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Confucius Say Calling Your Children “Garbage” Not Ever A Good Idea, Even If It Forces Them To Play Cello Like Yo Yo Ma

Confucius Say Calling Your Children “Garbage” Not Ever A Good Idea, Even If It Forces Them To Play Cello Like Yo Yo Ma

Here’s an ‘interesting’ article: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” The author, Amy Chua, is a Yale Law Professor, and has a book coming out this week on the topic of “Chinese” mothers and how they are superior to their Western counterparts, who are just weak namby pambys.

  1. People who aren’t, strictly speaking, “Chinese” include: American-born daughters of Chinese immigrants who grow up to become Yale Law Professors and marry Jewish guys.
  2. Pro tip: when New Haven dinner parties start ending in tears because of your parenting anecdotes, there might be a problem with your parenting choices.
  3. When you say “I knew exactly how highly [your father] thought of [you],” is that before or after he was referring to you as “garbage”?
  4. The term — “cycle of abuse” — is this just another useless Western humanities construct like, say, Yale School of Law?
  5. Wait — you spy on your kid? And it’s your contention that the kid is indebted to you for this?
  6. Sure, you respect your precious little “garbage” now, but what about after she takes a leave of absence from Harvard?
  7. You know, after the one night, Freshman year when, her cheeks aglow with her newfound freedom, she foolishly mixes too many tabs of E with a fifth of Jack Daniels and ends up in the university hospital for alcohol poisoning?
  8. And then when she’s laid out on the stretcher, chanting “It was perfect! I got to be perfect!” and she’s picking out black swan feathers out of her arm, promising any orderly who will listen that she will practice four more hours of differential equations — they will parlay that into a 24-hour hold, then a 72-hour hold, and then an indefinite stay in the psych ward?
  9. Will she still be your same special “garbage” then?
  10. Or will she be maybe a stinkier, more fetid brand of garbage at that point? Something a little more . . . Western, maybe? Something maybe you didn’t plan for in your Chinese Mom Agenda?
  11. And will she be able to, through all of the thorazine and the drool, know exactly how highly you think of her?

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Comments (66)

  1. Jan 10, 2011

    Anyone who takes the time to write a fucking article on how superior their parenting styles are, compared to others, is an asshole. PERIOD.

  2. Jan 10, 2011

    When I read this article when it came out I took it to be very tongue-in-cheek, more observational about cultural differences than a how-to guide. I will do a re-read because it obviously inspired very strong reactions.

    As for ethnic identification, she says in the article that she’s including others with similar philosophy including Koreans under the “Chinese mother” umbrella which in my experience can really be true. Think of how there are definitely Indian, Chinese, Korean “Jewish mothers” out there who aren’t actually Jewish per se, if you know what I mean.

  3. Jan 10, 2011

    “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen…”

    “He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her…”

    Gems! These are gems!

    I took one useful idea from this piece: it might be helpful to think of our children as innately strong instead of innately fragile and thus able to achieve more than we have been conditioned to believe. However, I’m not sure that constantly referring to them as lazy and withholding food, water, and bathroom breaks until they master a piano piece is the best way encourage that achievement.

    But then, I’m more a “the joy lies in the journey” kind of girl.

  4. Jan 10, 2011

    Not just an article, a whole book:

    Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

  5. Jan 10, 2011

    She’s got a whole book coming out on the topic of how to be a “Chinese” mother this week. I don’t think it’s tongue in cheek. I think she really believes this is a good way of parenting. Or at least worthy of being viewed as on a par with Western parenting, and that we should reconsider Western parenting in favor of this.

  6. Jan 10, 2011


    I can’t wait to watch this one crash and burn.

  7. Jan 10, 2011

    Yeah, I liked the bit about being innately strong, too. She almost won me over there, too. But overall, it just didn’t fly. Because even in her own article she betrays herself several times by wording things in peculiar ways that betray her own bizarre self esteem issues, e.g. she says that she “knew exactly how highly her father thought of her” instead of saying “my father respected me very highly.” I just don’t buy it. It’s great to be a high achiever, but that’s just one thing, it’s not worth everything.

