"What appears as discipline or “tough love” from one perspective often appears as abuse from another."
May 7, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

On Tiger Moms: "What the controversy surrounding Chua demonstrates, however inadvertently, is that parenting techniques are always grounded in basic assumptions about the way things are and what matters to us. And they are always guided by some answer to the most fundamental of ethical questions—how to live?"

Via The Point Magazine, and, previously on Metafilter, Amy Chua's original article: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
posted by the man of twists and turns (52 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm glad my parents weren't like her. I turned out fine.

My parents are proud of me. They aren't proud of me just because of achievements or my accomplishments. They find pride in the fact that I am a happy, compassionate, and functional human being.

Can the same be said about the resulting people produced by Tiger parents? If not then they are doing it wrong.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:15 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, and thanks mom and dad for doing it right...
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:16 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really, the particular parenting method doesn't irk me so much, albeit I simply don't find it very humanist. What does piss me off is that the little fuckers that this kind of parenting I imagine would produce, and that I have to deal with the assholes once their parents are done with them.
posted by ZaneJ. at 12:20 PM on May 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think this is a good response, if fairly out of date in "internet time"

I think one major cultural difference is that a lot of American parents probably (at least in the past) believed that wealth, comfort and middle class success were their kids birthright for being born in America.

And the reality is for someone in the upper upper middle class or demi-rich like Chua (at least before she wrote the book) that pretty much was true. Her kids could probably coast through life on the basis of family connections, and modest effort, rather then hard work. And it seemed obvious to me that the kind of success that those kids might achieve if they did this wouldn't really that much better then the coasting option.

On the other hand, for a kid born to poor parents (such as recent immigrants), it would obviously confer a huge benefit. Chua hadn't actually thought it through. She was on autopilot.
What does piss me off is that the little fuckers that this kind of parenting I imagine would produce, and that I have to deal with the assholes once their parents are done with them.
I don't really think it would be that big of a problem. It seems to me that the more successful people in America are the ones who "break rules" and "take risks". A lot of times those rules can be ethical or common decency, and you end up with Goldman Sachs.
posted by delmoi at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Enough has been said about the pros and cons of tiger and non-tiger parenting, but what really stands out to me is how parents of either method view and value their own self-worth based on the accomplishments of their children.

Sure, you can justify the countless hours spent practicing the piano and listening to countless variations of "you're not good enough" as toughening the child and getting them prepared for the working world. But I question the method when it seems what you're really interested in is what other parents have to say about your child, or how their success (or failure) affects your family's "status."
posted by CancerMan at 12:30 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I tend to identify with Chua. In my opinion, school is so fucking simple, why not all A's?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:35 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's easy for some is not as easy for others.
posted by mareli at 12:38 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Tiger Mothers... this again?

bah. hell, I don't even have kids and I know that anyone telling you how to raise your kids is full of crap.

What constitutes "good parenting" has changed so dramatically over the years, there's almost nothing that's remained constant. and yet ... and yet .... most people turn out okay. I mean, sure, not everybody becomes President of the United States, not everybody becomes multimillionaire CEO rockstars with diamonds coming out of their asses, but most people for the most part turn out okay.

Which basically tells me, the kids will probably be alright, tiger mothers notwithstanding.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:40 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


In my opinion, school is so fucking simple, why not all A's?

Someone once described their ADHD to me by comparing it to having 20 televisions on at the same time and not being sure which one he should be watching at any given time. School was not easy for him.
posted by Huck500 at 12:41 PM on May 7, 2012 [14 favorites]


I tend to identify with Chua. In my opinion, school is so fucking simple, why not all A's?

