There have been a number of developments in the Amy Chua Chinese-Mother saga since the excerpt of her book appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week. She seems to have struck a major nerve, from which she attempted to back-pedal in both The Journal and The Times this week, albeit pretty unconvincingly. Chua takes very little responsibility for the value judgments she threw out, hiding behind claims of a satirical tone that frankly isn’t there, as well as the poetic license of a memoir. Again, as various folks pointed out in the last thread, the issue here isn’t necessarily finding a better alternative (“an easier religion” – see below) to this kind of parenting, or a more effective means of conveying self-esteem, it’s more a question of self-belief being the primary aim of good parenting. And while of course the answer depends on what is understood by “self-belief,” certainly we’re not expected to believe that the scarring perfectionism being flaunted here is irrelevant to a child’s spiritual/emotional development. Parenting is an area where convictions about Law and Grace not only hit close to the bone, but where they can also be of some help. That is, surely there’s no need for us to (pretend to) be morally neutral about the way Chua blatantly equates “the best [a child] can be” with their performance in the classroom/recital hall. In fact, there seems to be no distinction between “being” and “doing,” period! In which case, heaven help us… I did find it particularly notable that the moments of love that Mrs. Chua remembers with her parents are all moments that are excepted from the achievement model she’s advocating.
In the Journal: “Jokes about A+s and gold medals aside (much of my book is tongue-in-cheek, making fun of myself), I don’t believe that grades or achievement is ultimately what Chinese parenting (at least as I practice it) is really about. I think it’s about helping your children be the best they can be—which is usually better than they think! It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else—even more than they believe in themselves. And this principle can be applied to any child, of any level of ability.” [Sounds like a rationalization to me. But there appear to be wildly divergent testimonies as to whether or not the children receive it that way.]
In the Times: [Chua] confesses in her book that she is “not good at enjoying life,” and that she wasn’t naturally curious or skeptical like other law students. “I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.”
The Journal also published a telling follow-up with white mothers married to Asian men living in Hong Kong (where I’m not so sure the same immigrant-mentality justification applies), ht RT:
What is their reaction to Ms. Chua’s story? “After I read that article, I have to admit, I did feel kind of guilty, like maybe I’m not doing enough,” said Leslie Ryang, a 37-year-old Korean-American musician and mother of two who was born in upstate New York but has lived in Hong Kong for the past 14 years. Her husband is Hong Kong Chinese, and she says she feels pressure from him to push their eldest son, Brandon, 7 years old, harder about school work and extracurriculars.”
Ms. Huang routinely wakes up early at 6:30 a.m. to drill her daughter in Mandarin and help her with homework. “My husband thinks I overdo it sometimes. He says, ‘It’s crazy, she’s 7-and-a-half. Who gets up that early to do homework and study?’ But I’m sorry, I tell him. We’re not the only ones who do that, and we just have to.”
“It’s annoying for me and for other Western-educated parents. There’s just so much stress…. I feel some pressure from my husband. He tells me I’m too Western. But there’s a fine line between what we can force kids to do and what they enjoy.’”
Ms. Chang Ahnert, whose children have grown up and now live in the U.S., said she was relieved to find out that her kids didn’t view her as a mom like Amy Chua. “Fortunately, my children thought I’m an exception to this stereotype,” she said.