  8. drhoctor2
    Jan 10, 2011

    Yarrrgh. Blargh and other roars of outrage. I hate everything about this. I hate that an accomplished adult is in any way romanticizing the hyper critical approach to parenting. That shinit is not funny or cute. It’s mean. Your ends do not justify your means. Someone else’s ideas of success should never be your standard of happiness. Crap. Everything is wrong with thinking about treating people like this…much less defenseless little kids.
    One of the conversational gambits other parents use that I despise.. the whole compliment my kid by saying something crappy about your kid and then EXPECT me to join in with ..oh HO..my kids really suck !! Follow with horrible humiliating anecdote about kid right in front of them, their peers etc. I. E. Oh, is that your son?..yep…he is so polite..my kid is an animal..My reply ? is always “oh my kid IS awesome” and then the conversation runs out and I’m ok with that.
    Kids are so easy to get along with, in general, if you just treat them with some respect. Punitive parenting gets me irate.

  9. Jan 10, 2011

    As an approach to bringing up children, that doesn’t sound so much Chinese as it does Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  10. Jan 10, 2011

    I can’t wait until Lulu grows up and starts a blog.

  11. Jan 10, 2011

    I took this essay (and the photos) to be bone-dry wit, arch observations and a bunch of exaggerations to make a point. The author appears sincere in her conclusion: “All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.”
    I imagine the whole book will bring out more of the nuance of her argument. And her (no doubt) forthcoming “Today Show” appearance with her daughters will flesh out what kind of a relationship they have after this upbringing.

  12. Jan 10, 2011

    Proof that the more controversial you can be, the more absolutist, the more likely you are to get published. I just *love* the industry I work in sometimes.

    Related! My list is up: http://rambleramble.com/2011/01/10/authors-dont-blame-marketing/

  13. Jan 10, 2011

    I’ve heard good arguments regarding Lindsay Lohan and the Chinese mother though. If Lindsay Lohan had a Chinese mother, rather than her Enabler Mother, would she be less fucked up? Or just fucked up differently?

  14. Jan 10, 2011

    I’m sort of relieved that amid the outrage there is at least one other person who thinks this is meant to be humorous, not a how-to parenting manual. I did end up re-reading and I see a lot of self-awareness about being a mother, being a daughter, and being a first-generation Asian woman living in the US. This is weighty stuff that can be leavened with humor and I agree with the commenter above that her wit is “bone dry.” Hey, Jews have been doing it for awhile now and it’s refreshing though maybe jarring to see it from our country’s “model minority.”

    I grew up surrounded by Asians throughout school and have always felt an affinity for them particularly Koreans. I have this also with Indians and I think it’s something cultural that is particular to those types of family dynamics and a certain way of relating to the majority culture.

    And any joking aside, it is VERY Asian to feel that an individual’s accomplishments are really the accomplishments of the entire family particularly the mother, who is the most hands-on in the education and training of the children. It’s poignant, optimistic, and how it translates to “American” is very interesting.

    I predict her book will be very successful because she is a great showman.

  15. Jan 10, 2011

    The other thing that I meant to say in my comment above is that there ARE definitely lessons to be learned from Asian philosophies toward education and child-rearing. The fetish of self-esteem in America is an epic failure. It’s time to toss out that experiment and use something else that actually works. One thing I really love about an Asian take on learning is the emphasis on *practice* over innate talent. It is very egalitarian when you think about it. Anyone can be good at a thing if they are motivated and are willing to put in the work. (It’s what I love about Suzuki violin method, come to think of it. And Malcolm Gladwell.) Also there is an assumption that the job of a child is to go to school and do well, and this is a job that any child can do. I love it! It’s a refreshing change from “You’re all great! You’re all perfect just as you are!”

  16. Jan 10, 2011

    I think she does try to foster, at the end of the article, the very ivory tower, PC view that there are no rights or wrongs, that Chinese mothering and Western mothering are both aimed at getting the best results for the children.

    There are moments in the article in which she is *sort of* making fun of herself, if that’s what you are talking about, when she talks about encasing her daughter’s sheet music in plastic so that she cannot ever rip it up again. But ultimately, no, she is not being tongue-in-cheek about what she’s saying: she talks about how she is ultimately right because she gets results, her daughter played the piece perfectly, she just had to beat her into submission a little bit longer than with the first daughter. I think that is pretty clear.

    I am pretty well-versed in the art of the self-deprecating sarcastic writer, if I do say so myself. So, yes, she does kind of point at herself with some derision at moments, but only to gain rhetorical ground. She really thinks what she is doing is right. I’m certain of it.

