16 January 2011

"Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother"...

Parenting is an art form, of this there is no doubt. And, as an art form, there are styles one likes and approves of and there are styles that one does not like nor approves of. Yet, there is no one style that is 100% guaranteed to be successful in producing a well-adjusted and accomplished child who grows into an adult that contributes to their community in positive ways. Or is there?

There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal the other week written by Amy Chua, an American with a Filipino heritage and a Chinese ancestry. The article was titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior". The general gist of the article follows the substance of Chua's arguments for successful parenting that she describes in her book "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother".

I have not read the book, so this is not a book review. It is not a critique of her parenting style either. It is merely an opinion piece on how one might decide which style to adopt. Perhaps the point is that each person is unique and each family is unique so maybe it is a case of manipulating styles by taking the best of many styles or those bits that work and co-opting them into a style of your own.

But, back to Amy Chua and what has worked for her. Stereotypes are powerful things and it is to see them when you want to, or feel the need to, label certain things. So, why is it that Chinese children are such high achievers? The generalisation aside assuming that there has to be one Chinese child somewhere that does not fit the stereotypical bill of "high achiever", but nevertheless this is the stereotype, right? Are Chinese children high achievers because they are intellectually more capable or is it that they are more driven courtesy of strict parenting practices.

The Chua argument probably follows the line that strict parenting plays a fundamental role in ensuring 'successful' outcomes for one's children. There are plenty of children who would balk at the prospect of a home where they were not allowed to do the following:

  • attend sleepovers;
  • have play dates;
  • be in a school play;
  • complain about not being in a school play;
  • watch TV or play computer games;
  • choose their own extra-curricular activities;
  • get a grade less than A;
  • not be the  No. 1 student in a subject (exceptions for gym / PDHPE and drama)
  • play any instrument other than the piano and violin (and you have to play at least one of either the piano or violin)

As a parent I am balking at this list. Maybe that is because this is not how I was brought up. So, may be our parenting styles tend to reflect those of our parents before us. As a parent I do not want to be that strict. I want Will to be able to take some responsibility for the things he wants to, and chooses to, do. Admittedly, at two-years-old he is going to have less of a say in this.

For us it is more about understanding what learning style will provide the best outcomes. Even at an early age it is easy enough to see that Will is a musical and visual learner. Nevertheless, he loves to read and enjoys acting and role-playing. So, the idea of not allowing him to pursue that seems to be counter-productive.

Then there are personal philosophies that have me believing that sleepovers and social interaction with his peers on his own terms through extra-curricular activities, like sport, and also fundamental to his overall development as a human being.

Parenting is a difficult skill. We are enjoying the ride, but it is certainly a case of learning on the job. It is also a case of trial and error, working through what gets the outcome we want to see and reworking those methods that don't or discarding them altogether.

The point overall, is I am not going to ridicule Chua's style and I am not going to write-off her book as a recollection of how she abused her children's rights, as some have. I am likely to be looking for the book next time I am in the bookstore. Besides, Chua is law professor at Yale...can't argue with that :)

With parenting, ultimately we all want the same outcome: happy, healthy, wise, and well-adjusted young people who contribute to their communities. How we get there, to each their own.


Anonymous said...

I read the story also,sounds like such a fun childhood!Mabe a middle ground between expecting your child to be super kid and being a normal kid who plays and enjoys life.I thought about kids like these in the article and pictured them commiting suicide or jumping off bridges because life is so stressful for them.or snapping as adults.RW

Rob Baiton said...

@ Anonymous (RW?)...

To each their own. The point I was trying to make in the post is that there are obviously many ways to go about parenting.

In any event, I would ask what "normal" is with respect to a childhood? Simply, what is normal for me and mine might be normal for you and yours.

With respect to suicide and snapping as adults. In an empirical sense, one would need to look at the data and analyse it, but on an anecdotal front I am not sure that strict childhoods make it any more likely that these individuals pull the plug on themselves.