Tuesday, January 18, 2011

To be or not to be -- a Chinese mother.


When I read
this WSJ op ed piece, I was completely flabbergasted. It enraged me. It made me cringe. It made me think. If you haven't read it, you might consider reading it, especially because the rest of the post is not going to make much, if any sense otherwise.

Then again, perhaps I never make much sense anyway.

After reading the article, I started reflecting on my childhood.

As a child, I was rarely allowed to go on sleepovers. "Why would you want to sleep at someone ELSE'S house?!" my mother questioned.

"To have FUN!" I'd respond.

"Fun? Fun?! What do you mean fun? You don't need fun. You need to study and listen to your parents." my mom would retort.

So yes, on some level, the article resonated with me because I had a typical Asian upbringing. It felt all too familiar.

I played the piano.

I excelled.

I went to church every Sunday.

I followed the rules at my all-girls Catholic high school.

But. I also rebelled. In my own way.

On Friday nights during the fall I would tell my parents I had a school function. Then I would meet my friends at the football game at the local all-boys Catholic school. Afterwards I would go get pizza with my friends -- which included (gasp) BOYS. I was always home by 10:00 p.m.

Those of you with a "western" upbringing might not see how going to a football game and grabbing a pizza on a Friday night could be characterized as 'rebellion.' Those of you who grew up in Asian households with first generation Asian parents will understand perfectly.

Just to be clear, I didn't rebel to be a rebel.

I rebelled because I wanted to be with my friends, to do 'normal' high school things like go to football games, have crushes on boys, go to dances...

I really wasn't a bad kid. In fact, if I'd been part of a western family, I might've been considered a pretty damn good kid. I helped around the house. I was responsible. I studied hard. I was on student council and sang in the choir. I never did drugs and didn't have my first sip of alcohol until the summer before I went to college.


My parents never saw it that way. Praise for doing well was never given in our home. Instead, they simply saw that I was doing what was expected of me. And to do less -- be less, was not an option. In fact the general attitude was "That's all fine, but you should really try to do and be MORE."

More helpful.

More obedient.

More studious.

More pious.

More more more.

In fairness, I will say that my parents were nowhere *near* as Crazytown as the woman who wrote the article in the WSJ. Yes, they were strict, but they were also indulgent in some ways. My mom always let me get a treat at the grocery store. I was allowed to watch (a lot of) television. I got my ears pierced when I was eight.

Of course NOW, as grandparents, they gather around and basically throw a freaking PARADE every time Piglet poops on the toilet. The first time they saw the Twinks clap? I think my mom teared up. I have heard the word "YAY!" exclaimed to my children with an enthusiasm that I never knew existed when I was a child.

My Asian mother now says YAY.

Which I am pretty sure replaced the word NO in her vocabulary.



This article has stirred up a lot inner and outer dialogue at our house. Tonight I had Mr. K read it and he said he actually liked it. That Amy Chua was in some ways, his Yoda. I gasped and said "YOU'RE A CHINESE MOTHER?"

And he said "Yes, I think am. And the next time Piglet doesn't count correctly, I am going to deny him the potty until he does!"

And right then a half-naked Piglet came streaking through the kitchen and said "Daddy! Appo juice!"

And Mr. K said "Piggy, what do you say?

And Piglet said "Pwease? Daddy? Pwease may I have some Appo Juice?"

And Mr. K said "Good job Piggy! You asked so nicely! Daddy is so proud of you!"

A Chinese mother indeed. *Snort.

A Chinese mother would have said "You want juice? You play concerto three more times perfectly and I will allow you to pour yourself one cup. If you spill, you will mop whole kitchen with rag on hands and knees."

In the end, while I do not agree with this model of parenting, I must admit, it does smack familiar. And even though Mr. K and I grew up in strict Asian households, I tend to think we both turned out okay. I would say our strong work ethic and drive to succeed (especially for Mr. K) was probably influenced by our respective parents and strict upbringings. But our compassion and broad world views? Probably a product of our formal education as well as experience in the school of life.

My personal philosophy is that discipline and rules as well as fun and nurturing can coexist in the world of parenting. Balance is the key.

And when in doubt, pour yourself another glass of wine.


'Murgdan' said...