  17. Jan 10, 2011

    I elaborated on this below — but I don’t think she’s joking around. I mean, I do think there are moments when she is kind of playing things up a bit, playing the part of the hyper critical Asian parent to please the masses. But she is ultimately clear on what she thinks: the daughter played the piece, she just had to be beat into submission a little longer than the first one did.

  18. Jan 10, 2011

    Absolutely true! Nobody would care about her book otherwise. And if you look at the books she has written in the past, they are typical academic fare. Guess she wanted to do something a little more salable this time.

  19. Jan 10, 2011

    Maybe less autotune . . . but I’m guessing the adderal and cocaine would still come in handy.

  20. Jan 10, 2011

    I agree about the self esteem thing — it’s like the pendulum was one way when we were kids and now it’s the total opposite. How about we do something in the middle? How about we bring back scorekeeping in sports, given the fact that there’s, you know, scorekeeping in life? How about we don’t eliminate peanuts wholesale from every single school in existence just because there might someday be somebody with a peanut allergy who walks by and sniffs a breath of peanut air (ducks from flying organic tomatoes).

    And I do think that the practice, practice, practice thing is very valuable. But honestly, if I could go back to childhood and relearn things, I would want my parents to teach me that success is like 50% work ethic, 20% talent, and 30% connections/networking/nepotism. Or something like that, maybe tweak those numbers a little bit. So, there are valuable lessons there but there are valuable lessons from the Western way, too. I really don’t like the downplaying of importance of the humanities. I’m not saying they have to be the no.1 priority, but to ignore them wholesale brings up a generation without any critical thinking skills that is dependent upon rote memorization. You will not get any visionary leaders out of a population like that.

  21. Jan 10, 2011

    Oh my goodness…. Tongue in cheek or not, we can’t discount the effect that the Asian mothering philosophy has had on children. Our own western thinking has earned us??? Oh yeah, I remember now, it’s earned us 18th place among 36 industrialized nations in education. But our self-esteems are in first. Our philosophies have earned us an educational bar that is so low a slug could cross it, an inordinate amount of children who are “special” and certainly cannot be expected to excel in anything other than…um….uh… “visionary” something something..

    I’m an older mom and I’ve got to say, I agree more than disagree with the Asian philosophy. I have a finite amount of time to prepare this child for the world. A finite amount of time for her to “get it right”. She may be able to bitch to her therapist about her “poor self esteem” but dammit, she’s going to have the drive and the skills necessary to be able to pay for that therapist.

  22. Crash Commanda
    Jan 10, 2011

    I liked her point about kids – and people generally – liking things better after they get good at them, and that it takes time and effort to get good at anything. That said, I want my kids to WANT to get good at something (or, hopefully, many things). If your kid hates playing the piano, it’s better to let them try other instruments than to force it on them. They might eventually get good anyway, but they won’t ever like it, they’ll resent you, and all that time they spent mastering something they didn’t like could have been spent trying other things they eventually would like. One of my daughter’s best friends has a Chinese mother, and my daughter often tells me how sorry she feels for this friend (who, by the way, quit the violin her mother made her learn as soon as her (American) father talked the Mom into it).

  23. Jan 10, 2011

    I’m not sure we can blame Western parenting for how bad our educational system is. I think that has a lot more to do with things like the fact that we put a ton of money into defense spending and none into education.

    Regardless, I’m not a fan of the special snowflake, not keeping score in soccer school of parenting either. I’m saying: I was a high achieving kid. A very high achieving kid. And there is a big price that comes with that kind of upbringing. The hippy dippy I’m OK, you’re OK school of parenting is bullshit, but so is the “sit down at the piano until you get it right school.” And I’d expect that a Yale Law Professor would know this, and is either exploiting the extreme viewpoint in order to sell books, or else is in extreme denial about the damage that was done to her as a child. Either way, something stinks about this to me.

  24. Jan 10, 2011

    Yes, I agree — I liked that part, too. Kids do have to be taught that things are not really fun until you get good at them, and that it takes practice to get good. Even at 3, I can see this with Mini. But I don’t like the hierarchy of math, science, and certain types of music over everything else, and as you say, why not find something they are good at? Sure, you can practice, practice, practice in order to excel when you are in the lower levels, but even gifted, high achieving kids will reach a point at which there are certain kids who are just better at certain things than they are at others. Why not let them play to their strengths?

