Tiger Mom: Too Strict or Loving Parent?
Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has been making waves recently. In her book, Chua describes the differences between the Western way of parenting and the Chinese methodology. Raised by Chinese immigrants, she set out to raise her daughters the same way: high expectations with no room for error.
As Chua details her public insults, her strict music practice schedule and the unbending rules that include no television, sleepovers or playdates that her daughters were raised with, I can imagine the American mothers cringing in horror. The thought of calling their daughters "fat" or telling them they're "garbage" in a room full of people probably doesn't resonate well with them. However, Chua insists these differences are all with the same intention of doing what's best for their children.
In her Wall Street Journal piece, Chua ends with, "Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."
Pushing her daughters to practice three hours a day even on vacation and not accepting anything less than perfect grades in school, Amy Chua raised a piano prodigy, Sophia, who played Carnegie Hall at age 14, and a talented violinist, Louisa. Her screaming matches with the girls and threats to give away toys should they not reach perfection are told honestly and with the suggestion that such parenting will create accomplished children and their happiness will come through those accomplishments.
Personally, I probably fall somewhere in the middle between Chua's "Western parent" and her "Chinese parent." I want my children to strive for excellence at everything they do. Just last year I insisted that my daughter finish with violin lessons until the school year was over, despite her whines over how much she disliked the class and the instructor. I wanted her to know that just because something wasn't immediately pleasant, it did not give her reason to quit or back out. In fact, she practiced more the last few months of school than she did the first months, as I wanted to show her that being prepared and armed with the tools to succeed can help ease some of that discomfort she was experiencing.
I try to teach my kids that not everything in life is going to be happy-go-lucky. Sometimes there will be disappointments and situations they don't like, be it difficult math problems or an unreasonable boss. They need to know how to deal with them rather than run away from them, to rise above and be successful in what they set out to do.
The difference for me, though, is that as my children are still experiencing things for the first time and exploring the world, I want to encourage them to pursue the dreams they have for themselves, not only the dreams I have for them. This meant that after my daughter fulfilled what she set out to do to the best of her ability when she signed up to play in the school orchestra for a year, I allowed her to try a new instrument the following year.
It's those choices and allowances, though, that Chua categorizes as "Western parenting." Is there harm in allowing children to make those choices, to experience the world and not have their lives dictated to them? Are the typical Western parents too lenient and walking on too many egg shells, giving praise for "mediocre performances" so as not to bruise their child's self-esteem as Chua suggests? On the other hand, what are the repercussions for raising children without choices and without experiencing the world around them?
In the game of life and parenting, it seems there should be several levels of middle ground between the two extremes that Chua describes, as we all try to do what we perceive as best for our children.