Without making any judgment about the wisdom of her approach, it's worth noting that the logical path from [school is easy] to [complete emotional/physical domination of your children in pursuit of a narrow and elusive material success] is not so straight and simple.
posted by clockzero at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


KokuRyu, if you are getting As the teacher isn't being hard enough. I'd pull my kids out of that school and put them somewhere they can actually he challenged.
posted by fuq at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


The aspect that the article doesn't really get into in the "how to live" issue is the extent to which the parent commits to making whatever their idealized perfect childhood happen for their kids. The thing that makes Chua different than most American parents is less that she cares about grades, showy achievement, and a respected career path and more that she does the absolute maximum amount she can to force her daughters down that path. In gaming terms, she's a min-maxer. The average American parent still pushes their kids to get straight As or play an instrument or join a sports team or whatever they personally think their kids should do, they just don't generally spend massive amounts of time and energy on it and decide to have a less super-confrontational relationship with their kids. Someone like Chua probably doesn't share much in terms of ideals with someone like Venus and Serena Williams' father, but they both min-maxed the crap out of parenting.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:47 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is a (personally) important topic, but my god that is a long article.
posted by polymodus at 12:50 PM on May 7, 2012


I don't even have kids and I know that anyone telling you how to raise your kids is full of crap.

My wife encountered a woman at an event of some kind giving a talk the other day; apparently she thinks you should not use the word "no" with your child. Because it's negative. And people listen to her.
posted by Hoopo at 12:55 PM on May 7, 2012


if you are getting As the teacher isn't being hard enough.

Good lord, what a specious statement. Maybe they are an awesome student who works hard to come out ahead of their peers but who will suffer for the rest of their lives trying to live up to the impossible standards of their parents, who think that everything comes easy to them so therefore they must not be working hard enough.
posted by elizardbits at 12:59 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Good lord, what a specious statement.

I was going to say exactly the same. Anyways I'm skimming through the article and it's actually quite excellent. Some of the paragraphs really resonate with my experiences.
posted by polymodus at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2012


This article hit close to home for me and articulated many things that I've always known internally, but haven't really been able to express.

I'm Indian, not even Indian-American, and my parents are still in India, yet a lot of this conflict feels very familiar. Heck, I've even done some of the stupid things mentioned in that article -- hiding that I was living with my ex-boyfriend for two years, even paying rent on a second tiny apartment on the off-chance that they might decide to visit (I know, I know, that is crazy). Even today, at age 26, I find myself making compromises to fit my parents' idea of what is right, particularly my mother's -- renting a two-bedroom apartment rather than a 1 bed-room so that I can pretend my current boyfriend and I aren't sleeping together, even though everyone is probably resigned to this by now.

And yet I don't consider my mother particularly authoritarian or harsh -- in fact by Indian parent standards she's remarkably lax, accepting even condoning the idea of her daughter getting married to a foreigner, allowing her to do her PhD for god knows how many years and so forth. So in a sense I do have that Indian value system in me in that I don't really believe in rebelling for the sake of rebelling and I am drawn to success at some level. Yet part of me wants to chuck it all and go try to be a freelance science writer for a while. Who knows what the future will hold?
posted by peacheater at 1:02 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've said it before on MeFi, I'll say it again, the best advice I got when I became a new dad was that children grow up despite our best efforts not because of them.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


KokuRyu, if you are getting As the teacher isn't being hard enough. I'd pull my kids out of that school and put them somewhere they can actually he challenged.

Yeah, it's not all about grades, and report cards are only a snapshot in time. Report cards also depend on the teacher's ability to assess performance, and typically most teachers only take one half-year course as an undergrad to learn about assessment.

On the other hand, our son went from a C+ in math to an A. Why? We sat down with him and helped him figure it out, so much so that he helps out other kids in class. Same with spelling tests. The sad thing was that we had no idea how poorly he was doing in math and spelling due to the closed nature of the school system. Plus, teachers (I'm a former teacher) tend to take the long view - things will get better.

Man, school could be so much better than it is...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:05 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ironically, I became a much better student and much more successful later in life when I stopped caring so much about my parent's expectations and started doing what I thought best for myself.

I wonder if the best of both worlds would be if parents helped their kids figure out what they really wanted to do and form their own expectations of themselves and then really pushed their kids to live up to those expectations.
posted by VTX at 1:14 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read that Julie Park article last week -- it's fantastic. Really it's one of the first things that really gets the source of immigrant-parent rigidity about success: in the absence of the well-understood system of the home culture, in an alien society whose inner workings are unclear, the tendency is to grab onto a highly simplified set of standards and apply them rigidly.