  25. Jan 10, 2011

    Ummm, wow? And what does this point of view say about Chinese culture in general? I guess I can’t see sit-down-shut-up-practice-the-piano-until-you-get-it-right as a good way to parent. Spoken as a non-parent, of course. This article kind of creeps me out, and makes me wonder about the connection between a non-free, strict punishment society and a breed of mothers who seem to perpetuate it.

  26. Jan 10, 2011

    Not Chinese, but Indian, a parenting style that bears many similarities to the one outlined in the article. Though, honestly, as someone with parents who were a) strict b) expected extremely high achievement academically and c) have an expectation that they will influence me on major life decisions…she sounds f-ing crazy to me.

    One of the biggest reasons a lot of Asian parents emphasize(d) math and sciences over the humanities (in my Indian experience, another “model” minority) is that the first and second wave of immigrants (mid 70s to 80s, and then in the mid-90s) came from countries where these were the math/science jobs were the only ones really that allowed you to succeed financially, and financial stability often weighs heavily on the minds of first-generation immigrants who leave behind their family safety nets. Aside from that, your child’s financial success also impacts his/her ability to find a spouse within the same culture, another area in which the parents expect to play a big role in many Asian cultures.

    Things are changing, though. Being a lawyer, in India, used to be one step above going to community college. It basically meant you got the lowest crappiest marks in the entrance exams and a lot of Indian parents brought some of that prejudice against the career to the United States with them-I saw that change very, very quickly in the early 2000s once Indians over-saturated medicine/engineering. Ditto with finance.

    So things are changing, but if her parents are from the earliest waves of immigration, she will probably have absorbed their attitudes.

    Personally, I feel like she read that one chapter in NurtureShock that talked about the study of how Asian mothers don’t accept their child giving up on a difficult activity at first (as in, very young children) and will work with them to solve the puzzle whereas Western moms will rush in to console the kid and tell him/her that it doesn’t matter…and then decided to write an inflammatory book about it.

  27. Jan 10, 2011

    Actually, I think it’s something that certainly worth looking at. The U.S. spends 17% of our total budget on education, 19% on military. China, by comparison spends 12% on education and 18% on military, yet their children consistently outperform our kids. If it’s not money, it’s got to be something else. We could argue genetics, but that’s a Pandora’s box I’d rather not open. That leaves cultural and societal differences which leaves the parenting door wide open.

    Damage is relative. For whatever “damage” my Irish mother caused me by “forcing” piano practicing on me, or asking me why I didn’t get 100 instead of 99, or berating me in whatever fashion for failing to apply myself is far outweighed by the successes that followed. Looking back now, had I known how much easier adult life would be for learning those lessons? I might have been just a wee bit more cooperative.

  28. Jan 10, 2011

    Did she force you or not? Did you learn them or not? I don’t really understand the last paragraph.

    I don’t disagree that the method gets results — I never did. I said I didn’t think the results were worth it — not for me, not for how I want to raise my own kid. Not everybody is going to benefit in life from getting an A in AP Calculus. I got an A in AP Calculus and it does me absolutely no good today whatsoever. There has got to be some kind of happy medium is all I’m saying. But we can agree to disagree.

  29. Jan 10, 2011

    I agree, I think the math and science thing was the fastest track to a job in years past and that it is a recent immigrant thing. The humanities thing has always been part of the gentlemanly education paradigm dating back at least to [cough] John Stuart Mill, and probably long before that — only people who can “afford” to study those topics should study them.

    I think she just has had a bunch of battles with her husband over being a crazy psycho with her kids, and decided this might be a more marketable take than the other topics she’s been writing on. Because really a lot of this stuff is indefensible, and surely a law professor is skilled in the exercise of arguing a side just for the sake of arguing it.

  30. Jan 10, 2011

    For the people who think this is overreacting, there is (sadly) more here, including this:

    After her young children presented her with handmade birthday cards:

    I gave the card back to Lulu. “I don’t want this,” I said. “I want a better one — one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.”

    “What?” said Lulu in disbelief. I saw beads of sweat start to form on Jed’s forehead.
    I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. “What if I gave you this for your birthday Lulu- would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No — I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and erase party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.” I threw the card back.

    [Via Gothamist]

  31. Bekki
    Jan 10, 2011

    China may spend 12% of their budget on education, but they are certainly NOT attempting to educate all of their student population. I can promise that if the USA had different expectations of the kids based on the background/status of their parents, our rank among countries would be much higher. We’d simply need to stop trying with kids who we didn’t think would be successful.

