Are Chinese Mothers are Superior?

Are Chinese Mothers are Superior? January 12, 2011

For anyone who hasn’t heard about it yet, read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall street Journal “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”

Anyone who’s read anything in my blog knows that I can neither claim with confidence that Chinese mothers are superior, nor can I broadcast with smug self-assurance that I’ve done everything right, as Amy Chua apparently is able in her WSJ article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” I have spent the past 14.5 years of motherhood feeling like quite the failure as a mother, for some of the very reasons that Chua thinks she’s a success.

Case in point: Today we experienced “Snow-mageddon” as my husband likes to call it. 15 inches of snow by the time my 3 children and I braved shoveling around noon. Like the quintessential superlative Chinese mother, I had already cooked my kids a wonderful breakfast—diced potatoes baked with bacon, broccoli, spinach, cheese and two fried eggs on top. A Western breakfast, and like the quintessential Western mom who’s always dieting, I refrained and ate a double-fiber English muffin with almond butter. I made the kids clean up the kitchen afterwards—something I’m so sporadic about enforcing that the typical squabbling over who does what and who had more work than the other ensued.

Now my kids knew that we were about to spend a lot of time shoveling. They knew we’d be shoveling our front walk, our long sidewalk, the driveway entrance that now boasted 4 feet of packed snow the snowplow had deposited, and our driveway that fits 4 cars. But does that stop the whining even with the gourmet and somewhat healthy breakfast solidly sitting in their tummies? Not a chance.

Within 10 minutes, I was reduced to how Chua describes the “Tiger Mom”—Chinese shrieking. An hour later, when I saw the child given the task of shoveling the walk—the same child who had already lost $14 because everyone was being charged $1/whine—when I noticed this child wasn’t even touching a shovel, but lying face down and waving his arms–pushing snow off the front porch like an upside down snow angel, I couldn’t help it. I waded through the snow, a Chinese mother’s version of the abominable snowman, shrieking over the roar of our neighbor’s snow blower. Bumping him with my shovel, I screamed that he was a lazy bum and there’s no place in our family for lazy bums because there’s too much work that has to get done.

He started crying.

Did that melt my heart? Not at all. I continued excoriating him. But a pause later I amended my initial charge to “You’re ACTING like a lazy bum!”—the Western mother’s correction.

Chua asserts that shrieking at your children over their lousy performance is a common phenomenon in the Chinese household, and it certainly was true both of my family of origin and my household now. But I hated being shrieked at growing up. I hated the quintessential lecture I received, while sitting on the piano bench, that my parents gave me at least twice a year from first grade through eighth—the lecture that unless I worked harder, they would pull me out of my posh private school (Punahou, the same school Obama attended), and send me to public school where I would eventually end up on Skid Row. I hated how my mother raged at me about my laziness, selfishness and how I was a sorry excuse for the oldest child of the family, the one who should have been the perfect role model who watched after her siblings rather than tormented them. I yelled back that I never asked to be oldest.

Yet now that I’m a mother, I have to admit she was right. I was lazy, mean and selfish. And I suspect that I never would have pushed myself harder in school if my mother hadn’t harangued me so much. My Harvard-educated sister remembers discussing with a bunch of friends, half White, half Asian, about how they got to Harvard. All the Asian kids felt their parents had pushed and prodded them to high achievement. All the White kids thought their own self-motivation got them there.

I started seeking God at a very young age—about 3 when I realized if I believed in Jesus I would never have to die—something my parents felt uncomfortable about for most of my childhood. So as I’ve parented, I’ve tried to incorporate Christ’s worldview rather than either the Chinese or Western perspective. I’ve emphasized trying our best in school, not to protect their self-esteems, but because we’re called to steward our intellect and opportunities. I’ve emphasized the value of working hard in school to learn the material and grow our minds, rather than seeking the elusive perfect academic GPA. So as my daughter started with an F in honors geometry and worked it up to a B- last quarter, complaining that if she dropped down a level she’d be getting an A+, I told her of all her grades, I was most proud of the B- because she had worked for it and challenged herself.

After shoveling, my friend Helen and her kids came over for lunch and fun. Helen’s also Chinese-American, and of course, as two Chinese-American moms, we’ve been talking non-stop about Chua’s article. My husband sent the article to our two girls as well as all the Chinese friends and siblings we have, and the two girls have expressed their relief that I’m not the quintessential Chinese mom. But both Helen and I confessed how our inner Tiger Mom came out with shoveling, noting that only our half-Chinese kids were expected to shovel out their homes on the street.

When I said I was trying to parent with a Christian worldview rather than a Chinese one, all three of my kids burst into laughter with a “Yeah, right.”

“I didn’t say I was successful at being a Christian mother!” I protested, “I just said that I was TRYING to parent with Jesus’s values.”

They continued to look skeptical.

“But all that really means,” I added, “Is that I get to say sorry to you guys. . . a lot.”

Because after all, the heart of the Christian gospel is that we mess up. We don’t get straight As. We don’t practice piano 3 hours/day. We don’t even practice every day. We squander our opportunities, and we pit ourselves against our neighbor as a competitor rather than fellow child of God. We need a lot of forgiveness, and Jesus graciously offers it, each and every time.

My parents never apologized to me for anything until I was an adult, and only after they both became ardent Jesus freaks also.

I wonder what would Chua think of that?

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