Jan 10, 2011

Posted in Current Events, Parenting | 3 Comments

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior…At Creating Miserable Childhoods

When I was growing up, there was a famous Calgon water softener commercial where the proprietor of a laundromat, Mr. Lee, claimed the secret to his clean clothes was an “Ancient Chinese secret.” I hadn’t thought of that iconic commercial in years until I read “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Amy Chua, which seems to have taken the blogosphere and facebook by storm.

Why? Because like that Mr. Lee in the retro commercial, Chua hides behind yellowface to perpetuate tired stereotypes of the dragon lady, now a mom, who credits her strict traditional Chinese parenting techniques in producing her musical prodigies. And like that ridiculously racist commercial, there is no ancient Chinese secret to success. The article reads almost like a parody of Asian cultural stereotypes that she proudly perpetuates. Unlike wimpy, soft Western parents, her traditional Chinese parenting produces real results, she claims.

It’s also traditional to practice foot-binding, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t cruel and antiquated. Just like her parenting methods. I have some issues with Ms. Chua’s self-satisfied, smug tone and dismissiveness towards American parents in general.

I can’t help but wonder, first of all, if China was so great, why didn’t you or your parents just stay there? Seriously. Nothing bugs me more than Asian immigrants coming to this country and stubbornly refusing to assimilate and cling to old ways, claiming that the old ways are superior. Never mind if the old ways involved outhouses and lack of indoor plumbing. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining cultural traditions and your ethnic identity. But there’s something unrealistic about insisting your offspring reap all the benefits of opportunity and education this country has to offer, yet simultaneously live in a cultural vacuum to avoid corrupting American influences. It’s small-minded, selfish and xenophobic.

Secondly, judging by the picture of her kids, Ms. Chua didn’t marry another Chinese man. So clearly, she didn’t mind breaking with Chinese tradition in matters of the heart. I just don’t understand the dichotomy – it’s okay for her to fraternize, copulate and even procreate with the enemy, but it’s not okay for her own daughters to have playdates, boyfriends and sleepovers?

As a product of traditional Korean parents, I am the first to admit the ugly truth that Asian immigrants are obsessed with status and success (as defined by material wealth). There’s an ever escalating arms race between parents, each desperately trying to one-up each other about the achievements of their offspring. I learned my multiplication tables with the help of the business end of a chopstick. They’re not just for eating people. In the hands of a skilled mother, they can deliver stinging blows to the back of calves and palms without leaving noticeable welts. Since I graduated from Berkeley, my parents could at least hold their head up in church. But since I graduated with a B.A. in English, let’s just say that I’m something of a disappointment, to put it delicately.

Now that I’m a mom with two boys, I’m afraid that I’m a crappy Korean mother. I’ve really learned nothing from my own mother. First of all, I’m way too lazy to terrorize my kids into practicing violin or piano for three hours a day. My facebook statuses just don’t update themselves you know. Secondly, I like to reserve the chopsticks in my house for their intended use. Maybe it’s because I have this crazy, new fangled idea that my kids aren’t merely extensions of me and my own frustrated dreams and desires. They’re individuals with their own aptitudes and abilities. Call me a Westernized softy, but I love them unconditionally. There’s nothing they could ever grow up to be, (other than Republican, just kidding, sorta) that could make me any less proud of them.

Yet, somehow, despite my unconditional love and affection (and tv watching), my oldest son has been identified gifted and is a brilliant student who is genuinely excited to learn. My preschooler is considered highly verbal and ridiculously bright. And believe me, I’m just Korean enough to care.

Unlike Ms. Chua’s kids, my sons are never going to play Carnegie Hall. So I’d congratulate you on your “superior” mothering skills, but you’re too busy being self-congratulatory to notice. But when your daughters grow up and leave the house, I wouldn’t wait by the phone if I were you.

  1. Well said, Minsun – even if this is coming from someone without an ounce of Asian blood. I’d be happy to be your kid. ;-)

  2. Mothers like that are only setting themselves up for a heart attack because as soon as those girls go to college I feel sorry for them. A sheltered lifestyle is not a good one for a child to be raised in. That’s how druggies & hoes develop. LoL

  3. Brava! Well said.

    Chua reminded me of moms who used to brag about how well their babies slept at night. This never was due to the child simply being a good sleeper. It was because of the parenting technique they used to get their baby to sleep. And because the technique worked with one baby, it must therefore work with *every* baby and any parent who didn’t use that technique was an indulgent and lazy parent.

    It occurs to me that Chua herself has some self-esteem issues, since she’s tied up her own self-worth in her daughter’s accomplishments. The present may be rosy, but the future is unknown territory. Perhaps the image she should be focusing on is a medieval world map with the inscription “there be dragons.”

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