This is an immigrant thing and not just an Asian-American one, but you have to look back in time a bit to see the parallel. Jewish-American immigrant families in the first half of the 20th Century had a similarly stringent professional requirement for their children: you are going to be a DOCTOR, kid, only an M.D. is honorable! If you are second-rate you can be a DENTIST. My dad got that pressure, sure enough. And if you read Isaac Asimov's autobiography, his family were ashamed that he only became Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University, until he explained to them that Biochemistry is part of Medicine, and his classes were full of pre-med students.

In the earlier discussion of Amy Chua's article on Metafilter, someone mentioned an Asian-American friend of theirs who had won a Regent's Scholarship to Berkeley (seriously prestigious stuff), but her mother was deeply unhappy because they only acceptable college for winners was Stanford, only Stanford. I'm sure a lot of this comes from your ambient (sub)culture more than from the opinions of the dominant one, because its the other parents around you who constantly judge you and set your standards in little conversations: my boy got into Stanford (gloat), was your girl good enough? This showed up in the Jewish drive for medicine, too, since even material success in a non-medical field was not as acceptable as a second-rate doctor's career, because everyone you were competing with socially at your synagogue also accepted the hierarchy where children becoming doctors is the best.

That also approaches another point Julie Park touches on -- the weird hierarchies set up for everything. Violin and piano are culturally superior to drums, you see, and you'll be a bigger winner in life if you play a winner's instrument and win as many competitive honors doing it. The fact that this doesn't match reality doesn't seem to have much effect -- as often reported, prestigious universities admit students based on diversity and interestingness, so a sax player has a better chance of getting into Harvard than yet another damn pianist. (And Amy Chua has no reason not to know this -- she's at Yale and could ask the admissions committee.)

The hierarchies are seen as ladders to climb to a higher social status, yet because they are so widespread in the immigrant culture and unimportant outside of it, they become stereotypes that serve as traps. In Jewish-American immigrant culture there was a fad to rename your kids to something old and well-established in Anglo-Saxon society, and a few names were especially respected. Nobody will know my kid's a Jew when he's called IRVING or MARVIN, right? Ha ha ha. Racism continued and those names became ones that no WASP parents would touch. Similarly: think of a modern-day kid who is a first violinist, wins awards for grades, and plans to study Engineering at an Ivy League school. No possible ethnic associations in your head, right? Sure. Ha ha ha.

Tl;dr: Park is right - the source of the black-and-white rules for success in immigrant families is social-position insecurity in a dominant culture whose rules are murky.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:17 PM on May 7, 2012 [43 favorites]


That also approaches another point Julie Park touches on -- the weird hierarchies set up for everything. Violin and piano are culturally superior to drums, you see, and you'll be a bigger winner in life if you play a winner's instrument and win as many competitive honors doing it. The fact that this doesn't match reality doesn't seem to have much effect -- as often reported, prestigious universities admit students based on diversity and interestingness, so a sax player has a better chance of getting into Harvard than yet another damn pianist. (And Amy Chua has no reason not to know this -- she's at Yale and could ask the admissions committee.)

I think the fact that piano and violin are over-saturated versus other instruments would make them more desirable in terms of status symbols though if anything. Part of what Park is talking about is that this is more obsession with the appearance of success rather than an obsession with genuinely succeeding or making strategic decisions that make actual success easier. So getting an A in a math class is more important than actually learning math that might make it easier to get an A in another math class 10 years later. If it's harder to be the best at violin because it's so popular then being the best at violin will look like an even bigger accomplishment than similar skill at another instrument. Outside of the culture where piano and violin are at the top other people might have different hierarchies, but it's not exactly surprising that people inside of that culture wouldn't really care about what people outside the culture think about it as much.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:48 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Didn't the Tiger Mom book end with the reveal that her "Tiger Mom" parenting was more aspirational than realistic, in that one child quit playing violin and piano, and the other had a boyfriend, and they occasionally got B's without getting, like, kicked out of the house? In other words, it was basically just another PR campaign with nothing much behind it. The Chuas raised their kids they best they could, and because they were middle-class (or UMC), they turned out pretty well. I think the article in the OP is more thoughtful in every way.
posted by muddgirl at 1:54 PM on May 7, 2012


On the other hand, our son went from a C+ in math to an A. Why? We sat down with him and helped him figure it out, so much so that he helps out other kids in class.

