Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tiger mother, Mouse mother

A couple of years ago, this article made big waves on the parenting scene. - Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.  The piece is an extract from the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua.  All of a sudden, everybody was talking about it, there were reams written about the horrendous parenting style of this lady and people were wondering how her children are even normal.

I read all the opinions.  Buried amidst all the negativity was a review which suggested that this one article is not all that the book is about.  That made me want to read more, and finally, last week, I read the book.

Amy Chua is a second generation immigrant from China, living  in the US, married to an American, and raising two daughters in the Chinese style of parenting.  First thing I learned - this book is not about parenting.  It is just the story of a mother trying to bring up her daughters with the parenting style that she herself grew up with.   Second, unlike the provoking title of the excerpt - "Why Chinese mothers are superior" - nowhere in the book has the author said that Chinese parenting is superior. She has frequently brought out contrasts between Chinese and Western parenting, but that's it.   Third - and most important - she has been very honest about how this style of parenting worked with the first daughter and backfired with the second one.  In fact, this book is about the mellowing of Amy Chua's parenting style.

So, the title of the excerpt on WSJ, combined with what the excerpt was about - made  Amy Chua very unpopular indeed (And I'm pretty sure it didn't hurt the book's sales!)

I am not going to endorse the Chinese way of parenting, because I don't agree with that kind of authoritarian parenting.   It strives on pushing the child to achieve its highest potential, trying to bring the best out of the child,and going all out for it, even if it involves strict discipline and unquestioned authority and rote learning. But I could totally understand that kind of parenting, and the Chinese belief that children owe them everything, and demanding unconditional filial love and devotion.  That's very Indian in nature, so I could "get" it, but was still able to view it dispassionately.  I can understand why Westerners, on the other hand, find it horrifying.

But what the book did for me was make me think.  Sometimes about things totally tangential to the main topic.

1) The author says that western parenting assume fragility, while Chinese parenting assumes strength in the child.  This is something that really made me reconsider my approach to several things in connection with how I bring up Puttachi.  S, that way, is tougher with  her than I am - he assumes strength, I assume fragility.  (Less than some others do, but still.)  Perhaps believing that your child can do something (but not pushing, just aiding) can actually give the child confidence, enable her to actually do it?  I'm sure, yes.

2) Amy Chua believes that you will have fun at something if you are good at it.  So, until you become good at that thing, she says, you have to work really hard until you reach that level where you start having fun.  This is why, she says, she pushed her children to practice music for hours everyday, whether they wanted to or not. [They are terrifying overachievers, btw]  How do you know you will like it unless you try and stay with it until you are moderately good at it?  That Is her line of thinking.    That extreme pushing, of course, I don't agree with, but this concept of - you have fun when you are good at it - and you've got to stick with it for a while before you quit - it is something to think about. And maybe apply in our lives. How, where - yet to be seen.

3) For her daughters' music, Amy Chua went all out.  Making them learn from the best teachers, pouring money and time and effort into it, commuting long distances if need be, even taking along the instruments on vacation (and booking hotels with pianos so that the daily practice doesn't cease)- and practicing during vacations even if it meant not being able to see the sights,  practicing into the nights, again and again and again, until every note is perfect....
This kind of dedication is something totally alien to me.  If I want something, I stretch a bit - and if I don't get it, I give up.  This is totally, absolutely wrong.  I know it, and people had told me all along that what I do is wrong, but reading this book somehow gave me the wake up call.  Again, not to the extent as in the book - that is extreme.  But to a certain extent, such dedication is a must if it is something you believe in and want to get better at.  S has this ability to stretch and then stretch more and keep stretching - and he makes me do it also sometimes, which annoys me because that is not my nature.  But for anybody to become even remotely good at something, this is necessary.  And now that is something I just ought to incorporate into my life. I have suddenly started worrying that I am passing on this laid back attitude to my daughter.  I hope she has S's nature, but meanwhile, it is time for me to wake up and brush the dust off myself.

Anyway, everything else aside, the book was a witty, funny, honest, sometimes scary account of life in Amy Chua's houehold.  It was an enjoyable read.  [Btw, here is her response to the comments on that original excerpt ]


Sumana said...

I loved the book as well. But that extent of pushing i am sure will not be able to do.. But giving up on things i feel needs to reduce from my side as well....

parijata said...

I cannot be a "pushing Mom" either. But I think there is a critical range of pushing. Less than that - kids will not become underachievers and it will be our fault, and more than that will make them rebels.

parijata said...

Oops I meant

Less than that - kids will not become underachievers and it will be our fault, and more than that will make them rebels.

Shruthi said...

Sumana, makes you think, doesn't it?

Parijata, I totally agree.

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