Tiger Mother Versus Sloth Mother

Much ado is being made about Amy Chua’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Tell us how you really feel, Ms. Chua.

I have to say upfront that I truly know nothing about Chinese parenting methods, and the little I do know comes from reading Amy Tan novels.  Which could possibly be the same as nothing.

But what strikes me about the article is the strident nature of Ms. Chua’s superiority.  And in a sense, I suppose she is correct in saying her parenting style has produced results.  Her daughter has apparently played piano at Carnegie Hall, which is a wonderful accomplishment. My son, on the other hand, has played the tambourine (badly) for an audience comprised solely of his baby sister. So I suppose she is at least one up on me there.

She does say that the term “Chinese mother” does not necessarily apply only to people of Chinese ancestry, but is rather describing a certain parenting style.  This is opposed to “Western parenting” which she says can also be anyone of any ancestry.

That being said, I fall firmly in the Western category, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I cannot bring myself to dictate to my son what his interests should or shouldn’t be.  Ms. Chua states that she only allowed her daughters to study piano or violin, no other instruments were considered.  I can’t imagine doing that to my son.  I mean, I might be depriving the world of a world-class tambourine player if I did so.

This part of her story, though, did resonate with me:

First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

I think she might have a little something there.  It is possible that Western parents are too worried about self-esteem.  I mean, hello everybody-gets-a-trophy sports!

The way in which she describes going about motivating her youngest child to master a particularly different piano piece, however, seem a bit over the top to me.   But, a book needs to be sold, does it not?

But that must be the sloth mother in me.

I’m going to overcome my weak Western parenting style, ASAP.

Tambourine practice, seven days a week.  I hope the Munchkin is ready for it.

17 Responses to “Tiger Mother Versus Sloth Mother”

  1. marvel January 12, 2011 at 8:07 am #

    What I found most provocative was her assertion that if you want to build your children’s self-esteem, you push them to succeed because you believe they can be better than they believe themselves. Telling them that B and C grades are okay if that’s the best they can do is in essence telling them that you don’t think they can do any better than B’s and C’s, which may communicate to your kids that you think they’re not that smart.

    So I don’t know. I think Prof Chua’s methods are way over the top, and that the same level of dedication and achievement could be reached without depriving her daughters of all playdates, ever. And what’s wrong with sports? What’s wrong with a little balance to life? But I hope I have the insight to see when my daughters can achieve more than they even they think they can, and that I can provide the encouragement and support to work for what they love.

  2. Sarah G. January 12, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    I would like to point out that she has only girls. If she had my middle boy her parenting would blow up in her face big time. He is a very active boy that must have physical activity every day or he drives everybody nuts (including himself). He is also academically gifted and is his hardest taskmaster. He plays piano very well, but has moved onto guitar- his true love in music.

    I her house my boy would have an ulcer and would be failing in school.

    • Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

      I agree with the girl-only assessment. I think a boy would have already rebelled.

  3. KESW January 12, 2011 at 11:49 am #

    Wow, fascinating article. I don’t agree with everything but I don’t disagree with everything either. I agree that she went over the top on the piano piece (one of my cardinal parenting rules is never threaten what you won’t do), but as a pianist I can attest that sometimes the only way to get through a monster piece like that (specifically the way she described it, with opposing rhythmic patterns between hands) is just to do it until you’re absolutely sick of it and build muscle memory — you will eventually have that “Aha!” moment where it suddenly works. A child of that age obviously had the motor capability to handle it, but not the tenacity to make it through the difficult part. That kind of tenacity doesn’t come naturally to a lot of adults, let alone children, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to get our kids to learn it.

    That aside… I worry every day about my child turning out in a certain way (smart, well-read, appreciates classical music/art, loves learning, inquisitive) and wondering if it’s okay to want that for her over and above, say, a child who has an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock, baseball, or anime. I admit I envy the calm assurance of these parents that their kids just WILL turn out the way they want them to.

    • Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

      But kids are here to make us doubt everything we know about life, the universe and everything, didn’t you know? ;)

  4. Toby Wollin January 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    So, why just the piano and violin? Frankly, from a ‘play ‘em where they ain’t’ aspect, encouraging my daughter to play the trombone worked really well for her. Piano and violin (and flute and clarinet) are ‘girl’ instruments. The other thing is this – I’m old enough to have gone through another version of this 20-30 years ago, the ‘you can have it all’ thing where women were encouraged to work, strive, have kids, be perfect, have perfectly clean homes, play dates, etc. etc. but these articles and books always seemed to be about or written by women who were high up in corporations, who made huge amounts of money, had live in help, a nanny etc. So I see this as another way to make moms feel bad. Women already feel bad about so many things – should I work? Should I not and stay home? Will the kids turn out wrong if I do? If I don’t? I hate my hair (waistline, hips, face, boob job). To me this is just another wealthy highly educated woman lording it up over all the rest of us who are struggling to hold things together. Encouraging your kids to do their best? Believe they can do better? Absolutely. Control every moment of their days and nights? Nope. Won’t do it.

    • Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

      Yes, the idea that only the piano and violin are “worthy” instruments baffles me. Maybe because most concert solos feature either one of them?

      And yes,”having it all” is a myth.

  5. SarahDances January 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    While I think she makes some good points, any parenting dogma that rigid automatically makes me cringe. Although I am not a parent myself, as someone who works with young children, it seems to me that each child is an individual, and needs to be treated as such. Some of my students need frequent reassurance and praise to do their best; others excel when I really push them. I try to find what works best for each kid. I imagine parenting would invite a similar approach.

    • Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

      Ideally, it should.

  6. gamma January 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    It’s great to be a tiger mother, if:

    A: you are Chinese, and have internalized the cultural norms to your core, and have brought up your children that way so they know when you verbally abuse them, it is an expression of your love and your confidence in their abilities. (This is not sarcasm.)

    B: you only value academic and musical excellence, not any other expressions of intellect or creativity. Too bad if little Lulu prefers writing or painting.

    C: you think social skills are overrated. Of course, it may be the preference of the tiger mother that her children only associate with the offspring of other tiger mothers, with whom they will have much in common.

    btw, if we were all tiger mothers, how would our children fare in college, when the teacher grades on a curve? All those A students, and only a few A’s to go around…

    • Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

      I had thought something similar, about how all these “A” students would compete for what, the highest GPA number? Geez.

  7. smili January 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    I personally wouldn’t be surprised if she wakes up one day with that violin bow sticking out of her back and that piano on fire.

  8. Glinda January 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm #

    LOL!