January 13, 2011

When the Tigers Broke Free

Pink Floyd, The Final Cut 1983

Listen up, yesterday's post was tongue-in-cheek -- a sarcastic romp via a superhighway of parody.  If you would like to read an actual thought-provoking response to the Amy Chua article, then I highly recommend poking over into Faiqa's place, where she talks about her own experiences growing up in a household set with high expectations.

Do I think all Indian men are spoiling their kids rotten?  Nope.  Do I know a mega ton of Indian parents who have spoiled their children in the early years, only to crack the educational and behavioral whip in the later years?  You betcha.  And that was sort of my point.  Kind of.

Yes, it is true that I believe Manoj to be way too lenient with our kids.  It is most certainly true that he rolled his eyes at Arun's chore chart and that he snorts (with vigor!) at my suggestion we get Arun on a soccer team.  We do disagree a bit about how best to raise our kids, but we find our common ground.  The chore chart still hangs, whereas Arun has yet to join a soccer team (and probably never will, because we agree it would be fun, albeit not important.)  However, I would not be surprised if later on, my kids are shocked to learn that their IIT, Ivy League educated father will not back down when it comes to academic achievement.  Will an "A-" or a "B" be good enough for Manoj?  Time will tell.

Better enjoy those raw sugar packs now, kiddies.  The end is nigh.

Some of Amy Chua's article did not surprise me - I went through a "Chinese author" spate of reading a few years back and have read everything Amy Tan has written, in addition to some other Chinese authors.  Kitchen God's Wife, anyone?  Her descriptions of Chinese Mothering were fairly spot on, from what I have read in the past.

However, a few things DID surprise me about Amy Chua's article. First, I knew Chua from a previous book, World on Fire  so  I was mildly surprised to see a professional such as herself reveal such personal, intimate details of her parenting style, perhaps not realizing how awful some of them would make her appear.  Or maybe she did know.  Maybe that was the point, to stir controversy.

I was also surprised to the extent with which her husband disagreed with her, yet she still continued when some of her actions.  Yikes.

And while I was not surprised at the blanket outrage towards the article, I was surprised how few folks gave any credence whatsoever towards some of the things Chua had to say.  In fact, Faiqa's post is incredibly valuable in this because she does validate, in part, a small piece of what Chua was trying to achieve while still expressing concern in Chua's method of delivery.  And one important bit really concerned me - all parents do not want the same things for their children.  I know some folks truly believe that participating in a sport activity is critical to their child's development (personally, I do not.)  Also,  I read a blogger who is going to pack her kids up in an RV for a year and travel the country.  While I am actually excited to read about their adventures, I would not want this for my own children.  However, I do not judge her for this because those are her children and she wants different things for them. Different does not mean wrong.

Or superior, for that matter.

When Manoj and I argue about disciplining our kids, he asks me "Why are you so hard on them?"  My answer is ALWAYS this:
"Because if I don't expect 100% from them, no one else will.  No one else cares about their success like I do."  

Oh sure, my kids will come across teachers here and there who form a vested interest in their success, but seriously - the world at large will not weep too many tears if my kids end up academic and/or professional failures.

I do not talk about my paternal grandmother much here.  I really should, because most of my readers have no idea how incredibly central she has been (and still is) to my life.  She spoiled us with toys and clothes when we were young, but she had strict behavioral and academic standards  -- we were expected to follow them.  She also helped pay for part of our college education, so there were some financial strings attached as well (which was absolutely fair because it was HER money.)  Growing up and through my 20s, I desperately wanted her approval and I never felt like I got it.  Finally, when I was 30, I understood.  She loved me but I had to accept the fact that I would never completely be the sort of person she wanted me to be.  And that it was okay because she still loved me.  Now that I am older, I appreciate that she did not coddle me and tell me something was okay, when it really was not.  

Most importantly, I also appreciate that she was my grandmother, which is a slightly removed relationship from a parent.  I cannot imagine living in that sort of environment with a parent.

