Is Amy Chua's Chinese Parenting Strategy Good for America?

Filed under: In The News, Opinions

The last time I spoke to my grandmother was early 2000, just after my Chinese mother officially cut her off.

Our relationship was comprised of birthday cards, infrequent holiday visits and reluctant phone calls, forced out of a polite obligation. So when I decided to cut her off out of respect for my mother, there was no love lost. Probably because there was no love there in the first place.

I suppose life would have been different for my mother, a second generation American-born Chinese woman, had she not been born between two "golden" sons. Perhaps the social deprivation and verbal abuse like Amy Chua describes in her recent Wall Street Journal article "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," would have made her wildly successful.

Instead, my mom left home after high school, got married to a raging alcoholic at 19 and was an abused wife and stay-at-home-mom to three children.

A failure by all Chinese accounts.

I was still raised very much in the Chinese "way," with math drills over breakfast, violin practice into the wee hours of the night and a superiority complex masking my own poor self-esteem and need for unconditional acceptance. She, like her own mother, believed that this "Chinese strategy," as Chua coins, would not only prepare me for the future, but also reflect positively on her.

And so I learned that achievement meant acceptance. And acceptance meant love. And so I did everything I could to get it. I skipped two grades, entered college at 15 and eventually became the youngest director of a college music therapy program in the United States.

I also tried and failed at relationships, even a marriage. And I spent way too much money on therapy trying to figure out why I was so insecure, unhappy and emotionally damaged.

For all the violin recitals performed, ballet shows danced and academic honors earned, I felt as though an entire part of me had been completely neglected.

Bach and Balanchine couldn't give me the unconditional love that I needed.

Contrary to Chua's belief, it's possible to raise happy, well-adjusted, high-achieving kids with kindness, love, and respect. We don't need to be their best friends, but we also don't need to berate them. We can allow them the privilege of sleepover parties and school plays, along with enforcing the hours of practice and homework.

While her daughters' achievements, like many children of Chinese parents, are commendable, they are only a small part of what makes them a person. Their story isn't yet finished. And if it's anything like the many Asian Pacific Americans (APA) who have been raised by Chinese mothers, it won't be full of praise for their parenting methods.

The documented high suicide rates and rampant depression amongst APA women in particular, coupled with a lifelong resentment -- not just for the perpetrating parent, but for the passive one, who stood by and allowed their voice of reason to be muted -- hardly make a happily ever after.

What piece will these girls be playing? What will happen after the curtain closes?

Parenting is as equally invigorating as it is frustrating. It can make you laugh and weep, sending you right to the edge of insanity and drawing you right back within one singular moment.

There is no how-to manual, no proven theorem, no set of guidelines. No recipes to follow or checklists to monitor.

That's why the "Chinese way" is so fantastic for computer software, plastic toys and cars.

But for raising humans?

I'm not sure it's worth the price they'll pay when their kids cut them off.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.