Sunday, January 30, 2011

Having a Problem with the "Tiger Mother" Debate

Yale University professor Amy Chua stirred up a lot of controversy in the last month with her January 8 article in the Wall Street Journal under the headline "Chinese Mothers Are Superior," an excerpt of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Chua berates American mothers for a lackadaisical attitude toward their children's levels of achievement, in contrast to Chinese mothers, who harshly (by American standards) harangue their children into meeting standards of perfection in academics and musical performance. Because of the time and energy that the Chinese tiger mother invests in keeping her child marching to the dictates of competition and achievement, Chinese children are getting into the best colleges and universities and far outstripping their American competitors in the field of classical music. Western mothers, wimps that they are, want their children to have fun and they reap the reward: children who cannot compete with Chinese children. I suppose a subtext is that the United States will soon be eclipsed by the expansive People's Republic of China.

Since the article appeared, there have been answers forthcoming from various quarters praising American ways as superior in fostering creativity, among other arguments.

I'd like to address the underlying assumption of the debate that I have read in the secular press: the major goal of child rearing is the high achievement of the child in society and the world.

To me raising a child involves a sacred trust to raise children who become good people. The questions that nag me are not Will my child win the next piano competition? Will my child get an 800 on the SAT? Will my child get into an Ivy League college? or even Will my child be happy?

What worries me is Will my child be a force for good in the world? Will my child have the courage to stand up for the truth under pressure? Will my child have charity and serve and give to others less fortunate? Will my child raise children who are good? Will my child be willing to sacrifice for others? Will my child keep their faith? Will my child be a beacon of hope to those in despair? Will my child have the character--an old-fashioned word--to do what is right under pressure? Will my child have the courage to stand up to evil? Will my child always love God?

These are the questions we never stop worrying about not only for our children, but for ourselves.

I assume that if my child knows and fights for the goodness within them, they will know that they are required to do their best in whatever vocation they choose, since they will understand that one's life is a precious gift not to be wasted--another problem that is posed constantly throughout one's life.


Ldeg said...

Thank you. I felt the same about the discussion, and you have expressed it beautifully.

bookssnob said...

Oh Linda, what a beautiful post. I have read these articles with increasing concern about how focused people are today on 'achievement' and 'success' for their children, without really understanding what achievement and success are. The constant pursuit of things that, essentially, we can brag about to others, is not, for me, achievement, or success. I count a successful life as one that has been full of love, compassion and service to others, not the acquirement of money and meaningless accolades. I would far rather my child be able to empathise with others than play piano at Carnegie Hall. Call that 'soft' - but this world does not need more hard hearted, selfish, materialists like the kind Amy Chua seems to want to build her children into. Being a person of worth is about the quality of your heart, not the amount of certificates you can earn. My parents have always said to me that they are happy as long as I am happy, and I am thankful I wasn't shouted at and made to feel worthless for not being able to play a piece of music, for goodness' sake.

Alison @ Brocantehome said...

Hear hear...all that, and will my child know joy?
Thank you.

Mary R. said...

Of course, we are Christians, so we have different goals for our children; I assume the "tiger mother" here is not a Christian, I don't know.

Yes, the child-raising tactics of the Chinese (and in particular, this woman) are extreme and not what I would want to do.

We have lived in the Orient, though, and I look at this in context (the woman who wrote this is in America, but raised by Chinese parents, I assume, with the old ways which she carried over).

In the Orient, "saving face" and "losing face" are very significant. Much much more so than here. Rarely would a child rebel and bring shame on the family.

Getting into the right school and getting the right job is much more important for people in the Orient. They do not have the privilege, as we do, of "waking up" at 40 and deciding you want to be a doctor. You either get into the right school or not, when you are young, and that's that.

America is a place of a second chance, of the late bloomer. Not so over there.

Also, for a girl, not getting into the right school, not being able to play the piano, not getting into the right career, would definitely mean an inferior marriage, which would make the family lose face and affect her whole life.

So, I can see why those mothers do what they do. Not what I would want for myself or my children, but necessary over there.

The mother you talk about obviously brought the old ways over to this country.

Being happy is not "the thing" for Orientals. Status, and bringing honor to the family, and not losing face, is.

WE don't know how blessed we are here. So, even though I don't approve of the tiger mom tactics, I understand that it is necessary over there. WE have the luxury of wanting happiness for our children; most of them don't.

Mrs. Q said...

Linda, I totally agree with your post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am nearing the end of my child rearing. My youngest of six is now 18. My motherly approach to child rearing was to educate the children with skills that would result in well rounded adults. It was not on them being the best.

My husband and I focused on specific areas for their development. By example and prayers, our desire was for them to accept Christ as their Savior and live for Him, that they would have good assessment skills, they would have a good working home skill work base, get a college education, and play a musical instrument. We both worked very hard at establishing a good relationship with each of them.

By the Grace of God, we have met our goals. All six have accepted Christ as their Savior and they have shown to make choices based on the Bible as their standard. Overall, whether we agree or not, they have been able to make good choices because they have taken time to assess properly. The boys have a good working knowledge of the "manly arts," and the girls, the "womanly arts." Their skill base ranges from good to excellent depending on the area. Five have college educations. The eldest is an O.D., #2 was a teacher, now a Pastor's wife, #3 is a nurse, #4 is a food scientist, #5 is an accountant, #6 started college. They all play a musical instrument, playing through college and beyond. They all seem to enjoy coming home for large gatherings on the date and time of their choosing. I just plan the fun!

Maybe I am extrapolating too much, but focusing on a child's achievements can cause the adult child to think they are the center of the universe. It may also skew their values. Awards and achievement may become more important than God, family, or good character qualities.

Psalm 19:14

Christina said...

I have a friend of Chinese extraction from Indonesia who has raised two boys, now in their twenties. I thought it was comical when her oldest son told me that he was inclined to obey her because she "looks like a tiger when she gets angry." Your post jogged my memory of this comment. Clearly, the Chinese Tiger Mother is an image of fear for children subjected to this method of child-rearing, not a healthy basis for a mother-child relationship. Thank you for reminding us that love is the moving force in the world, and is the true and proper source of motivation for children.

Adam Cope said...

Thank you Linda for airing in public these difficult questions of conscience.

I do want my kids to be happy... and to know how to apply themselves , to concentrate. I agree with you about questioning "the major goal of child rearing is the high achievement of the child in society and the world.".

In the UK, Anglo-Indian girls are the high-flying over-achievers.