Monday, January 17, 2011

Parenting: East versus West

My friend Sally Rippin today sent me this extraordinary article by lawyer and writer Amy Chua, called Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.

This story has attracted more comments (nearing 7,000 at last count!) than any story previously published by the Wall Street Journal, and has set off a fierce debate on so-called Eastern versus Western parenting styles.

It has waded into parenting territory at a time when there are various hot-button debates going on about whether modern kids have too little freedom, too much praise, too little real competition, too much pressure, too little responsibilities and so on, and so on.

Funnily for me, Chua's article is the first thing I've read since returning from a beach holiday (yesterday) where I deliberately focussed on being less controlling and less fearful in how I deal with my kids; to give them more trust, more room to explore their own boundaries and learn from their own mistakes. Holidays are a good time to work on that stuff!

I don't really understand the motivation for the kind of parenting Chua describes. While I sympathise with the need for discipline, and the role parents play in helping their kids to learn the benefits of hard work, her approach seems dangerously extreme to me.

Doubtless her "Eastern model" is a way to create children who have great technical proficiency. But for what? Where is the fun and the joy? And what of the role of creativity and the imagination?

Surely without that, you risk shaping an immature child, confused about their true motivations, who might be able to pay a note-perfect Rachmaninoff but can't invest it with any real emotional sensitivity, let alone create anything original of his or her own.

I'd love to know where you guys sit on this issue... And, while you're at it... on this one too!


Red Hen (dette) said...

Gosh! Two big topics. Where do I sit with the parenting thing? Well I do believe the chineese way described really is very extreme for our cultural context. However as a teacher I am frustrated by helicopter, marshmallowing parents who make excuses for their children for even the slightest thing and get outraged if you reprimand their child. I am a parent of two great kids. I am very proud of them but they got into trouble at school every now and then, kids are not perfect and they make mistakes. It is how they learn cause and effect and taking responsibility for their choices. I also think that sometimes we are afraid to tell our kids that they are wrong, which does not lead to resiliency. It is all about balance – which is so much easier said than done. Encouraging them to achieve at their best, while allowing them time to explore, play, entertain themselves and have fun. Being honest with them in a way that does not damage their self esteem. It is a wonder that any of us survive to adulthood with out serious mental/emotional scarring !!!!! In truth we respond to raising our children according to what we felt was wrong with our childhood and in response to what is happening around us at the moment. When my kids were little you were a bad parent unless your child was in out of school lessons for drama, kinder gym, violin and painting etc etc (I was a bad parent, mine just did drama because they loved it! They had other opportunities like guitar saxophone and drum lessons- thankfully the drum and saxophone fascination was shortlived- my house was very small) Now days there is talk of the free range child to go with our free range eggs and slow parenting to go with the slow food movement. These kids will grow up and have children and parent them according to how they felt about their own childhood. Hippies of the 60’s raised the YUPPIES of the 80’s.
The other article made me feel very uneasy! I am so concerned that women marry for money and security and feel content to be home makers. I have absolutely no judgment about someone who finds that totally satisfying. I love cooking and decorating my home for my children and most importantly for myself. But what happens if you find yourself as I did in what became an emotionally and eventually physically abusive marriage where I was controlled because he always said I made no contribution to the family I did not contribute money to the marriage. I did not have a car, I was not allowed to use the phone because his company paid for it. I was alone in Kalgoorlie in the middle of the desert with no family or friends, pregnant with a 1 year old. Eventually I found the strength to leave the marriage I was 28 and my children were 3 and 18 months old. Because I had a career prior to having children I was able to go back to work and provide for my family, I bought a house and worked part time 4 days a week as a school teacher fining a balance between working and parenting. What happens if you neglect your career in favour of caring for the home and then your marriage crumbles when you are 40 or more with years and years out of the workforce dependent on others financially. This happened recently o a friend of mine she supported her husband and family for years, a full time professional mother, her hubby left her, she didn’t see it coming, another woman was involved and now she is having to take jobs that are well below her skills and mind capacity but she has no choice. I have a very small amount of super because of my part time work and lowish income- she has none!
Yes it is lovely to have the choice to be a homemaker, especially as a part of a loving partnership where the contributions – physical, emotional and financial are all valued equally but it is when the unexpected happens (divorce or death or injury) a woman is likely to be disadvantaged in these circumstances initially until she can get back into the workforce and then in retirement with the lack of super.
Sorry if you ask big questions you will get big answers

Damon Young said...

