Are Chinese Mothers Better? Three Things we can Learn from Tiger Moms
Have you heard the brouhaha resulting from the recently published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?
Tossing a buzzing beehive into a group of old ladies at a church picnic wouldn’t have caused much more controversy than this book.
The upshot is that Amy Chua, the book’s author, considers Chinese parenting as superior to that of Western parents. She attributes the considerable success of many Chinese children to their mothers’ typical Chinese, rather tyrannical, child-rearing practices. In contrast, she sees Western parenting as lax, lazy and indulgent.
Ms. Chua describes how she followed the path of her own mother, carefully controlling every aspect of her children’s lives. Consider: no play-dates or sleep-overs. No sports, drama or any other “fluff.” No grade lower than an A permitted. Up to six hours a day spent in musical instrument practice. Either achieve the top honor — or receive a cruel tongue-lashing that sometimes even resulted in a child being called “garbage.”
Despite the emotional reaction that you are probably having about now, there are three things we can learn from the “Tiger Mom.”
According to this author, Chinese mothers completely control all aspects of their children’s lives. Don’t we, as Christian homeschooling mothers, tend to do a bit of that? Isn’t that partly why we keep our children home from public school and limit their time with the unruly kids down the block? We want our children to reflect our values instead of “the world’s.”
Although Chinese mothers might be a little over-the-top and we homeschooling moms can be protective to a fault, there is one area we could often be better at controlling. We could be better at managing our time and helping our children better manage theirs.
In our fast-paced culture it is often necessary to say “No” to good things so that we can say “Yes” to better things. We all wear many hats – often too many. If we habitually over-commit ourselves to outside activities, even worthwhile activities, our spiritual life, marriage, family and homeschooling will suffer. (One very helpful book on this subject is called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives)
We can’t be productive all the time and we all need downtime (as much as some of us try to deny it!). As parents, though, we and our children need to steer away from endless hours of TV, video games, unsupervised computer time, etc. and promote more pleasure reading, hobbies, personal intellectual pursuits and service to others. After all, our children learn more from our example than they do from our words.
Helping our children learn by our teaching and our example that their minutes are precious, even the unsupervised, non-school ones, is a gift that will benefit our children all of their lives.
We Ask too Little
One of Chua’s arguments with regard to typical American parenting is that we are too quick to praise our children’s efforts as wonderful – whether or not they actually do a competent job. She feels we are more concerned with our children’s “self-esteem” than we are with teaching them to work hard to accomplish something challenging. Instead, American parents baby their children and treat them as if they are weak.
In contrast, she cites that Chinese mothers treat their children firmly because they believe their children are strong. Pushing them helps them develop into all they can be. In illustration, the book describes a time when the author’s seven year old was forced to practice a song on the piano for an extended period, until it was mastered, without breaks for food or even to use the bathroom. Her older sibling had learned the same song at age seven, so Chua felt her younger child was capable of doing so as well. After copious tears and several hours, the song was mastered. The result was Chua’s daughter deeply felt her accomplishment because of the effort that had been expended.
I certainly don’t agree with the methodology, but I do agree that we sometimes ask too little of our children. I’m speaking from my own experience here. We don’t do our students any favors when we don’t set firm guidelines for how math is to be completed (showing all the steps in Algebra, for example), how papers are to be written and when school work is to be turned in. Our students will have deadlines in college and adults have deadlines all the time, yet it is a documented fact that we homeschoolers tend to be lax in that area.
In fact, during the decade and a half I homeschooled, it seems we have become worse, not better, from what I have seen and heard. A close friend who teaches outside classes to homeschoolers often reports that in the last few years, parents habitually have interceded for their even high school-aged children, asking that they have more time to complete their assignments. This is not when the assignments are given, either – this is after they are already overdue!
The third thing we can learn from the Tiger Mom is something Christian Homeschooling moms don’t want to do – and that is to have academic performance be our top priority.
Our children’s studies are surely important, but not to the extent that their character is sacrificed on the altar of academic superiority.
Instead, we must consistently demonstrate by our actions, our conversations, our teaching and our focus that our relationships and character are the first priority. Our kids are not here to glorify themselves or their parents by their academic achievements, but rather to glorify the One Who made us. The Father cares much more about your children’s hearts than He does about an “A” on the history paper or even a fabulous SAT score.
We have such a wonderful opportunity having our children at home, where we can mentor and disciple them, as well as teaching them the three R’s!
I really don’t have any idea if the author’s ideas about Chinese parenting are typical, but now I am curious! So…did you read the book? Are you a Chinese mom or have you had experience with Chinese parents? I would love to hear comments about what you think!