24 January 2011

Amy Chua: "I Am Not a Witch, er, Monster"

Not a witch, er, monster, Amy? Legions of angry western mothers and children of a Tiger mother upbringing say that you are a monster. Some have even threatened your life.

Time magazine decided to get to the root of the issue by visiting Amy Chua in her gargoyle-adorned New Haven mock-Tudor mansion. Amy tries to set the record straight:
The first thing Chua wants you to know is that she is not a monster. "Everything I do as a mother builds on a foundation of love and compassion," she says. Love and compassion, plus punishingly high expectations: this is how Chua herself was raised. Though her parents are ethnically Chinese, they lived for many years in the Philippines and immigrated to America two years before Chua was born. Chua and her three younger sisters were required to speak Chinese at home; for each word of English they uttered, they received a whack with a pair of chopsticks. On the girls' report cards, only A's were acceptable. When Chua took her father to an awards assembly at which she received second prize, he was furious. "Never, ever disgrace me like that again," he told her.

...Some react to an exceedingly strict household by becoming permissive parents, but not Chua. When she had children of her own, she resolved to raise them the same way. "I see my upbringing as a great success story," she says. "By disciplining me, my parents inculcated self-discipline. And by restricting my choices as a child, they gave me so many choices in my life as an adult. Because of what they did then, I get to do the work I love now." Chua's path to her profession was not a straight one — she tried out the premed track and a major in economics before settling on law school — but it was made possible, she says, by the work ethic her parents instilled.

All the same, Chua recognizes that her parents' attitudes were shaped by experiences very different from her own. Her mother and father endured severe hardship under the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; later they had to make their way in a new country and a new language. For them, security and stability were paramount. "They didn't think about children's happiness," Chua says. "They thought about preparing us for the future." But Chua says her children's happiness is her primary goal; her intense focus on achievement is simply, she says, "the vehicle" to help them find, as she has, genuine fulfillment in a life's work.

...From the beginning, Chua's second daughter was nothing like her obedient sister. As a fetus, she kicked — hard. As an infant, she screamed for hours every night. And as a budding teenager she refused to get with her mother's academic and extracurricular program. In particular, the two fought epic battles over violin practice: " 'all-out nuclear warfare' doesn't quite capture it," Chua writes. Finally, after a screaming, glass-smashing, very public showdown, the tiger mother admitted defeat: "Lulu," she said, "you win. It's over. We're giving up the violin." Not long after, Chua typed the first words of her memoir — not as an exercise in maternal bravado but as an earnest attempt to understand her daughters, her parents and herself.

That was a year and a half ago. Today, Chua has worked out some surprising compromises with her children. Sophia can go out on dates and must practice the piano for an hour and a half each day instead of as many as six hours. Lulu is allowed to pursue her passion for tennis. (Her mother's daughter, she's become quite good at the sport, making the high school varsity team — "the only junior high school kid to do so," as Chua can't help pointing out.) And Chua says she doesn't want to script her children's futures. "I really don't have any particular career path in mind for Sophia and Lulu, as long as they feel passionate about it and give it their best." As her girls prepare to launch themselves into their own lives — Sophia goes off to college next fall — Chua says she wouldn't change much about the way she raised them. Perhaps more surprising, her daughters say they intend to be strict parents one day too — though they plan to permit more time with friends, even the occasional sleepover. _more at Time

Each child is different. The children of different cultures are often different from children of other cultures. East Asian infants, for example, are typically far more compliant from the time of birth (and before) than European or African infants. This relative lack of defiance by very young East Asian children toward their parents has a great deal to do with how much influence parents can have on their children. More defiant and independent children of European and African parents allow their guardians much less leeway in the moulding of their lives' shapes.

Chua's children are half European Jew and half Chinese, which allows for some interesting sorting of the genes which influence behaviour. Lulu being very different from Sophia -- and more like a European child in terms of independence and defiance -- should not be a big surprise to observers of behavioural genetics. Sexual reproduction is something of a crap shoot. Viva la diversity.

As far as westerners' defensive reactions to Chua's book, it is past time for western parents to dispassionately examine the results of hyper-lenient, over-pampering, and neglectful childraising practises. Children cannot raise themselves nor provide themselves with needed competencies on their own. Particularly in the earlier years, parents need to sacrifice some of their own leisure time -- and perhaps some potential income -- in order to instill competencies and earned confidence into the child.

The Tiger Mother way is not appropriate for every child. Even Amy Chua modified her approach over time -- as anyone who had read her book would have known. But the neglectful and over-sheltering approach of the modern PC western world is a travesty that needs to be called out -- over and over again.