I read this article last week and was immediately convinced my child was destined to end up an utter failure, because he has already seen more TV than the child in that article saw in her whole life. I do agree with the wine though. Early and often, I say.

Ravenna Valdyr said...

Enjoyed the WSJ article and yours. Moderation is definately the key. What struck me was comment that Chinese mothers assume strength in their children's psyche. Perhaps some dialogue at our home tonight...

...and wine...it's been too long.

Ravenna Valdyr said...

Very well written article. The WSJ writers comment that strikes a cord with me is the comment that Chinese mothers assume strength in their children's psyche. I think I'll roll that one around the cranium tonight ...over a glass of wine.

strongblonde said...

balance is key :)

and wine. wine is key, too.

PDXTwins said...

Another response to the article: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/01/20/lac.su.tiger.mother.scars/index.html?hpt=C1

Sara said...

"balance is the key" that is a great line. AWESOME article!! (yours thats is)

Katell said...

I read the article a few days ago and thought about you !!

Did you ever tell you Asian mum about our races drinkink daiquiris on friday nights and flying sheep blanket ??? ;=) ;=)

Anyway, I'm convinced you are an AWESOME Chinese (or not) daughter and above all mother !!!!

Ouijigirl said...

Totally impressed with the article. Totally touched me coz ive seen some of that in my life as a child too. Education is the most important thing in life to parents! obtaining a good degree is the number one priority. And even though it could get harsh at times... it was important for me to feel that im not in a fight with my parents but more like that they believe in what im capable of and know that i can do things but im just too lazy to try. And that if i put my mind to anything... nothing can ever stop me. Having this feeling of confidence in me was all it took me to excel in everything i tried to learn or do.
Im not western and im not chinese or Korean.. Im Egyptian. And believe me... We have more things in common with chinese mothers than you could EVER imagine! :)

I guess as a child..i just needed to feel the love behind the pushing and nagging and all the crap that i could daily see! :)
I have to feel its out of love and not out of "you do that coz i said so" I dont wanna be on a battle ground with those who are closest to me.

And even though i respect the thought of we dont choose our parents or to be born... i think our parents didnt choose to have us with our specific personality either. And they have to deal with what they get too.
And i would hate to feel that if i try so hard and invest so much of my time with my kids to make them a better person in the world, that they wouldnt feel like they owe me the respect and love and help in my life when i get older and when i need them the most!

This could be an opinion that comes from my religios teachings too and hence my thoughts are effected.. But i dont think its such a bad thought either. Do you?

Cris said...

bela família! visite meu blog.

Thomas said...

Great perspective on that article. It's nice to have a balanced perspective on the debate that article has engendered.

Keya said...

I was raised by a Jamaican mother here in the U.S and my upbringing was pretty much like yours. I played violin, studied, really couldn't go out much with my friends, I would call being on "lock down" but I excelled and did pretty well. However I do think Balance is the key. I hope I'm not too strict on my boys. Sometimes I do find myself being a little tuff on my 2 year old, like demanding he know those numbers 30-50 and get all those lower case letters but I want him to excell.

Amelia Rice said...

Wow. I understand.

A New Beginning said...

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Bianchii said...

I started to write blog in English.
I will write about everything, will be a lot of pictures, reviews of books, films, songs etc.
So it would be nice if you visit my blog sometimes :)
(Sorry for mistakes, I'm still learning English)
(you can follow me)

Colleen said...

such a beautiful family picture

Seattle Real Estate

NICSY said...

WOW! very much interesting! (^_^)
I am a Filipino.
My mother was a little strict with my younger brother and sister than with me.
Both of them are achievers in academic and music.
I did ok.

NICSY said...

Your kids are oh so very cute!

MCH said...

Wish I had an Asian-mother upbringing... then I wouldn't be such a slacker :)

Mo and Will said...

thinking of you miss mvk...miss your posts!


Stacey @ Entropified said...

Ha! I read the article too. Now whenever I'm really strict about something, I tell me kids I am their Chinese Dragon Mom. It's fun!

Justina F. Lee said...

When I was about 7, I got yelled at by my Chinese grandmother for spilling a little bit of milk. It was a big carton, a small cup, and I had weak kid arms!