Thursday, 20 January 2011

More Ramblings on Chinese Mothering

Since my last post on Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, the debate has been raging in the United States on Amy Chua's new book.  One blogger at Seattle Pi speaks positively about how western parents could learn from Chua's approach:

I'm not advocating cutting out all play dates and forcing your kids to play piano and violin in lieu of sports, but I do believe that there is a large core of truth in her approach. Assuming greatness in your child and teaching them to reach for the stars, rather than being praised for the barest of efforts makes sense.
This is similar to how I see it.  Can't we draw the good from this style of parenting rather than jumping on the judgment bandwagon?  Take the best and leave the rest, as they say?

Others have come out negatively.  Dr. AnnMaria de Mars, who posted last week on Why American Mothers are Superior, quipped:
Dr. Chua is raising her children to fit into the Ivy League mold.
Me, I’m raising my children to be themselves and to mold the world to fit them.
Dr. Chua insists that parents have misunderstood her point, and explains herself more fully this week in a Wall Street Journal blog:
Jokes about A+s and gold medals aside (much of my book is tongue-in-cheek, making fun of myself), I don’t believe that grades or achievement is ultimately what Chinese parenting (at least as I practice it) is really about. I think it’s about helping your children be the best they can be—which is usually better than they think! It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else—even more than they believe in themselves
It's the last part that's hard.  How do you get your child to understand that she can do something when she is convinced that she can't or that, if she can, it's not worth the effort.  I would love to teach the Bambina, age 6, to tie her shoelaces.  That's going to be a hard task here in Madagascar because she doesn't even where shoes with laces most of the time - just sandals or even flip-flops.  Getting her to care enough about learning to tie shoelaces by herself is going to be difficult.  Yet I think she is capable of it and I know that if she did learn, she would be proud of her achievement.

David Brooks of the New York Times raises another important point that I haven't seen articulated as well in any other critique of Dr. Chua's parenting approach.  In an Op-Ed, he accuses Dr. Chua of being "a wimp" because she refused to let her daughters navigate the complicated terrain of girls' sleepovers:
Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.
Brooks goes on to write:

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.
This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table.
I agree with this, which is why even though I draw a lot from what I have read about Dr. Chua's way of parenting, I can't see myself limiting my kids exposure to the social scene as much as Chua did.  

That being said, I don't think that sleepovers are the be-all-and-and-all of the pubescent social experience.  And sometimes, the sleepover scene can also be damaging to a girl's self esteem - if she is made to do things that she normally wouldn't do, made fun of, or just left out.   

At the end of the day, there probably isn't one way just like there isn't one child.  I like the idea of parenting a child to be a free spirit, western style.  I also like the idea of setting high standards for my child letting my child know that yes, she can do it.   Both western and Eastern approaches can make a contribution to a good parenting style.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Why Chinese Mothers are Superior

I just caught this article by Amy Chua in the Wall Street Journal.  The article is actually an excerpt from Amy Chua's new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Here are some things that the writer says her children were not allowed to do:

  • have a playdate
  • be in a school play
  • complain about not being in a school play
  • not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin 
  • not play the piano or violin 
This list looks pretty different from standard western parenting practices.  Chua goes on to say:
"It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model."
Ever since the Bambina started elementary school last September, I have pretty much let her take it at her own pace when it comes to learning to read.  She hasn't started getting written homework yet but she is supposed to do about 15 minutes of reading per evening.  Well, I've pretty much ignored this dictum, because I couldn't be bothered harassing her about it after school, because I've never been a big fan of homework anyway and because I wanted reading ultimately to be something the Bambina just feels like doing for leisure and not a chore.

But Chua's essay has had me in a frenzy.  Maybe I'm being too lax about her academic progress.  After all, my daughter already has a lazy disposition: she'll always do the least amount of work required to get away with something, meaning that even if she can do something, she'll never reach the goal because she won't be motivated enough, so she may never reach her full potential.

Another thing that hit me was Chua's assertion that western parents want their children to enjoy what they do but....from the Chinese point of view, a child is never going to really enjoy doing something until he or she gets good at it.  The Bambina's teacher at school has told me that the Bambina can read but that the Bambina has to want to read and so far, she is not so motivated to do it.  In the instances when I have watched the Bambina read, she does it syllable by syllable and it's a very slow process.  How will the Bambina ever enjoy reading a book for leisure if reading continues to be tedious and slow for her?

Inspired by the Chinese model, today I insisted that the Bambina do half an hour of reading with me.  I gave her the choice of reading in French or English - she chose French.  I insisted that she read three easy books with just one or two lines on each page and then three pages of a harder book with a paragraph on each page.

She ended up in tears twice - book too hard, she doesn't want to read with me around, and she kept insisting that she couldn't read and it wasn't worth insisting that she could read because it just wasn't true.  Yes, she could read individual words, but not books, she argued.  It's too difficult.

But we got through it and she was smiling in the end.  This morning in the car on the way to school she said to her friend, proudly, "you know, I can read now, I mean really read!"

This must be what Chua was talking about.  Sometimes, we really do know better than our kids and sometimes we have to insist that they can do it even if they insist that they can't.

I told the Bambina that she and I are going to be doing reading after school every day from now on.

I may start drawing more inspiration from Chinese mothers.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Skiing at Les Gets

We are back home in Madagascar, having spent the Christmas holidays in France, first in Paris and then some skiing in the French Alps, at Les Gets.  The British website Ski Famille describes Les Gets very aptly:

When, twenty years ago, we started looking for a resort which would be ideally suited to the needs of families, Les Gets shone out.
The picturesque village of Les Gets is about as far from a purpose built resort as you can get. Real people live in Les Gets all year round, the land is still farmed and you can wander round the weekly market every Thursday to purchase everything from the latest fashions for mountain folk (think 1950's Eastern Block chic) to alarmingly smelly cheeses. More sophisticated retail opportunities also abound!

They're absolutely right.  We loved it there.  It's not just a ski resort.  It's a real mountain village, complete with town hall, market stalls, skating rink, and good restaurants (can you say cheese fondue, raclette, and tartiflette?).  And did you know that Father Christmas lives at Les Gets?

Ski vacations are expensive enough as it is, so we tried not to pay a fortune for lodging.  We stayed in a two-star hotel (the Hotel Christiania), which has a nanny service for kids too small to ski.  The hotel has a very cozy and convivial atmosphere.  Just a warning: the rooms at this place are small.  BUT you don't have too spend to much time there.  Guests tend to spend a lot of time hanging out in the hotel's cozy lounge, around the roaring fire.  The price per night is per person and includes breakfast and dinner.  The food was scrumptious - at least as good as the food served in any four-star hotel.  If you do end up going to Hotel Christiana, you can tell the owners, John and Nicola King (a Scottish couple) that you read about their hotel here!  

The Bambina started out in the beginners ski class at the Ecole de Ski Française.  The classes consisted of ten children each and were offered in French and English.  Normally, I would have been inclined to put the Bambina in the English classes but since none of the English teachers were native English teachers and the Bambina speaks French just as well, we decided to put her in the French classes.  She graduated to the level of "flocon" (snowflake).  There was a "ski garden" for children as young as three years old but the Bambino is only 20 months old so he'll have to wait a couple of years.

We definitely want to go back to Les Gets soon!