January 11, 2011

From The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Question: which parenting techniques of your parents will you use and which will you definitely definitely not?

An article on the (superior?) tactics of Chinese Mothers sent by a friend on different parenting styles. The author, Amy Chua, a professor of law at Yale, has a few theses that made for great discussion.

One is that children don't think things are fun until they're good at them, so it's the role of parents to push their children through the learning process (when it's not fun) until they become good at something (and it becomes fun). Chua states that the Chinese Mother style is often seen as extreme:

"For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough."

I'm not quite sure I agree with how that manifests in her parenting style, but I think there's a lot to be said for parents pushing their kids to stick with things that aren't fun because they are not good at them when there's a) potential for them to be very good at the activity (e.g. guitar) or b) a good reason why they should be motivated to be good at the activity (e.g. math).

I'm torn because while there are some things I am glad my parents pushed me to do (piano, however brief, science competitions starting in middle school), I'm even more grateful for their sharing in my excitement for things we both liked (political science, travelling internationally), and I feel like most things I love, I found mostly on my own (medicine, for one, is not a popular profession in my family of virtually all lawyers and judges).

Friends and I ended up having a really fascinating discussion about our own parents and what aspects of discipline, support, and direction we liked, appreciate now, or will never re-create ever. The ways in which parents motivate children ranges from shame (somewhat the Chinese Mother way) to guilt (maybe the Jewish mother way?) to affirmation (the Western way) to rewarding the process (maybe also a Western way? an example of which would be getting paid for grades, more the better they are).

The second is that Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. Yet what they ask for is that they do everything they can to be the most successful at whatever endeavors they are pursuing. But in this definition is not that they also be happy, or socially adept, or fulfilled. This is in contrast to the US, where parents are held responsible to their children - for their children's happiness and success. Where it is more than acceptable to be in therapy because of something your parents did or didn't do (but, often these are really important things to process! affecting current relationships, priorities, or life goals.)

The third is that Chinese parents assume strength, and their parenting style reflects this. "Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently." By this she means that while it may seem like Chinese mothers are harder on their children, it's because they know their children can take it and will be better for it.

One of the best pieces of advice about parenting that I have received was from a friend's aunt (who is a pediatric oncologist, has read every book on child development, and has 2 sets of twins, all under the age of 7 to prove it). She said that having 2 sets of twins made her realize that children are really their own people, and as parents, your job is really to help them cultivate and use their strengths as well as acknowledge and address their weaknesses - but not to change who they are as people. I think that means assuming strength, but not ignoring fragility - if that's possible.

Check it out for yourself (here) and let me know about your thoughts on parenting styles!

"You don't really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around - and why his parents will always wave back."
~William D. Tammeus

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