate exactly such questionable (sadistic?) behavior in adults. Think about any sports movie and the training montage with a coach going "Gimme a 100 more you wimps!" Maybe this was actually the right thing to do for her daughter.

The notion that if you're able to get good at something, you'll then enjoy it, and have a better life isn't outlandish.
No pain, no gain - and sometimes the best thing a parent maybe able to do is to supply that pain.

But can you predict that payoff? Is the pain you inflict (and the emotions it generates) worth the payoff of getting good at something. What other impact does it have?

As parents you can't help thinking you know what's best for your kids, but do you really?
For example, what creative sparks did she kill by not letting her kids ever watch TV? If they'd picked an extra-curricular activity that Amy didn't approve of, maybe they'd have been outstanding at it, and even happier.
And I don't understand her apparent disdain for drama, but that's from a kid that tried to get into every school play until high school and directed one in college. :)

And let's acknowledge the complete lunacy of her "you're not allowed not to come first" rule. This is fantastic when it works, but what happens when your kids are in a class with someone who is just either naturally more gifted or capable of working harder. How long do you keep calling your kids "garbage"?

Teaching your kids to work ridiculously hard, but that you can't always win is part of parenting. This answer by Christine Lu on Quora offers a chilling warning of pushing this ridiculously far.

Would I be happier today if I'd been pushed harder? In some cases, definitely yes, in others definitely no.

On the scale of "Chinese and non-Chinese mothers", my mom was definitely somewhere in the middle but marginally closer to the non-Chinese mom and I think that was largely right... for me. She's said to me a couple of times, "If only I had...", but that's outweighed massively by what she got right.

As always, the ideal lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, this is a theme with me for many things. :)

Kids are... well... kids.
In many cases, they don't know what's good for them and need direction and motivation. Enter Chinese mom.

However, pushed beyond a point especially with questionable motivation and assumptions this gets risky. Do you really know what's best for you kids or are you just projecting what you suspect might have been best for you?

Kids are... well... kids.
They also need a lot of coddling. Enter... non-Chinese mom.


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