  32. Jan 11, 2011

    Yes, she forced me. Yes, as a kid, I hated it. As angry and resentful as I might have been as a child, adult me reaped the benefits of her efforts both musically and personally (the development of self-discipline). I look at my own child and as much as I want her to follow her “bliss”, I also realize that being #1 will open so many more doors and give her many more choices than being #5 or #10. Maybe that’s what we’ve lost sight of as “western” parents.

  33. Jan 11, 2011

    Actually, the US and China are more similar than you may think when it comes to education. China, like the US has made a pledge to educate all of their kids. The US and China both have difficulty educating those children from lower socio-ecomonic backgrounds. The difference lies in the fact that the US will and has lowered the educational bar in order to accommodate these lower socio-economic classes. China has not. The other difference? We believe that higher education is a “right” in this country. Higher education in China is a “privilege”. Therefore, those kids who are attending institutions of higher learning are already the cream of the crop. There are no 3rd and 4th tier universities in their country, there will be no second chance.

  34. Jan 11, 2011

    See, there you go. This has nothing to do with education or making your child excel; that’s just a smokescreen. It has nothing to do with being Chinese.

    This is just an emotionally abusive mother trying to justify her actions by saying, “But it was for your own good! You should thank me!”

    I won’t be buying the book. I might buy Lulu’s when it comes out in 20 years though (because it will take 20 years of adulthood for Lulu to realize what the hell happened here).

  35. Megan
    Jan 11, 2011

    I’m trying to figure out why we are even talking about this. Yes, she wrote a book so it opens up the discussion but to predict her children will need counseling and berating her for her parenting style is exactly why parenting has become so contensious and judgey. I feel pretty confident all of us ultimately want the same thing which is happy, healthy, productive children. Why do we need to disect every person who does it differently than we do?

  36. Jan 11, 2011

    I think, too, much depends on how you define success. I know this can get esoteric, but it’s relevant. I think a modest life, well-lived, that that leaves a positive impact on a few people or a small community can be a greater success than someone playing a concert at Carnegie Hall. In the long run, which really matters?

    I know. Get out of here with that hippy-dippy shit. I’m leaving.

  37. Jan 11, 2011

    I just watched her Today show appearance. Some of the stuff I very much identify with and a lot of the stuff my parents have also said and done, but wow, the birthday card thing was absolutely crazy. I’ve never had anything like that happen to me.

    She does claim that she is mocking herself in the book and that she had to compromise in the end, which is a process that also occurred within my own family.

    For my part, I really love my family and in spite of some crazy, my parents gave me an amazing childhood, although I think many of my American friends think that I didn’t have much freedom or whatever. But my parents, and most of the Indian parents they hang around with have also expressly talked about how they appreciate elements of American culture and want their kids to be a “good mix” of both, whatever that means, rather than just talking about how the Indian way is best (which is what she ultimately did in the interview on Today).

  38. Monkey
    Jan 11, 2011

    I also thought it was really ridiculous that Meredith allowed her to make these totally dumbassed blanket statements like “American parents are okay with teenage pregnancies and their kids doing drugs etc.” Holy crap, she is a 2nd generation immigrant but that shit is straight-up newly minted FOB. You are married to an American…was he okay with his daughters getting pregnant or doing drugs?

  39. Jan 11, 2011

    You know what? My step-children are required to take piano, karate, German and Violin. They are both A-B+ students. They don’t always like their activities, but they excel. They also have friends, play sports, go to sleep overs and are never, ever insulted, put down, ignored, or verbally abused in any way, shape or form by their mother, father, me, or step-father.

    They are polite, eco-conscious, amazing little citizens of the Earth, whom I wouldn’t dare say were garbage, even at their sassiest and most stubborn/disrespectful moments.

  40. Jan 11, 2011

    re: music lessons/practice — I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I wrote about it for a guest post for my cousin’s blog (http://40yearoldbatmitzvah.com/2010/03/25/guest-starring-me/) and have been struggling with writing a post about my 8 yr old’s decision to quit violin. It *is* true that some of the most valuable and rewarding activities in life are ones that take some work to get to a higher level of competence. Kids don’t innately know this and just telling them won’t do the trick. Sometimes you do need to force them. I have activities in life that I look back on and am bummed that my parents and the other adults around me didn’t force me to persevere with. I can see now as an adult that the period of frustration would have been relatively brief compared to the payoff of being able to have real achievement.