Not to derail but this is called being a good parent. My wife was/is a teacher; the problem today is there arent many parents who will do even this anymore. How can you help your kids when you are updating Facebook or going out?
posted by Busmick at 1:58 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife's mom made her stop playing cello as a kid because, as someone who knew absolutely nothing about classical music, only violin and piano were "acceptable." Why? Because she couldn't brag to her frenemy-moms in the Chinese community that her daughter played the cello, because they didn't know anything about classical music either. That's the same reason she only wanted her kids to be doctors - she knew nothing about the process of becoming a physician in the USA, but only if her kids were doctors (and only from Ivy league medical schools!) would they be brag-worthy. This isn't a stereotype - this is someone I know who's in my life and who hates my guts because I went to one of those small liberal arts colleges that she and her friends have never heard of.

From the article:
At Cornell, thirteen of 21 suicides between 1996 and 2006 were Asians or Asian Americans (who constituted only 14 percent of the student body at the time).
My first reaction to that is, "Jesus fucking Christ." But my second reaction, after reflecting on the fact that my mother-in-law threatened to stop paying for college if my wife didn't switch majors to pre-med, is, "That makes perfect sense."
posted by 1adam12 at 2:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [15 favorites]


My wife's mom made her stop playing cello as a kid because, as someone who knew absolutely nothing about classical music, only violin and piano were "acceptable." Why? Because she couldn't brag to her frenemy-moms in the Chinese community that her daughter played the cello, because they didn't know anything about classical music either. That's the same reason she only wanted her kids to be doctors - she knew nothing about the process of becoming a physician in the USA, but only if her kids were doctors (and only from Ivy league medical schools!) would they be brag-worthy. This isn't a stereotype - this is someone I know who's in my life and who hates my guts because I went to one of those small liberal arts colleges that she and her friends have never heard of.

This. The Tiger-Mom things seems like so much misplaced ambition. A twelve-year-old playing violin? Meh. Call me when Mom masters it herself. I'm kind of glad my parents were self-absorbed enough not to trying living through me.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:35 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was always super jealous of Asian-American kids in high school. They had a plan, they had certainty ... All they had to do was get perfect grades, play the violin, go to a top-ten school, and become premeds. Meanwhile, I had absolutely no clue what the future had in store for me, my parents pretty much let me do anything I wanted ... and I ended up going to one of those wishy-washy liberal arts colleges which really didn't provide any career guidance or direction for anyone. It just seemed like it would be so great to have a plan, even if that plan completely came from your parents and you were under horrific pressure to stick to it.
posted by miyabo at 3:07 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was always super jealous of Asian-American kids in high school. They had a plan, they had certainty ... All they had to do was get perfect grades, play the violin, go to a top-ten school, and become premeds live up to nearly impossible standards.

I always had mixed feelings about the kids with the stereotypical "tiger moms" (who, actually, appeared to be in the minority among the Asian kids I grew up with). The valedictorian in my high school was 14 years old when he graduated. He played the piano with robotic precision. He appeared humble to the point of embarrassment when anyone -- especially teachers -- made a big deal of his academic prowess. He likely could have done anything he wanted in university (I think he became an engineer of some kind).

In some ways, I envied that. But, there were a lot of things that made me pity him and made me glad that I wasn't like him. He was allowed to have friends over for no more than 30 minutes a day (but wasn't allowed to go to their houses; those 30 minutes were also his only un-regimented time each day). He played piano very well, but I described it as "robotic" earlier for a reason: there was absolutely no passion behind the music; he played perfectly, but it felt like he was treating the music as a math problem rather than an art form. Being so much younger than everyone else left him isolated and without much of a social life (not that he was allowed to have one, really).

