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.


Global Jane said...

I'm glad that you wrote this post. It's good to see an example of what Chua was talking about that is easier to understand and relate to than chaining the child to a piano for hours and hours. I'm still not sure where I want my parenting style to fall. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps skewing towards the Chinese mom? I don't know.