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Blogger Ugh said...

By her standards myself and my children are abysmal failures. Thank God those are her standards. I'm not saying that she or those who admire her are wrong, not at all. But I personally couldn't live like that. My kids are imperfect - I am imperfect. Do I wish I had used some of Chua's method's? Yes, I was too easy on my kids, they got the love and compassion part but not the high expectations. Did it ruin their lives? Well, I'm not sure what I can do about it now.

Monday, 24 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Craig, you would have needed to have been born Chinese yourself, and to have married a Chinese woman, for the Tiger Mother approach to work for you and your wife. ;-)

Chua's youngest sister has Down's syndrome. Chua's mother took the same general approach with her -- insisting she do her best, whatever it might be. Perhaps as a result, the sister is functioning at a higher level than most trisomy 21 persons of her age.

I don't see it as being too easy or too hard. Instead it is a matter of parents devoting their valuable time to meeting the child's needs and helping them achieve powerful competencies.

Different children have different needs, and different potentials. Most parents -- even the fiercest Tiger Mothers -- cannot help their children reach their best potential. It simply isn't in us for many reasons.

Best not to dwell on our inevitable shortcomings which couldn't be helped. If the children were loved and given opportunities to find their strengths, that is generally enough.

Some of us are naturally hard cases, however. With us, parents haven't got a prayer of shaping our lives.

Monday, 24 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Al fin, as you pointed out previously, the key issue is self-esteem having value independent of competence and accomplishment. This is the core issue that Amy Chua has brought up that all of her detractors refuse to acknowledge. Many Americans seem intend on defending this pathology.

Monday, 24 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Kurt: The dogma of PC egalitarian faux multiculturalism is the official doctrine of "official top-down US culture." It is the gospel in K-12, in university, at corporate human resources departments, inside government bureaucracies at all levels, in the newsmedia and mainstream quasi-intellectual thought... Which means that "everybody deserves to feel self-esteem just by breathing, but especially members of oppressed and disadvantaged groups."

Achievement, competence, and exceptionality are relegated to the dustbin along with discipline, courage, and self-reliant ambition.

Amy Chua went beyond the pale, as far as the PC Thought Police was concerned -- and all the members of the auxiliary, unpaid thought police who unconsciously do most of the PCTP's work for them.

Monday, 24 January, 2011  
Blogger kurt9 said...

Al fin: thats my point. Anyone who is dumb enough to believe in the official PC ideology deserves to be screwed up the wazzu six ways from Sunday. Its only a matter to make sure that people like us do not get screwed along with such idiots.

Monday, 24 January, 2011  
Blogger Ugh said...

Thanks Al, for the encouraging words.

I think my reaction is a bit of a defense mechanism because I know my wife and I failed our children in some critical ways. Having both been brought up in dysfunctional alcoholic families we had so little to go on as we became parents ourselves. Our major failing was not challenging/demanding more of the kids to excel and work hard. We left it to teaching by example as my wife and I both work very hard and dive into our passions head first.

Tuesday, 25 January, 2011  
Blogger al fin said...

Kurt: Your earlier comment was apt. Forgive me if I am sometimes moved to expand on a comment, forgetting to acknowledge its perspicacity first.

As for people who get caught in PC dogma, unfortunately that is all that large segments of the population ever know. I never try to persuade them away from their viewpoint. It is only my intent to introduce a bit of cognitive dissonance within the complacent passively acquired delusional system.

Craig: It is a parent's job to fail his children in at least a few critical ways. How else can the child come to feel superior to the parent?

Tuesday, 25 January, 2011  
Blogger gtg723y said...

StaticNoise: You are the biggest influence on your children seeing you set a good example is one of the most influential thing you could have done. There are other things you can do as well, but pushing your children to the point that she pushed hers is not necessary. Think if she had let Lulu quit the violin in pursuit of tennis sooner, perhaps Lulu would have been even better than she is now. Its about teaching your children to dig deep and push themselves, to make sacrifices in pursuit of what they love.

Being a parent isn't about raising a happy child. Being a parent is about raising a healthy, well adjusted, self sufficient adult. The best way to do this is to teach your children to do for themselves, no matter how inconvenient it is for you.

What does forcing your child to do something they hate for three hours teach a child. That life sometimes forces you to do things you would rather not but you have to suck it up and do your best anyway? Your child will learn that no matter what you do.

Tuesday, 25 January, 2011  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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