Chua, a Yale law professor and mother of two, stirred the pot when she decided to explain why Chinese mothers are superior: they demand excellence from their children, regardless of the cost. Their extremely strict (from the Western world's perspective) style of parenting means no sleep overs, no play dates, nothing less than straight A's, no school plays, no TV, no computer, blah, blah. You get the idea. She also forces her children to practice the piano and violin (ONLY the piano and violin; no flutists welcome in this house) for three hours a day and once rejected a handmade birthday card from her daughter as she believed the little girl didn't put enough effort into it.
Ms. Chua feels as though Western parents coddle their children. I'm not a big fan of the Culture of Self-Esteem (i.e. "Everybody gets a trophy!") either, but calling your kid a fatty? To his face? To inspire weight loss? Well, that's just cruel.
Chua goes on to say that Western parents worry too much about their children's self-esteem. She also said that Chinese parents believe their kids owe them everything, and that they know what is best for their children, therefore overriding all of their children's own desires and preferences. They believe they operate from a model of strength, meaning they can criticize and shame their children because their children can handle it. It helps them find their true potential.
Tiffany wanted to hear my thoughts on the article, and just as I was about to hit reply, it occurred to me that this is a great blog topic.
So my personal opinion on this lady: she's crazy.
My professional opinion? She's still crazy.
I mean, I get it. I understand that she wants her children to be successful. And I'm guessing she is 100% effective: her children are going to be, and have already been, at the top of their fields. This is a classic example of "does the end justify the means?" kind of question. But the lingering concern that I have is...to what end?
These little Tiger cubs, aka her daughters, are going to be grown one day. And if they attend college in the Western world and live on-campus, it's going to take them all of 12 minutes to figure out all the stuff they missed out on growing up, and an additional 4 minutes to rebel against their overly-critical, judgmental, cruel, and now-absent, mother. And in college, this translates to three things: boys, booze, and academic probation. Tiger Mom better be careful or she may end up as a Tiger Grandmother sooner than she would like. Beer bong for the lady?
Rebellion aside, my little Western brain also has to ask...just because they are successful, does that mean they are happy? And I can tell you: no. Not at all. I have yet to work with the extremely happy, unsuccessful client. No one ever came through my doors and said, "I am so eff-ing happy, but I just can't seem to get a promotion at work." Yet while I was in practice, my schedule was full of extremely successful, extremely unhappy people. Yes, success does breed happiness, but they are not dependent on one another. Success at the expense of happiness is going to yield just that: success without happiness. And yes, you can be happy without being the most successful, the most wealthy, and the highest-achieving person you know. In fact, there's a good chance you won't be happy with that level of success, since it breeds bad feelings from others. Ever heard, "it's lonely at the top?"
And while Tiger Mom deliberately keeps her children out of sports, school plays, and any other activity that would foster positive relationships with others, the biggest complaint I heard as a therapist was, "I'm having trouble with my [inset name of spouse, co-worker, family member, neighbor]." It's a fact that a person's happiness is directly correlated to their relationships with others. Human beings - whether Chinese, American, Irish, Korean, or African - are social creatures. Our happiness comes through interactions - positive, meaningful interactions - with other humans beings. Wanna be happy? Seek out meaningful relationships with other people.
(that will be $125, please.)
Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that the world is not built on achievement alone. Being successful at the piano or math is a great accomplishment, but success is just one type of "good feelings." What about the feeling that comes from helping another person? You can't coerce compassion into a child. You cannot force empathy. Emotional maturity, not just academic learning, is necessary for the well-rounded individual.
And if I had to pick, I would choose happiness over success any day of the week. Period. Because happy people are much more likely to be successful, but the opposite does not necessarily hold true.
Back to parenting, though. Somehow I've managed to weave in that pesky Western ideal we call happiness into this argument, and if you are a true collectivist, like the Tiger Mom, that doesn't mean much.
For me, it comes down to this: the ultimate sign of a good parent is the type of relationship do you, the parents, maintain with your ADULT child (or children). Not what the child reports while they are still in the house, but what they feel and remember when they are adults. And consequently, adult kids will treat their parents as such. The adult child no longer needs their parents for shelter, food, or those basic things. Now, the relationship is all about want; do I want you in my life? What do you bring to my life? Do you respect me as an adult - and by that, I mean do you respect the fact that I am my own person, and not a clone of you? I can make my own decisions, form my own opinions, and be who I am, whether you agree with that or not? The successful parents are the ones who adapt to this and find ways to connect to their children even when their children don't need them. The unsuccessful ones are the ones who eventually become estranged.
Reading the article, I couldn't help but look at Scotty and think about his future. I will say, pre-kids, I had a very different mentality. Now with him here, I realize my biggest goal for him is to protect him from danger, and send him off into the world as emotionally and academically prepared as I can. And then - it's his life. If he wants to be a garbage man (which is looking like a distinct possibility at this point), he should - as long as it makes him happy. If he wants to hang out with his friends during high school - and they are not doing anything dangerous or illegal - you know what? He should. That's normal and developmentally appropriate. He's not "mine" is the possessive sense; he's himself. My whole job as a parent is help him be, well, him. And I want to do what I can to allow him to be as much of him as he can be.
So that's my battle hymn, as a Bear mother. Go off into the world. Be yourself, be happy, and most of all, be kind to other people.
(or is that Jerry Springer? Crap, I think I watched too much TV growing up. Thanks, Mom.)