Chua's article (and book? which I will never read) provides some good topics for discussion, I wish more folks would loosen their defenses, hop off the mind-numbing bandwagon, and really think.

Okay, I need to publish this and get back to work.  This Prairie Dog Mother really needs to research how to get past Mugley's Mound in Donkey Kong Country.


Anjali said...

Well written post.

Five or so years ago, if I had read Chua's piece, I would had a really strong reaction to it. Back then, I thought how one parented greatly influenced how that kid turned out. I would have blasted her for being too harsh on her kids.

But now that my oldest is 9, I've come to believe that very little of what parents do make a difference in how the kids turn out. Of course, one should love their kids and care for them. But I've seen how much my kids' personalities and their peers influence who they are becoming. And I honestly can't fault other parents for doing things their own way.

Jenny said...

I started to comment here, but then decided to move it over to my own blog so that I could ramble even more. :)


And, we need to meet for wine soon, woman.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I think details like throwing her kid's birthday card back at her etc. should be divorced from the education-oriented things. I've read some blogs that claim that Asians are saying that Americans don't have high expectations of their kids or make them follow through etc., and this is a point I feel Chua did not develop as well (from what I've read). In my experience, which is South Asian, you simply do not have as much freedom of choice, period, because it is expected that your parents have a "say" in your future career, spouse etc. Even today, if I felt like my parents' objections to a partner was based on *valid* concerns (not race), I would probably end the relationship. My parents' concerns about me pursuing non-financially rewarding careers is what basically pushed me into careers that pay more (on average).

All that said, aside from some teenage and post-college angst, I never felt like I was unloved, or my parents were repeatedly rejecting things I made etc. On the other hand, wow, we are a family of screamers and while my parents have never laid a finger on me, there were some crazy screechey moments in our past.

On the other hand, on her Today show appearance she made a series of ridiculous remarks, like white people (and let's face it, she means white people) are okay with their kids getting pregnant and doing drugs. This, I think, was probably for controversy, and I think the book is also written for controversy, which takes away from some of the more academic/sociological questions about how the family structure contributes to the "model minorities'" success in the United States, and what elements could be blended with the more individualistic American culture (which I also believe has merit). Plus, I believe going on TV and making blanket statements like all Americans are permissive and okay with letting their kids get preggo is plain awful. She should know better.

Olivia said...

I take away from her article was that it was indeed intended to inflame readers. Like Monkey mentioned, her characterization that all white parents are lazy and raising horrible, lazy, loser kids can only be interpreted that way.

That said, the one thing I agree with on is the idea that it is okay to encourage our children to not quit something as soon as it become difficult. However, her methods are absolutely vile, and I would never purposely set out to shame my children into doing anything.

My own parenting philosophy is that yes, parents have a vested interest in seeing their children suceed and not make devistating mistakes, but we also need to remember we have created individuals who deserve respect as much as the next person.

Swistle said...

I really liked the way you put this. I think the part that's going to stick with me is what you said about parents not all wanting the same things for their children. It reminds me (and this is going to seem like a bit of a strange thing for it to remind me of, but stay with me) of the other day when Paul said he'd been giving us the more expensive cheese at dinner and giving the kids the less-expensive because they don't know the difference---but then he realized that if he gives them what we like NOW, that's what they'll think of as normal LATER, so we'll have more in common with them and they'll think we're right, wheeee! The point being, we bring up our kids with the stuff we find important: team playing, RV travel, yummy cheese.

luckyfatima said...

i didn't like the stereotypes in that article about American parents, either. I think on Sepia Mutiny, commenter Razib pointed out that since huge numbers of people in South Asia are actually illiterate, it is really only a certain elite type of person from a specific background in South Asia who is going to have this family experience anyway, certainly not all Americans are underachievers and definitely not all South Asians are academic geniuses.

I do see some benefits to seeking out the best schools and encouraging academic success in my kids, but I would never want to do it in a belligerent way. Maybe some of the kids who get that are going to be Drs and lawyers, but too many are going to rebel on purpose.