So it’s been a while! December and January have proven to be distracting months for me. 🙂 But, it’s nice to be ‘back’ (not that I actually WENT anywhere :). Anyway over the course of the past few weeks I’ve come across a number of parenting articles that are rather…controversial. Ok, actually just the first one is really controversial. Amy Chua’s article that was in the WSJ a couple of weeks ago entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html To be fair, she didn’t choose the title, and it’s actually an excerpt from her book, so it doesn’t tell the WHOLE story, and to the WSJ’s credit – it caused quite a bit of buzz. Anyway, I think it’s something a lot of Middle Eastern & South East Asians can relate to (minus the emphasis on musical achievement :). The ‘Chinese’ Mother is just a type…”You got a 96, why didn’t you get 100? You got 100, why didn’t you get the bonus question :P”
My parents were some version of the “Chinese Parent” and I think it made me always have this unhealthy anxiety and fear of disappointing them. As wonderful as my parents are, and as hardworking as they are (and I DO appreciate all they went through to raise us), I think this sort of parenting had a negative impact on our relationship for a long time. To this day, 1 marriage, 2 kids, 1 graduate degree later – I still feel like I failed my parents – even though talks of my studies or what I should do with my life haven’t come up since college. They’ve never actually said it, and perhaps they don’t really feel it anymore – or maybe they just gave up hope 🙂 but I mean, I didn’t become a doctor, or lawyer or whatever else I know they mark as successful, and I always felt like there was this underlying disappointment. I did go to grad school and I had a good job – when I worked, but it wasn’t quite ‘it’. I was smart growing up and they just expected great(er) things.
I also realized – I spent years studying things I didn’t really care for – just to find SOMETHING they would find acceptable – in lieu of my not wanting to pursue pharmacy or medicine. I think it made me a little resentful. Perhaps I could have been ‘great’ – if I had just done what I wanted. I think we both ended up ‘losing’ and although I’ve always loved and respected my parents, I think it took a long time to feel like I had a really nice, normal relationship with them – and when they aren’t pushing and criticising, they’re actually pretty spectacular people – and I kind of wished I got to enjoy (and appreciate) that earlier on.
On the flip side, I do appreciate Amy Chua’s critique of western parenting as too lenient, not disciplining children enough, not pushing children enough towards their potential, not valuing education enough, etc. BUT, I don’t think the road to achievement needs to be paved with negative reinforcement. I do also think, the “Tiger Mom” syndrome focuses far too much on material achievement (at any cost), and consequently, financial and material status are seen as the one true measure success – and this of course has its own set of consequences. The responses from the by-products of “Chinese” parenting – are very telling: http://www.quora.com/Parenting/Is-Amy-Chua-right-when-she-explains-Why-Chinese-Mothers-Are-Superior-in-an-op-ed-in-the-Wall-Street-Journal#
Another article I came across…actually for the second time since it’s an older article, is “The Power (and Perils) of Praising your Kids” in New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/
It’s quite simply the opposite of the Chinese Mother syndrome, and the pros and cons to that style of parenting – how excessive praise can actually end up being a hinderance to some children who end up fearing failure, etc. In a culture that worries (too much) about a child’s self esteem, this is definitely food for thought.
The last was an article on the CNN website: “Want to get your kids into College: Let them Play.” http://www.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/12/29/christakis.play.children.learning/index.html
It’s just basically lauding the importance of free, unstructured play, etc. I’m definitely a fan of a play-based curriculum for young children – BUT, it’s incredibly hard to find. The number of studies stating the importance of free play and physical exercise are growing, yet, the system in place promotes the exact opposite. Institutions are pushing children to learn more, earlier – which isn’t always a good thing. In fact there are those who argue it causes children to burn out earlier (which results in a lack of interest in learning), before they reach the age where they can maximize on their true potential (generally sometime between ages 12 and high school). Standardized testing is now part of kindergarten, recess and gym are being cut in many schools – all in the name of ‘academic excellence’. Interestingly enough, Finland, who is consistently in the top 5 (many times #1) in math, reading, science, etc. worldwide (the US usually doesn’t break the top 25) starts formal education later than in the US (usually around 6 or 7) and have a COMEPLTELY different approach to education, family, and quality of life – one that would probably be seen as too lax and care-free for the liking of those of us in the US.
Anyway, the moral of the story is – well there really isn’t one. Each child is different and requires different things, and the myriad of articles out there with different opinions shows that there really is no perfect answer. But, for all it’s worth – I think it’s important to let children be children. Every hour of every day doesn’t need to be mapped out – but at times a little bit of guidance and encouragement towards new activities is a good thing. Anyway, it never hurts to read various sides of the story as we try to find the path that best suits our own children. Good luck and happy parenting :).