Chinese vs. Western Parenting
January 11, 2011
by Kate Goodin
© Photo Courtesy of Penguin Press
Over the weekend a piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua about the virtues of Chinese parenting versus Western parenting, excerpted from Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. "Chinese" is not meant to refer to just that ethnicity -- rather, it describes the type of person who follows it (there are mothers of Chinese heritage who don't follow Chinese parenting methods, and Western moms who do).
Chinese mothers are extremely strict and expect nothing but the best from their children -- and they let them know it, in no uncertain terms. For example, here's a list of things Chua's children were not allowed to do, from her article:
- 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
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin
Chua also describes a scene in which she tells her then-7-year-old daughter Lulu to stop being "lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic" when Lulu failed to master a tricky piano piece. This scene epitomizes Chua's description of Chinese parenting: heavy importance on rote repetition, settling for nothing less than perfection, and no qualms over pulling out every "weapon and tactic" to get it. When her Western husband Jed pulled her aside and asked her stop insulting Lulu, Chua wrote that she wasn't -- she was "just motivating her." In the end, though, the child got it down pat and performed it successfully at a recital.
In high school, I had a friend who had a Chinese parent. She'd tell me how her mother would call her ugly, or stupid if she got an A minus. I couldn't understand that, based on my own Western mother, who always told me how smart and pretty I was. And I couldn’t tell if my friend was upset by what her mother said, or if she viewed it in a more matter-of-fact way. But we were both top students. Both went on to good colleges. And we were both brought up under very different parenting styles.
This gives much food for thought on what's probably one of our society's most provocative topic: How parents raise their children. Whose happiness matters. What happiness even means. What's best for children. Who can choose what’s best. It's one of Chua's final lines from her excerpt that sums it up best: "Many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that." Even if you don't agree with Chua's parenting, her article is a truly thought-provoking read and provides a real window into how other parents think.
Chua also appeared on the Today Show to defend her article. She admits there are moments that she’s not proud of, but said that if she had to do it all over again, she’d do it mostly the same with small adjustments. She also expands on the philosophy of Chinese parenting, which gives context to her book excerpt:
How do you feel about Chinese versus Western parenting? Do you follow a certain style?