I have immense respect for disciplined, planned parents, and their multi-talented children.

But to be frank, I'm not sure what the point is. If the goal is money, I'm sure they'll be fine. But what if it's something like independence or self-mastery? Does having one's life perfectly planned contribute to the cultivation of freedom?

The answer might be 'yes': we internalise these disciplines, and they add to our own liberty - eventually.

But it could equally be a big, fat 'no': it just creates obedient workers, efficient cogs. This was the point of my 'Kids Under Pressure' piece:

All in all, we have good reasons to push our kids to perform. It offers them a chance to succeed in life, and us the opportunity to rightly revel in their performance.

But as I discovered, things are rarely this simple. Even if we are urged by love, we can sometimes be quietly misguided. This is often because we’re mistaking our own gratification for our kids’ welfare; we’re teaching them what’s comfortable or consoling for us, instead of what’s genuinely enriching or edifying.

Danielle Zappavigna said...

Hi Rachel, I came across your blog recently after a friend gave me your book as a gift (I've recently started taking my painting more seriously after giving birth to my, now 18 month old, son).

I have to say that in principle I don't have much of a problem with what the woman in the first article is saying. Ethnographically speaking, different cultures value different things, assign different meanings to the same behaviour and hence do things like parent differently. My major problem with the article is her view that her way is superior. And even though she doesn't say it specifically, but by extrapolation that children raised in this manner are superior to children raised by other kinds of parenting.

And I have to say I agree with you, what's the point in being 'perfect' at things if you don't really want to do it? Where's the fun?

I also have to wonder about her self assurance that her children view her behaviour the same way she views it. I am a school psychologist, and have had many instances of counselling children who have parents from Asian cultures who struggle to cope with their parents behaviour because it is so different from what they see from the families of their non-Asian friends. The children are embedded in a 'western' culture which tells them many things that are opposite to what their parents think. In some cases, they believe that their parents are abusive and controlling - in our 'western' eyes that is exactly so. If they lived in China it might be the norm and not so difficult to bear.

I would love to be a fly on the wall for when her children grow up and have children - what kind of parenting will they do?

Jo said...

I really believe that the child finds their own 'driver' and path, and that as a parent our role is to be responsive and encouraging to it. I started dance at a relatively late age (12) and pretty much had the opposite of a 'ballet' mother, however I still went on to work as a dancer as well as completing further academic study. I was supported but never pushed.
My husband is a soccer mad Italian and we have two sons(and a baby girl) - the second son is soccer mad (and we support his 'madness'!), the firstborn says to his Dad on repeated requests to join them in the game "Dad, I'm just not a sporty kind of person, and on the weekends I just want to have a peaceful morning!" (age 7) Well, we laughed. And he has never joined up. There is a different path for him and I love being here for him, with him, watching with wonder while he figures it out.

I have to say I was stunned to read of the 'no school play ever' rule, as my deepest school memories are of the intensity of working with my peers to express and perform works of teenage passions and issues of the day. To be able to have the freedom to respond to the contemporary world as a young person is vital in building a generation with compassion. Building social skills and creatively thinking, compassionate kids will take us a lot further than Carnegie Hall.

Damon Young said...

Jo, I remember thinking as a kid "I'm just not sporty." Well, I was: I just had to find the right sports (and exercise).

No football for me...

Sally Rippin said...

Apparently this article has gone viral. As you probably saw, it recently reached the papers here and my sister just got back from Malaysia where she said she saw an article on it there, too! Great publicity for her book - but I don't know if I'd be game to fend off all that hate mail.
As it turns out though, when you read interviews with the writer the whole book is about her revising her parenting techniques when her younger daughter refuses to toe the line - which makes me feel mildly more sympathetic towards her.

Kate Moore said...

This story has just run in a Sydney paper where there is a high proportion of Asian, in particular, Chinese families.

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