Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Matter of Parenting Style

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, a WSJ excerpt from Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, has generated a heated online discussion on various forms of parenting style. Most comments, at WSJ Comments tab for the article and elsewhere, are very critical of the stereotypical Chinese parenting style for its strictness and single mindedness in pursuit of excellence. However, after reading a review of the book, it seems to me that the book itself is much more nuanced and and is more about the author's personal experience of raising two daughters and learning what works and what doesn't along the way. The same is evident from her responses to readers questions where she doesn't come out as the hated mom one would imagine by just reading the title or even the whole excerpt. I believe she isn't really trying to justify or promote the style described in the excerpt but just telling the story of how she was. Perhaps later parts of the book talk about what worked and what didn't.

Stereotypical Chinese style of parenting, as defined in the article, by the way, is not without its merits, especially when practiced within limits and coupled with genuine love and understanding. Of course, not everyone is going to agree with this. But one thing is clear -- emotions run strong among believers and non-believers. The positive-negative online comments on the excerpt and the 50-50 split between 5 and 1 starred Amazon reviews indicate as much.

Leaving aside the controversy and apparent clash with western values and parenting style, I think this discussion does bring the idea of parenting and its relationship with education to a society much obsessed with its education system alone. Parents play a very critical role in development of their children, either directly by approving or disapproving specific behavior or by being a role model and creating a learning environment at home. This is equally, if not more, important in raising children who are going to better prepared to face the world and compete with the best.

Updated on Jan. 18, 2011: The WSJ published another article last Saturday titled In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom by Ms. Ayelet Waldman, reflecting the intense interest generated by Amy Chua's book excerpt, and talking about a more relaxed and carefree parenting style. Ms. Waldman is author of book Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. I think most parents, even the Indian and Chinese ones, are more like Ms. Waldman than Ms. Chua, but could easily wear a different hat. In fact, here is the excerpt that I liked most from Ms. Waldman's article:
Roaring like a tiger turns some children into pianists who debut at Carnegie Hall but only crushes others. Coddling gives some the excuse to fail and others the chance to succeed. Amy Chua and I both understand that our job as mothers is to be the type of tigress that each of our different cubs needs.

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