My sister and I have a secret nickname for our mother — “the Lioness.”
There are several reasons why she ended up with that moniker. We were never allowed to attend a sleepover and had never played computer games that weren’t educational in content. And God forbid what would happen if my mother ever caught my 15-year-old self covertly texting my boyfriend. (“You can have boy friends, but you’d better not date anyone seriously till you hit University!”)
But my upbringing wasn’t entirely stereotypically Chinese. I’ve done drama since I was 10, I can barely play the piano and I abandoned the violin after two lessons. And I’m not your typical straight-A Asian.
Every report card season, the Lioness never screamed or roared. She simply said, “You could do better, so just do your best.”
So when I read Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s excerpt in The Wall Street Journal about her “tiger” mothering, a part of me thought, “Just my luck that my mother wasn’t tougher on me.” If she had been, I might actually be playing Chopin today instead of only admiring his work.
Yes, you heard me right. I almost wish my mom had been as strict as Chua.
The debate surrounding Chua and her recently published parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has been heated, to put it mildly. (She has received death threats.) But there are gems in the controversial piece.
“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” she wrote. That’s true — everybody knows it is boring, not to mention unimpressive, to play “Chopsticks” repeatedly on the ivory keys. (This is, unfortunately, my life story.)
So say what you like about Chua’s extreme methods, but her kids will be grateful for the work ethic she has instilled in them for life.
June Chu, the director of Penn’s Pan-Asian American Community House, researches the mental well-being of Asian American populations. “As a college administrator, I encourage social skills,” she said, “but I personally believe going to a slumber party to interact with your friends isn’t as important as being able to see a project from beginning to end.”
There’s a method to Chua’s madness. The so-called Chinese work ethic — one that emphasizes hard work now to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor later — is something that needs to be instilled from a young age. Conversely, social skills can, for the most part, be picked up along the way.
But if Chua intends for her book to serve as a parenting guide in any way, then what she forgets is that you cannot raise a child in a vacuum, “at least not in America, where the peer group is also a source of values and aspirations,” Graduate School of Education professor Joan Goodman said.
(I certainly felt like quite the awkward child in my preteen years. What was this Pokemon my classmates kept referring to? Was it okay if I didn’t know that the red Power Ranger was actually a guy?)
The point here is that “you cannot treat your children as if they were putty that can be shaped to your liking,” Goodman added. She is the grandmother of 11 children and said she could not imagine all of them “being cut from the same cloth.”
Neither are me and my sister. I am considered the smart one, while she has the biggest heart I’ve ever seen. Is one happier than the other? I don’t think so.
That’s because, at the end of the day, our Lioness never imposed what she wanted on her cubs. Oh, trust me, she didn’t exactly give us free rein, but she did give us something more — choices, along with the freedom to explore those decisions and their consequences.
Rachel Au-Yong is a College sophomore from Singapore. Her e-mail address is auyong@theDP.com. Combat Ray-tions appears every other Monday.Comments powered by Disqus
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