Ok., so I wasn’t raised quite as strictly as Amy Chua’s daughters. I was allowed to go to sleepovers, an A- wasn’t a bad grade, I could participate in school plays (and did so with enthusiasm) and I wasn’t forced to learn a classical instrument.
But even though I was allowed more liberties, when I first read the excerpt from Chua’s book in WSJ, it was like traveling back in time to my childhood, especially the period after 1989 which is the part that took place in the U.S. And I have to tell you that it was, overall, quite a pleasant trip down memory lane.
Of course I can only say this now, imbued with the wisdom that adulthood brings. When I was a child and teenager, I longed for my parents to be more like my American friends’ seemingly cooler moms and dads. Why can’t I have an allowance? Why do I always have to get good grades? Why do you have to know who all my friends are? Why, why, why, why why??!! Having achieved some distance from the childhood and teenage years though, I can now unequivocally say that the Chinese/Indian/Russian/Jewish/etc. way of parenting is totally the way to go. In fact, where I was allowed more leeway by my parents than Chua’s daughters, I think I could have benefitted from less.
Yes, you read that correctly. I actually think my parents could have been more strict.
The crux of the issue is permissiveness and I truly believe that American/Western parenting is far too lax. You’ve got all these moms and dads out there trying to be their kids’ friends. I remember thinking this was utter and complete nonsense even when I was a teenager. Parents are meant to be parents, not friends. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a wonderful relationship with your parents. In fact, I believe “parent” is a status much higher than “friend.” A parent is owed deep respect, love and gratitude. A friend might eventually reach a status where you respect, love them and are grateful to them, but it’s very, very rare. Parents start out at that level as the default.
What is the end result of this type of parent/child relationship? Yes, sometimes its therapy 😉 But more likely, it’s what Amy Chua expressed multiple times in her recent Chicago Tonight interview and what I absolutely agree with. Like Chua, I deeply love and respect my parents to this day and they have always been my biggest fans (joined in the cheering section of late by my husband of nearly five years :-))
So you see, if done correctly, this type of parenting doesn’t alienate the child from the parent. It actually brings them closer. Because what Chua also reiterated multiple times in the interview and what I can tell you I experienced growing up is that there is a tremendous amount of love that comes with this style of parenting. Somehow, and I still don’t know how they did it, my parents made me feel so loved at all times that I understood completely that their pushing me was for my own good. It was because they loved me so much and believed in me so fully that they urged me to excel. They knew what I was capable of and they only wanted me to live up to my potential. Is there something wrong with that?
Finally, I want to touch on something Chua mentioned at the end of the Chicago Tonight interview. It was the part where she briefly talked about being proud that her daughters were growing up more slowly and traditionally. Again, this mirrors my experience and what it made me realize is that there are many other benefits to raising kids this way besides them getting good grades. Not sure what I mean? Let me spell it out. I’m talking here about all the things parents (allegedly) want to keep their kids away from: drinking, drugs, sex and other self-destructive behaviors.
I always felt so loved by my parents and so safe and protected in their home, that I could never fathom disapppointing them by taking drugs or even smoking. To this day, I’ve never smoked a cigarette (of any sort) even though my dad smoked for part of my childhood before eventually quitting. I also never drank in excess even though my parents drank and I often accompanied them to dinner parties where the adults imbibed with frequency and enthusiasm. Without going into great detail, I didn’t engage in sexual activity until much later than many of my peers. All of these things and more were freely on offer at my high school by the way. I just didn’t partake in them.
As I understand, many American parents achieve this level of moral adherance only with strict religious mandates and threats of Hell or other such deterrants. As Soviet Jews who had had the religion beaten out of us several generations ago, my parents weren’t exactly pious. But again, they loved me so much and had sacrificed so much for my welfare and happiness that I would have thought it unthinkable to turn my back on all of that by acting irresponsibly. Perhaps this too is a cultural difference between many Western parents and those of the Tiger parent variety. Western parents seem to focus a great deal more on their own lives than those of their kids. In my culture (and many others) parents can have careers and their own lives of course, but job #1 is always helping their children through life in every way possible and this job supercedes all others.
Ultimately, when I look back, I also realize that my parents taught me self-respect and self-esteem on a daily basis. They taught me to have a strong sense of self and to believe in myself. It’s so ironic to me that people have decried Chua’s methods precisely because they think they would be damaging to a child’s self-esteem. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. When parents set a high standard, a child believes that they can reach it and that they are worthy of success if they work hard for it every day. This eventually produces adults who are ambitious, hard-working and who always strive for better. Sounds to me like a world I want to live in.