Are Chinese Parents Superior?
A Jewish response to Amy Chua's extreme parenting.
When Amy Chua was a little girl, she was extremely disrespectful to her mother. Her father angrily called her “garbage” in their native dialect.
Today, Amy is a mother herself. When her daughter, Sophia, acted extremely disrespectfully, Amy called her “garbage” in English. One evening at a dinner party, Amy mentioned what she had done. She felt immediately ostracized. A guest even broke down, cried, and had to leave early. The host and guests who remained tried in vain to convince Amy to change her ways.
Amy is a Yale Law professor and advocate of Chinese parenting methods. A recent piece she authored in the Wall Street Journal (1/8/11 Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior) explained how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful children.
Here are some things that Sophia and Lulu, her now tween daughters, have never been allowed to do:
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch tv or play computer games
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the number 1 student in any subject except gym or drama
- play any instrument other than piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin.
Not only that, but Amy writes that Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty – lose some weight.” She bemoans the fact that Western parents veil the weight issue by speaking about ‘health’; never mentioning “the f-word.’ And still their children end up with eating disorders that require years of therapy to combat negative body images.
When it comes to school, Amy again feels that Western parents fall short.
An A- brings praise, a B may bring praise or disapproval but never will a child be made to feel insecure by being called “stupid”, “worthless” or “a disgrace.”
Even if parents worry about their child’s skills, they will do so privately and may eventually speak to the principal about the teacher’s methods and the school’s curriculum.
What would Chinese parents do?
Chinese children never get a B. But if they would, there would be a “screaming, hair-tearing explosion.”
Chinese mothers would be horrified by an A-. Chinese children never get a B. But if they would, there would be a “screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” Then, the mother who feels devastated by her child’s failure would get hundreds of practice worksheets until the child moved up to an A.
There is no such thing as a child not doing well. If perfection is not achieved it must be that the child is not working hard enough. The solution is always punishing or shaming the child. Children are believed to be strong enough to take the shame and be better for it.
Amy concludes her article with proof of her parenting methods.
She tells a story that she believes reinforces her belief in Chinese-style coercion.
Lulu was about 7 and working on an incredibly difficult piano piece.
After one week of trying, Lulu announced that she was giving up. She stomped off and refused to return to the piano. Forced to return, she not only punched, thrashed and kicked, she also tore up the score. Amy pasted it back together and protected it in a plastic sheath. Lulu was threatened with “no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas, no Hannukkah (her father is Jewish), no birthday parties for 2, 3, 4, years.” She was called lazy, cowardly, self- indulgent and pathetic.
Lulu’s dad decided to get involved. He told his wife that he didn’t think the threats were helpful and maybe she just couldn’t do it.
Amy replied that Lulu’s sister Sophia was able to play the piece at this age.
When told that they were two different people, Amy rolled her eyes.
“Oh no, not this,” I said. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankee games.”
They worked at it all night, no permission granted even for a bathroom or water break. There was so much yelling, Amy lost her voice.
Amy concludes her piece triumphantly with the news that Lulu finally mastered the piece. She felt confident and played beautifully at her recital.
End of story.
But not in my book.
Sure there are too many times that we allow our children to give up. Of course we sometimes let our kids off too easily and try to shield their self-esteem. Anyone who has ever read my articles or attended my classes knows that I often speak about our raising a generation of entitled kids who are raised with an inflated sense of self. Parents who applaud and praise their children’s every act and do not hold them accountable teach kids to rely on egos instead of effort.
But in this entire article there has been no mention of character.
How do we define a successful child?
What are the values that I am trying to transmit to my children about who they are and who I hope they will one day grow up to be?
Can I call myself an accomplished parent if my child masters a piano piece while at the same time I have conveyed to my child that it’s okay to stomp on the heart of another?
Shaming a child may bring immediate results but what about the effects on one’s soul?
Calling a child “garbage” or “fatty” is mean. Shaming a child may bring immediate results but what about the effects on one’s soul? Embarrassing another human being goes against the dictates of our holy Torah. We believe that every person is created in the image of God, Himself. When you shame someone you are actually disrespecting the holiness that God placed within each one of us.
And what kind of parent will this child grow up to be? How will she speak to her own spouse and children?
At what price do we feel triumphant?
If I would have a conversation with Amy, I would share my own story about raising children successfully.
When my daughter, Shaindy, was in kindergarten, we were new to the neighborhood. I wanted my daughter to make friends with her classmates, so I asked her teacher for a class list. After going over the various names, we set up a play-date with Sora Leah.
The next day the little mini bus pulled up after school. The bus counselor wished me luck as both girls stepped down. The next three hours were a puzzle to me. Sora Leah said not one word. She sucked her thumb and had difficulty walking. She held onto Shaindy’s dress.
After Sora Leah was picked up, I called Shaindy into the kitchen.
“Is Sora Leah your friend, sweetie?” I asked.
“No, Mommy, Sora Leah doesn’t really have any friends,”
“Well, do you play together in school?” I wondered.
“No, Mommy, Sora Leah doesn’t play”.
I could not understand.
“Oh, Mommy,” Shaindy said sadly. “Every day the teacher calls out names of who is going to who after school. And every day Sora Leah cries because the teacher never calls her name. I just didn’t want her to cry anymore, Mommy.”
This little child looked up at me and I felt as if I had been touched by something indescribable; something pure and holy. Call it soul, spirit or heart of hearts. It really does not matter. Isn’t this the essence of who we strive to be – adult or child?
Today, Shaindy is a mother herself. She lives in Jerusalem and continues to reach out to fellow Jews and touching hungry souls.
We are here as parents to teach compassion, kindness and goodness. We are the greatest examples, our homes are our classrooms. Our goal is for each child to reach her potential. Not by calling her garbage nor through shame. But rather, through raising a child with soul.