"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On Amy Chua and 'The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother'

I must first say that I disagree with pretty much everything Amy Chua has said or done in regards to the raising of her children.

However, as an Asian kid in a Western society exposed both to the Eastern and Western views of parenting, I believe I may be able to provide a unique view of the matter.

It is an Asian belief that it is a parent's duty to nurture the child to survive. This is fundamentally different to many liberal Western parenting beliefs that omit the last two words 'to survive'. Indeed, the emphasis is primarily on the 'nurturing'.

One of the ways Asian parents drive their kids to achieve great heights it to manipulate a child's desire for parental approval. If nothing is ever big enough, good enough, shiny enough, strong enough, a kid will try harder. They believe such liberties can be taken because children have this ingrained concept that their parents love them and want the best for them, no matter what. What they don't understand is that children are not born with that, and will turn against anyone, parent or no, if they deem it necessary. This is particularly evident in adolscence.

I have watched this technique unfold on a childhood friend of mine, from primary school. He was raised, in true Chinese tradition, by his grandparents, and I remember him vividly - he never wore fashionable clothes, or listened to fashionable music, although he did, through his intelligence and honesty and strength of character, win one of the most attractive girls in our grade as his girlfriend for a period of time.

This boy was a genius. In years six and seven I remember him skipping math classes, instead sitting at the back of the classroom as I used to during year one phonetics classes, working out of a workbook I would later encounter in my accelerated math class in my accelerated school in year eight, and later still encounter it in my nightmares. He was a gifted cellist, despite the slight stilted roboticness that can come with a kid who is talented but forced into relentless hours of practicing. Too much practice can be a bad thing.

But I have never once seen his grandparents at a school recital or a concert. He has never received so much as a 'well done' for his many academic achievements. Not only was he brilliant at maths and music, he was also a fairly high achiever in all areas (except, I suppose, sport), something I could not boast of. He rarely showed it, but I could tell that he worked not just for his own gratification, but for the approval of his grandparents, which he rarely got. In the end, he was not sent to the school that I was sent to, because it was 'too far'. His grandparents subscribed to the theory 'nothing's ever good enough', but that didn't extend to the associated theory 'nothing's ever good enough for you'.

I have noticed a trend in some white households to be too indulgent of their children, and too blind to their many natural or habitual faults. 'Of course you're not fat, darling', 'A C is fine, darling, it's a pass', 'Don't worry darling.', etc.

I personally think my parents have found the right balance - my mother especially is quite liberal, if still quite Asian in her liberal methods. For someone like me the first technique would have fallen flat on its face - I was always a child in constant need of praise, or comfort, of the sure reliability that my parents would always love me no matter what my faults and shortcomings were, and I felt depressed, defensive and lost when I felt I was denied that. But my parents were not given to giving out praise wantonly - they never called me thin, because I never was. They never praised my maths or my sport, because nothing I ever did in those areas were praiseworthy, at least not to Asian standards (although, to be honest, there are no Asian sport standards, with the exception of soccer, which my family doesn't follow).

A child needs a fine balance between shaping, independence and comfort. If you shape your child too much you lose your child and replace him with a robot, a robot too perfect for anything. If you constantly abuse your child your child becomes hardened, a different kind of robot, but a robot that is unaffected by both criticism, which they are used to, and praise, which when it arrives is foreign. Too much comfort and you end up with a Jabba the Hutt - a fat, greedy, ignorant monster who is only beautiful in his own eyes, and that of his mummy darling.

Emotions cannot be completely disregarded in parenting, as Amy Chua has done. Children are highly-strung and are emotionally extremely fragile. As I say over and over, they find it very difficult to realise when something is being said 'in their interests', especially if something hurtful or degrading is said. Some kids are like my friend - almost completely resilient to any shit their parents can throw at them, 'for the greater good' or otherwise. Others, like me, would completely drown in an ocean of self pity, I know it.

I'm not saying that children shouldn't be pushed at all. Different children have different encouragement needs. Some have all the zeal and passion they need to rocket into success, others may need gentle prodding. But kids become defensive if parents start being too demanding, whiney or nagging. It's a tough battle.

But if you can strike the right balance, youd child will be removed from it's faults, or at least, removed enough to be acceptable, independent enough to make it's own way in the world, but know enough as to not hate their parents entirely. It's a hard balance to strike, and I don't think Amy Chua recognises it, much less find it.

A child is not a machine that you can push and push all day. A child is easily impressionable, and quick to learn lessons you don't teach them. Asian parents are constantly under the misconception that because they are parents, blood relatives and natural guardians, they can simply do what they like to their children with no respect to their rights and feelings, and get away with it - they trust too much in the security of blood, they don't see the value of love. But children can sometimes detatch from and ignore who is saying what and why, and only focus on what is being said, and so one must be very careful of that. Amy Chua, it seems, was not. Amy Chua seems to be under the illusion that her children have the capacity to forgive and forget what she did because she did it in their best interests - or did she? What is so good about being top in everything? Being the mother of the kid top in everything has a lot more perks. And anyway, even if her children could forgive and forget, with a mother like that, would you really want to?

A mother is not made when she delivers a child. A mother is not an infinite position of priviledge over another human being's life. A mother is a mother who nurtures and defends her child, and prepares him for life, but not in traumatizing, damaging and legally-questionable ways. A mother-child relationship is one based on a delicate trust, and must not be abused by either party.

Sadly, however, it often is.

1 comment:

Blur Ting said...

All parents should read this!