Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Asian Mothers Are NOT Superior

If you haven't heard already, the Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" which has generated much controversy. The article is an excerpt of a new book called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." Chua's new book gives an account of what she believes are superior parenting tactics according to her strict Chinese upbringing.

As a 2nd generation Korean, I saw many similarities with my childhood in Chua’s article. However, I have come to a different conclusion from my past, so here are my top 3 reasons for “Why Asian Mothers Are NOT Superior.”

1. The word “superior.”

Some Asians tend to have a superiority complex. The fact that the whole essay is about superiority rubs me the wrong way. Is that what life’s all about- who’s better than the other person? I grew up being compared daily to other Asian kids all my life, and it bred nothing but perfectionism, egomania, self-loathing, and impatience for others. Why would I want to pass that down to my kids? Do I want to turn all my friendships into competitions to see who wins? No thanks.

2. The ends justify the means

No amount of shaming, manipulating, screaming, threatening, punishing, and comparing justifies the so-called “superior” status. So your kids end up as math whizzes and music prodigies, but what did you destroy during the process? An actual relationship with your child?

The “tiger mother” is focused on one thing alone: superiority. With that kind of obsession, there is no time for self-reflection or consideration of the child’s feelings. It will hopefully be forgotten during the 3-hour practice sessions and the effort to complete multiple worksheets to raise up the 97% score in every class.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe in having goals and being disciplined, but I constantly have to ask myself why I am doing what I’m doing. I do not want to be a crazy Asian mom who verbally abuses my kids to get them to perform and be my puppets. I already know that my kids have significance and value outside of myself, so I don’t need them to do anything to prove it.

3. All or nothing

In the Asian community, losing is getting 2nd place or a 99%, not 100%. For Westerners, that doesn’t even compute. How does it even make sense to try to be the best at everything? It is already a losing battle. There needs to be a safety net, not stress when things go wrong, which is inevitable. Getting a low grade or losing a competition sometimes even becomes a life or death issue, as seen through many Asian suicides in college. All thanks to this “superior” extremist way of life. I am determined to celebrate the process of learning and growing with my children, and I don’t care if Chua thinks I’m a softie.

I could go on and on, but basically, I think life is much more than trying to be superior. Too much focus on self makes an isolated caricature, not a human. At the end of my life, I don’t want to be known for the fact that I was superior; I want to be remembered for how much I loved others. I don’t think you have to be Asian to do that.


SKChock said...

Amen! Spoken from the heart!

Sarah said...

Super response! And, in many ways, you are A+ to me.

amy said...

I listened to a discussion on NPR today over it, and although in general I totally agree, and more on some points from the book, I did find some of the things she mentioned noteworthy. In a way I feel a little sad for her.

Anonymous said...

This is a great write-up. I truly do enjoy the outstanding hard work made by everyone

heatherinin said...

I was directing someone here, and realized I'd never commented! I appreciate this, Tammy, because my first instinct after reading the article was, "Oh, maybe I'm doing something wrong, and I need to incorporate more of this." Even as a Westerner, I'm prone to a desire for superiority, I guess. Thanks for this quick response, which helped bring me back to the truth.

Tammy Meinershagen said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive comments. It is great to have others who believe there is more to life than "winning"!