    And re: why math/engineering and hard sciences — I suspect Asians and Indians living in America choose these fields to specialize because they are among the most color-blind for school admission and career success. They have objective answers and an objective measure of who is the best.

  41. Jan 11, 2011

    I also find it curious that nobody has mentioned the higher suicide rates of Asian Americans and Asian countries compared to the USA. I would love more for my children to be average students, who gain average employment, who enjoy above average happiness than a dead child who was Valedictorian.

  42. Jan 11, 2011

    Oh if Lulu writes a book, I bet it will be really interesting. I’d definitely buy that book.

  43. Jan 11, 2011

    Because there is “different” and there is “emotionally abusive.” I am contending that perhaps some of this is bordering on emotionally abusive. Not all of it, but some of it.

  44. Jan 11, 2011

    I’ve got to go watch the Today show thing, though I’m sure it’s going to make me furious. I do want to say that I feel like these comments have gotten off track — it seems like people are suggesting that Western parents never want to force their children to do things they don’t want to do, which (at least in my case) is definitely not true. I am already forcing Mini to do things he doesn’t want to do on a regular basis. It’s a paradigm of parenting, and I fully intend to extend this tradition long into his adolescence, including carrying on the tradition of making sure his homework is always done and being a general pain in the ass about preparing to get into college and all of that crap. My thing is, I think there is a difference between that and calling your kid a piece of garbage if they get an A-.

  45. Jan 11, 2011

    That’s what makes me think she’s doing it on purpose to sell books.

  46. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2011

    I gave up on activities I didn’t immediately excel at. Most things came very easily to me, I didn’t find it necessary to embrace challenge. I can see now the effect that has had on me as an adult.

    I don’t think I’d ever trade for Lulu’s piano lesson, but a little tenacity and persistence are not poor lessons for a child.

    Reading about a different way of parenting helps me to find the center of who I want to be as a parent. I will not subscribe to her methods, but I can find what I like and discard what I do not.

  47. Jan 11, 2011

    It took me three goes to read that article because most of it made me furious.

    I come from an extremely ambitious family that does a fair amount of rhetoric about success and failure. It produces, without question, some of the most talented and intelligent people I have ever seen. It also produces more than its fair share of suicides and people who crash and burn spectacularly.

    Also, why do people focus on academic success to the frequent exclusion of other matters such as “ability to form healthy, loving, supportive relationships”, “ability to enjoy the company of others and own self”? Those are just as crucial to me and although the two need not be mutually exclusive I just wish there was more societal focus on developing people’s skills in the interpersonal sphere of life. (I grew up with a lot of this by growing up in a socialist country – there was a lot of focus on what we needed to do for one another to support each other as friends etc. so I guess I have become corrupted with liberal ideas.)

    Extreme ideological bullshit of any kind just gets my back up. Fixed belief of any kind really whether it’s hippy dippy or hard-line. She’s right and it can be damaging to not recognise your child’s innate competence and not push them. Every child needs to be pushed – some kids more than others. It is likely that children will greet this pushing by dragging their feet and putting up resistance and this too is okay and par for the course.

    Maybe one day I’ll write a book called “Treading the middle ground: common sense parenting with attitudes adjusted to the individual child’s needs and temperament” although possibly no one would buy that because it doesn’t sound controversial or exciting.

    Children are incredibly resilient and it drives me crazy when parents agonise about every little thing and how it might damage their child and their self-esteem etc. However children also have fragilities and vulnerabilities and it’s crazy to just stamp on that or negate it. If you push something too far you can undermine the chances of success and plant lifelong issues which keep therapists occupied. Although, actually, I’m a therapist in need of some extra work so I should probably be just encouraging her deranged bullshit.

  48. Jan 11, 2011

    Damage is indeed relative, but so is achievement.

    I think I am the poster child for resistance to parental pressure, of how pressure undermined much more than stimulated me. E.g. my father wanted me to do well in math and music (the two things he cared about) but because he shouted at me and called me stupid because I did not perform to his expectation I developed an utter mental block about those subjects and barely scraped through them all my school career.

    My mother forced me to learn German when I was 14. That was two years of German lessons and I still cannot string together a sentence in that language because I hated german and I resented it, so I refused to learn it. (I am a very adept linguist, I pick up languages easily and speak five of them fluently
    – so it was not a matter of lacking aptitude). When I was 15 my mother tried to get me to read War and Peace over the summer holidays in its original Russian for my edification and I absolutely snapped. I not only refused to read it but I militantly took up reading fluffy fiction and comic books over the next two years as a form of rebellion and unwinding. I still haven’t read War and Peace but ultimately who cares?

