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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chinese Mothers: No Catering Allowed.

Amy Chua - Harvard Professor, Author, and Chinese Mom
As I have written before I am married to Anthropological Mom.

Over the weekend I saw an article in the WSJ: Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.  The author, Amy Chua, describes her anthropological child rearing methods:

- No sleepovers, parties, camp, TV, computer games, getting less than an A, and so on.

- Insulting and/or belittling their kids when they deserve it.

- Use what by today's Western standards would be considered abusive physical or verbal coercion.

- Expecting their child to excel.

Not that long ago this was the standard model for child rearing in the USA as well - for example, when I was a child.  Our parents in those days were not nearly as strict in terms of some areas - we could, for example, watch TV after our chores were completed - but for the most part these rules stood.

If I had a penny for every time a childhood friend said "man, I can't do that, if my old man found out..." I would be a billionaire. 

In my day the "old man" meant business. 

If you lived on the farm as many of my friends did you spent your life working on the farm until you were old enough to leave (16, 17, 18 - depended on the kid's maturity level), get married or become one of the old man's partners.  No one cared if you didn't like it because if you didn't do your jobs and chores the family would starve - and it would all be on your head.

If you misbehaved and he found out you got a "beating".  The nature of a "beating" varied but it was not pleasant and was often added to anything dished out at school.

You weren't expected to be number one in the class or get all A's, but you were required to get "good grades" - again this varied by circumstances.

When you screwed up in front of the old man you were likely a "%$@## idiot" or a "dumb @##".  The old man was unafraid to express his true opinion in your presence.

Unlike Amy Chua the "old man" never sat around making you learn the song on the piano.  If he was paying for lessons you damn well better take them and seriously.  It didn't matter as much to him what became of your piano skills afterward - so long as you followed the program and took the spending of his hard earned money seriously.

There were no sleepovers in those days unless you were a girl - and then it was still rare.  You might have some friends over on a birthday, but again that was a rare event.

The old man didn't care much about your self esteem - that was your job.  You knew where you fit into the world based on what you were and what you had offered to you.  No one spent much time worry about having things - no one had things like computers, video games, and the like.  The old man made sure you had a ball and glove, or whatever was appropriate for your sport.  You had three squares, a bed, school, and chores. 

You learned to get along with bullies or you got beat.  Bullies were different in those days because there was still honor - if you whipped the bully he acknowledged it and gave you respect.  If you lost you were welcome to try again any time.

The bully didn't detract from you self esteem - he was a challenge to self improvement.  Your self esteem was intact no matter what happened unless you trashed it by running from a fight, ratting out your best pal, and so forth.

Today's children are so confused about themselves and their self esteem that they cannot deal with reality - reality like the fact that that there are and always will be bullies.  While adults can pretend they don't exist the child is smart enough to see that they do.

I wonder what this confusion does for the child's self esteem?

The Chinese Mother story is really the same story of what the US was like in the 1950's and 1960's - which was probably like everywhere else in the world in terms of child raising.

Here in the USA we have given up our adult lives to become children.  No one wants to make little Johnny "feel bad" about himself so we, as they used to say, "cater" to him.  Now, like Chinese Mothers, no one should be "catering" to anybody - particularly children.

Just last night my friend used the expression about his dog.  "Those damn kids cater to that dog by letting it in and out all the time so pretty soon the dog expects to be let in and out on its own schedule."

Thank God that some people still get it.

Without "catering" we all know our place - we may not like it - but at least we know what it is.

Once the "catering" begins all bets are off - your destiny is no longer set by you but by the "caterer" - who ever that may be.

Take my friend's dog for example, the dog is actually training the kids when to let it in and out.

Now who is in charge?  The kids or the dog?

And so it has gone on since the 1970's when whiny adult children set out to "change the world" and "make it a beautiful place".  Sadly today's modern Western society is today nothing but "catering".  Catering to every conceivable special interest group, minority, majority, interest, whim, religion, lack of religion, you name it.

Is the world now a better place than it was in 1970?

It is for the Chinese Moms. 

Their kids are succeeding where ours are now failing and falling behind.

So much for "changing the world" - making our selves second rate and mediocre - taking ourselves from a position of leadership to "has beens".

But at least we can feel good about ourselves as we slide relentlessly from our current world of mediocrity to complete abysmal failure as a culture and society.

And sure, a lot of Asian and Indian cultures stress the same principles and hard work as we once did.  But we also had creativity which the "old man" was never concerned about.  If you wanted it bad enough - what ever it was - you had to convince him.  He didn't cater to your ideas and dreams but he would respect them if they earned and deserved it.  Of course this is evidenced by the fact that in the olden days you "grew up and left home" because you needed to prove yourself - unlike today where you simply "never grow up or leave home".

And one more thing.  Amy Chua is not writing this article to ask for your forgiveness or to cleanse her soul for past wrongs against her children.  Chinese Moms will continue to expect their children to excel without concern of their Western self esteem.

Does this mean their children will always be the smartest children or the most creative?

Its hard to say. 

The Chinese culture has been around for 5,000 year or so, about twenty five times longer than ours here in the US and about ten times longer than most European cultures - twice as long as western culture in general.

Freedom and creativity can buy you a lot - look at the progress made here in the west during the last two hundred or so years. 

But we're still a flash in the pan compared to most Asian cultures.

I think Amy Chua just doesn't want us to drop the ball.


BYB said...

Great blog. I read the article too. My husband vehemently disagreed with the author. I felt that there is probably a middle ground there and I think you hit the nail on the head.

I, too, grew up on a farm with very little money. We were taught if you wanted a better life, you better study, work hard and get out there and find it. That's what I did. I drove myself to do well because I wanted a better life.

Now I find myself spoiling my children and giving in to their every little whim. I appreciate the way I turned out and the way I was raised for the most part, so what happened?

I don't know the answer but I do think it is in part laziness. It's a whole lot easier to let my kids play video, watch tv or play on the computer as I work at home during the day and finish household chores in the evening.

From where will my children get their drive to succeed? It won't be from lack of clothes, food or toys.

I think what really struck a chord in readers is their own guilt at having fallen short -- very short! We aren't very good parents any more. We are merely providers. I do feel we will pay eventually.

Todd R. Kueny, Sr. said...

We will pay when we retire...

The nice Chinese family will take care of their elders... The American family will send them to a home where no one cares while they spend their money.