So, sure, I suppose I wish that maybe my parents had pushed me a bit harder. I might have been more motivated and done something more with my life. But I do not envy that kid one bit, even if he is a wealthy engineer right now.
posted by asnider at 3:19 PM on May 7, 2012


I guess what I'm saying though is that I had all this wonderful unstructured time from when I was 10-18 ish, and what did I do with it? I browsed the Web, read a hell of a lot of books, watched TV, occasionally hung out with friends (none of whom I'm still in touch with), sat around being mopey... It's not like the alternative to a regimented childhood is one where you create great works of art and serve the poor and find your destiny. Mostly, it sucks too.
posted by miyabo at 3:29 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the fact that piano and violin are over-saturated versus other instruments would make them more desirable in terms of status symbols though if anything.
God, yes, this. I've had so many discussions with a friend of mine about how we've both throughout our life just striven for those things that are the hardest to obtain -- always trying to prove that we can beat out everyone else trying for that thing -- rather than trying to actually figure out what it is we would want to do if no value judgments applied.
posted by peacheater at 3:31 PM on May 7, 2012


I don't think we can ignore this kind of success-climbing in American culture, though. "Red-shirting", paying thousands for a college application counselor, forcing your kid to specialize in a sport from a very early age . . . The "helicopter parent" is emblematic of the desire of the middle and upper-middle classes to climb the rungs.

Park's discussion of authenticity touches on it, but ultimately I don't think she addresses the role of American individualism vs. Asian collectivism deeply enough. Individualism is pretty obviously ingrained in American culture--authenticity is just the result of its importance. You need to be an individual, so you need to do what you "feel" is right, now what anyone else says. So ingrained in the ways people try to improve their lives is a search for authenticity. Think of the endemic cultural arguments about authenticity and what is "cool": eat organic, "natural" food, wear these "natural" barefoot shoes, don't listen to mass-produced music, lyrics of mass-produced music must reflect the authentic self of the musician (how much rap is spent convincing people they are "hard", "real", and everyone else is fake?). You have to be the first to like something ("before they were cool") because that means your preferences are authentically your own. And the moment a movement based in authenticity is founded, it immediately becomes ridiculed as inauthentic.

The search for an authentic life is paired with the search for success. Money, power, etc are seen as proof you've discovered your authentic life--provided you obtained them on your own, of course. Helicopter parents would never brag like Chua does about controlling her children, their defense is they're just trying to put their kids in the best place to find and achieve this authentic life, not control it. If they were controlling it that would make their kids inauthentic!

Of course, what nobody mentions is that by putting all this emphasis on authenticity and individuality we essentially become like everyone else: everyone becomes that person basing their tastes on what seems the most authentic (thus paradoxically rending said choice inauthentic) and pairing it with whatever achieves the greatest individual success. We value the self-made man as highly as Asian cultures--but we say it's for different reasons.

But due to the very hierarchical structures of many Asian societies there is a more general attitude that everyone has a role they're supposed to play and like parts of a machine you play that role to help the greater good. The emphasis is really on not you finding your happiness as an individual, your own path, but you finding the place that best supports the good of the whole. Individual success then is geared in a fashion that best benefits your family--get lots of money (because then you can support your parents), adopt these cultural touchstones of success (doctor, engineer, violinist) to maximize your recognizable success to the rest of the world and thus bring honor to your family. It's OK for your parents to demand you follow a path, because they know what's best for the family, the whole.

It is also testament to the emphasis America places on individualism (and endemic racial stereotypes) that we are seeing such a backlash against Asian-American student acceptances to college. The assumption is made that the Asian-American student who is amazing at piano and school is an automaton, somehow not achieving those things on their own merits. While a White student with the same resume would be regarded as an amazing, unique success, someone of special talent who should be nurtured.
posted by schroedinger at 3:42 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


My parents were very Tiger like. They weren't immigrants but they had made the transition from rural Mississippi redneckistan to college-educated urban New Orleans, and they weren't going back, no way now how, and neither was I. For many years I didn't realize how hard they were pushing me; I naturally did well at most things they cared about. But when I finally realized I didn't want the life they wanted for me -- oh brother.