    I am still an extremely intelligent woman and I am extrmely good at what I do and what interests me (I was one of the top students in my year when I graduated, through simple fact that what I learned interested me and no one tried to pressure me. I excel with self-imposed motivation and deadlines and run into absolute breakdown with outside pressure).

    That’s just me though. I totally am the kind of person to whom doing something against one’s will sets off a backfiring chain of events and who needs to do things my own way and in my own time. But given a different kind of support, I shine.

    So I don’t think that all of the philosophy is really wrong – just that it’s a powerful tool that needs to be applied sensitively because it will not work for every child.

  49. drhoctor2
    Jan 11, 2011

    I’ve had this issue on simmer all day. A lot of things I want to say. To be succint ? No kid that is called “garbage” as a kid is ever going to escape having to talk themselvers out of thinking they are “garbage” as an adult.
    There is no end that can justify treating a kid like that. Kid = people. People deserve respect I can think of a dozen things to say to remotivate a kid having a meltdown over achievement issues of any kind. None include rejection of kid as a human. Dude.
    My third point ? You call your kid your derogatory term of choice (stupid seems popular…) when you can get away with it cos’ they’re all little and need you and junk..how LONG before they look at you and see garbage ? And how do you explain that it is, at minimum, rude, to call a person whom you profess to love, names. At home or school or jobs or walking doen the street talking to yourself. Name calling. A self defeating activity since the beginning of time.
    Did “taint faced link baiter ” motivate you any, Anna ? 🙂 Skinner behavioralists stink.

  50. Jan 11, 2011

    War and Peace in Russian…. I love it… .mine was The Count of Monte Cristo in French. The difference is, I read it. The pressure motivated me the opposite way. I worked harder at what they told me to do, so that I had the time to do the things I wanted to do. I countered Dumas with Agatha Christie and cheap romance novels, countered the piano with the harmonica and ballet with softball. In the park…with boys… and everything!! The shame….

  51. Jan 11, 2011

    Well, I think it depends on who is calling you the linkbait taint face. If my parents had called me linkbait taintface, maybe I would have thought twice. But as it stood, no. I didn’t really feel motivated to do anything differently.

  52. Jan 11, 2011

    I wanted to say, I didn’t mean to suggest you don’t need to force kids to do stuff. I force Mini to do things constantly. For instance, I have to force him to take a bath every day. I often have to force him to go to bed, and to get in the car in the morning. And to stop playing with the iPad, etc. And when the time comes, I will also force him to do his homework, to force me to show me his assignments, force me to show him his grades, and force him to study, force him to go to SAT prep classes. And if he refuses, I’ll ground him or call his teachers. If I suspect he’s hiding things, I’m probably not above going through his things, either — I’m a recovering alcoholic, after all, so I’ll be just waiting for him to show signs of drug or alcohol use.

    But that’s not the same thing as four hours of piano practice instead of two. Or saying that only music, math and science instead of humanities and sports. I just don’t get that part of it. And as far as the #1 versus #5 go . . . in my high school that would have been the difference between going to Stanford and going to UCLA. I went to Stanford and my husband went to UCLA. Guess who makes more money?

    I mean if we are talking about the difference between just totally failing miserably and not, that’s one thing. But if it’s between an A and an A-, the kind of kid who is driven to that kind of achievement is already driven to that kind of achievement. You don’t need to fuck with them. They already drive themselves nuts. I know because I was one of them.

  53. Jan 11, 2011

    Agree that tenacity is good, but you can learn that from sports, and the impact of sports on the self esteem of girls, in particular, is completely ignored by this ideology of parenting. None of these books that tell you how to parent is good in and of itself, but sometimes they scare me in their wholesale belief systems, because I know there are people dumb enough out there to buy into them.

  54. Michelle
    Jan 11, 2011

    Sports was… not good for my self-esteem. In fact, I was scared crapless of the ball in baseball and didn’t have any reinforcement to stay with it.

