Are Chinese mothers better?

Halfway through this Wall Street Journal article, I thought the author, Amy Chua, might be writing tongue-in-cheek. But the Yale Law professor and author isn’t joking.

Titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Chua compares the parenting styles of what she loosely calls “Chinese” mothers with that of “Western” mothers, arguing that the former produces the most successful kids. 

While they were growing up, Chua would not allow her two daughters to: “attend a sleepover, have a play date, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin:”

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I’m not sure where to begin here. There are certainly kernels of truth in Chua’s position and hints of wisdom in her tactics. Many Western parents today are insecure, as well as ignorant of what children truly need to grow into mature, responsible adults.

But what Chua doesn’t directly address is the real issue here: What is success? For her, and other “Chinese mothers,”  it’s about straight As and mastering piano or violin. It’s about Ivy League schools, high-paying professional careers, and worldly ambition. It’s about being “the best” in an old-school, establishment sort of way.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing inherently bad about any of the above. Who doesn’t want her child to get all A’s? And what clued-in parent knows this doesn’t come at the cost of hard work and sacrifice? All parents want their children to succeed in life.

But we’re back to the question of definitions and core values. Nowhere does Chua talk about what kind of people she wants her daughters to be, how important it is that they know how to think, the difference between formation and education, how well her children relate to people, and what natural talents they’ve been imbued with and able to foster. Nowhere is virtue or service mentioned.  

Chua’s need to control her daughters’ future is what’s on display here more than anything else. She lumps together all parents who do not hold to her “Chinese” parenting style, dooming them to failure. And failure it would be, in her opinion, if your child doesn’t end up a world-class piano player at Yale. But what about the stories of people who were raised in the “Chinese” style but didn’t exactly turn out like her own beautiful daughters?

Chua makes a false comparison between two parenting styles that are basically stereotypes. One professor in the comments section under Chua’s article remarks that, in his experience, it isn’t so much Chua’s parenting style that makes a successful student but a two-parent, intact family, which many Asian families still enjoy. Chua’s only mention of her husband makes him look like a pushover instead of an integral part of her daughters’ success.

Zoe Romanowsky

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Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

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