I have one word of advice for you if your parents are like this: LEAVE.

I am not kidding. Do it as soon as possible. Take care to emancipate yourself so that they can't snoop around for excuses to have you involuntarily committed. Yes, I just said that. Trust me on this.

Until they realize they will lose you before they make you their monkey, they will use every trick in the vastly stacked-in-their-favor book to make you their monkey. My parents lied, stole, and committed all kids of sabotage on my life until I told the lawyer they hired to explain why they didn't have to give back my life savings which they'd withdrawn from my account without my permission that children don't need lawyers to talk to their parents, so I must be an orphan, and they could keep the goddamn money as long as I never had to talk to them again.

The lawyer must have clued them in because I received my spare car keys in the mail a few days later, and after that I didn't speak with them for 17 years.

That was the hardest, but best decision I have made in my entire life. Had I not separated myself from them at that point I can't imagine what my situation would be now. Probably dead from the depression that was starting to eat at me before I met the woman who turned me around, and who I'm married to today.

And to parents: Your children are not your monkeys. Read my tale and tremble. My parents made me choose between them and a woman. I wavered -- a fact that makes me deeply ashamed even today, but which I explain by noting their terrible power over me -- but in the end I chose correctly. If you ever do that to your child I pray to every god ever conceived by man that your offspring has the courage to defy you too.

In the end I found that while the dragons in front of my cave were a bit more substantial than paper they were within my power to escape. And while I have reconnected with them and see them occasionally now there is no chance it will ever be as they had hoped. The life I have made in their absence is fully my own. If you cannot say that then you do not have a life.
posted by localroger at 3:54 PM on May 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


I found Amy Chua's original tiger mom article to be problematic at first, but now after reading this Point article, I'm convinced Chua's a monster. She may not be as violent as the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child Bible thumpers, but she's no less authoritarian in her methods. I can understand a recent Chinese immigrant mom adopting these parenting methods, because she absolutely has no idea about what it takes for children to succeed in America, but Chua doesn't have that excuse. She's a law professor at Yale, for crying out loud. She has access to academics who have studied everything from child nutrition to child psychology to cross-cultural parenting methods. She could certainly forge her own path by consulting other experts and combining multiple traditions of parenting, but she's too close-minded to realize that most experts who've studied actual childrearing outcomes would think that this "tiger mom" phenomenon is full of shit, not to mention needlessly cruel.

In addition, as the author of the Point article and many people in this thread point out, tiger mom parenting is focused on directing kids into academic subjects and cultural activities, not based on a hardheaded, clear-eyed assessment of what it takes to get into the educated elite, but based on the folk theories of what a bunch of social-climbing Asian ladies think looks "respectable." This is more excusable for a recent immigrant, but when you realize that Amy Chua could simply ask a Yale admissions officer and get some inside info about how entry into the educated elite really works, she is way beyond the point where she should know better.
posted by jonp72 at 3:56 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, I do know that my very first year of teaching, one of our kids tried to kill himself at school when he didn't do well enough on a test and thought he was doomed to be a failure. (He survived but will be paralyzed for life.) While he has the distinction of being the only student to attempt suicide at school (that I know of), he is certainly not alone: we had 4-5 attempts a year on average when I was teaching, according to our on-site health clinic. I saw very, very real distress in my students who were afraid of not living up to their parents' expectations. Not a healthy "I don't want to disappoint mom and dad" attitude, but a wildly distorted world view where every assignment had the power to begin an unstoppable cascade of shame and doom that would be irrevocable and haunt them until they died. And this was not at the high-powered elite school in town, nope, this was an inner city school full of immigrants and working class kids, and it affected kids in both groups.

So fuck that high-powered-success-is-the-only-option thinking. Or at least come up with a healthier definition of success.

Have expectations for your children, for sure. Many children never hear positive expectations for their future from their parents, for all kinds of reasons, and it cripples their vision. And definitely set limits: kids do need that, and appreciate it despite the grumbling. But don't give them a freaking psychosis about success: learning requires periodic failure. Provided learning results, it's a GOOD thing.
posted by smirkette at 4:04 PM on May 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


There's a bit of a cultural disconnect here. In many northeast Asian cultures, there are no second chances - everything depends on doing well in a series of tests. Mess one up, and you're off the conveyor belt. This is one of the reasons why Japan, for example, has such a large population of NEETS - these are young folks who may have messed up on an exam and are essentially alienated by society, or they have been alienated by the entire system.