    Which is to say, I can’t get angry at people for saying how they did things, especially when they are far away from me and not saying to my face that I should follow their advice or I’m an idiot. Perspectives are helpful, I only had two parents, and their examples of what to do and not to do are limited. Having more to learn from is never a bad thing. Assholes and idiots will be assholes and idiots regardless of what parenting methods they try to subscribe to, wholesale or not.

  55. Jan 11, 2011

    I hope that the book has the nuance and compromise that the WSJ piece lacks. There are a couple of things that ring true to me – you enjoy things more when you are good at them, but you likely won’t enjoy the process of becoming good at something new. We should think of our kids as strong and resilient, rather than delicate flowers that need our constant, hovering presence.

    But I certainly wouldn’t want that woman at my dinner table, she comes off as insufferable. Though I would not likely have to leave in tears if she did show up for dinner.

  56. Elita
    Jan 12, 2011

    Haven’t we already done that? Look at the resources in poor & urban public schools as compared to suburban ones.

  57. Jan 12, 2011

    James Fallows at the Atlantic had a better phrase for what I was getting at: “slyly Swiftian.” I liked that, and the YouTube video to which he links: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/01/the-only-thing-i-will-say-on-the-chinese-mother-debate/69333/

  58. Jan 13, 2011

    A friend sent me a link to this article, in which a reporter was able to get a follow up with Amy Chua about how the WSJ piece was edited to make the book look like a how to manual when it’s really more of a memoir:


    It’s kind of interesting, though again I don’t know how much of it I buy — she’s smart, she knows controversy sells. She says that her second daughter (Lulu) forced her to (slightly) rethink her parenting style in the end. To be honest, this makes me even more furious, as a firstborn. Because that sounds just about right. The first child suffers through the bullshit like the obedient one, and then the rebellious second child comes along and the parent realizes the error of their ways.

    I hate this woman.

  59. monkey
    Jan 14, 2011

    All the degrees in the world can’t give you self-awareness. From her tv experience it very much appears that she’s both aware of what she’s saying (in that it’s appalling) but arrogant enough to think that people will find it funny if she throws some self-deprecation into the mix. Personally, I think going on TV to talk smack about 1/2 of the cultural background of your interracial kids is disgusting. If I had a partner who went on TV and put down my ethnic heritage I’d be furious.

    I’m honestly surprised she’s stayed married so long.

  60. Jan 18, 2011

    NYT – I’m wondering if amidst your reading and piano and frolicking in the park, you also were able to skillfully tackle SAT prep courses, youth group, volunteer work, and countless hours of student council, all to pad your resume for college admission. Kids today have a TON more tasks that they are required to do and/or achieve just to get to the next level, and having a parent cracking the whip at every turn can get quite stressful. Believe me, when Chua’s kids finally do start to make their own choices, they might not be good ones, simply because they’re just too tired to keep up the frantic pace.

  61. Jan 18, 2011

    Shasta- I think you’re missing the point. Yes, I had that kind of discipline as a child, as did my husband, but the idea that kids are doing activities solely for the purpose of garnering college admission is really no different now is it? And yes, we did manage to accomplish other things as well… but we had the discipline and drive drilled into us.

  62. Jan 18, 2011

    I supposed maybe I am missing the point of your comment. I read that particular one as condescending, which apparently it wasn’t, so I apologize. But still, with your last statement, I feel like you’re insinuating that modern kids don’t have drive and disciplined drilled into them, and that you feel superior to them (OK…us) for it. I can assure you that’s not true (the discipline-drive part, not the superior-to thing, which I really can’t judge considering we’ve only just met =) ).

  63. Jan 19, 2011

    Not trying to be superior at all, just coming from a different place is all. As I’ve said in comments before, the idea that parenting plays into the overall decline by the U.S. in global economy and education is something worth discussing. As far as modern kids not having drive and discipline?? I don’t believe many do…

    Himself has been an adjunct professor at both the graduate and undergraduate levels for over seven years. It’s his passion. His school has different campuses located in different parts of town. Different socio-economic, and ethnic areas. Same syllabus, same standards and policy for each campus. Without fail, no matter what class, his immigrant and first generation students consistently outperform their US counterparts. Graduate and undergrad, over and over, five terms a year for seven years…. That can’t be an anomaly.. Since we’re talking about different ethnicities and socio-economic groups it would be foolish to think that the cultural difference in parenting styles doesn’t play a role in that.

  64. Jan 19, 2011

    Interested to know what subject he teaches. I certainly didn’t find that to be the case during my undergrad and graduate time, including my current graduate program.

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