In psychology there's Erikson's entire concept of "identity foreclosure" (eg, Chua's parenting style) but perhaps Erikson was writing at a point in history when Boomers were allowed the luxury of self-actualization. Maybe, in these economically competitive times, people don't have that anymore in North America and Europe.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:20 PM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think a pretty important point is context. In China, for example, someone's parents might be hard on them, but all their friends have it the same, and they'll know that their lives will depend an enormous amount on standardized testing, so it will be in their heads that their parents are doing them a favor.

If they grow up in the U.S, though they'll always be hearing about how the path to success is to find what they love, that college entrance exam scores only affect what school you go too, not your whole future. And that the goal in life is not to be super-successful in some boring job, but to be happy. So they may see their parents as not only not helping them much but in some cases actually holding them back from what's culturally considered "Success" in the U.S.

---
A lot of people brought up the violin thing. When this first hit the tubes there was a response somewhere from an Asian guy who had been drilled and drilled on piano, and went to a top piano camp or something like that. What he realized when was there was that even though he was as good as the other players, they played because they loved to do it. He was growing to hate it.

Because he associated learning the piano with all these negative emotions as an adult he doesn't even like music. I didn't even know that was possible.
posted by delmoi at 4:21 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


On reading TFA I find it does address the LEAVE issue, and the fact that lots of Tiger Mom victims actually take my advice. Then this...
As for the Korean American young man I know who was disowned and declared dead by his parents: after a period of estrangement, he was successful enough as a music producer to buy his parents a big new house.
Dude, just stay the fuck estranged.

What did it with my parents was that, of all the known sibs (I was an only child but had five cousins my age) I am the only one who is not now broke, living with bikers, constantly begging for another loan, or about to be foreclosed on. I bought my own house, without them putting up a down payment TYVM, and I hold a steady job that uses my skills and which I clearly enjoy, even if it doesn't pay as well as some of the things I could do. They were convinced that it would be impossible for me to build a life without their help. ("You'll never make it without air conditioning" is one line that has stuck in my memory after all these years.) Fortunately they were able to see that I had proven them wrong, and while they still will not admit that they did anything like wrong back in the day they will agree that it was a tragic misunderstanding and hey did I want to know what's going on with my cousin in Florida who's living with those bikers again.
posted by localroger at 4:22 PM on May 7, 2012


I don't think enough people remember that Chua's book was published in China under a title that could be loosely translated as "I was (became?) a mother in America: a Yale Law School professor's child-rearing experience" and Xinhua ran a less-than-enthusiastic article about it. Ever since this was published I've felt a strange and unwelcome obligation to assure people that I (also the son of Chinese immigrants) was never tossed out into freezing cold weather for refusing to practice the piano. I really don't think this woman has done us any favors.

Parts of Park's article make a lot of sense to me, but here's a paragraph where I think she's missed the point:

Chua is perhaps at her most “Chinese” when, in response to her husband’s argument that children don’t owe their parents anything, she remarks, “This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent” (my italics). On a gut level, she can’t think of the relation between parents and children in terms other than debt and obligation, so her husband’s objections simply make no sense. My mother once said, as if she were speaking of life on Mars, “Here [in America] the parents are the slaves of their children.”

Park says "debt and obligation" as though they were synonyms, but to say "debt" here is misleading because debt is asymmetric. If I owe the bank a debt, the bank owes me nothing. However, the obligations between parent and child should be symmetric, and I think that's what Chua meant when she said it would be a terrible deal for the parent if the child was considered to owe her nothing. It would be a terrible deal because she would consider herself deeply obliged to her children whether or not that obligation was returned. burnmp3s has it exactly right when he mentions the extent to which the parent commits to giving his child his idea of a perfect upbringing.

(After reading that quotation from Park's mother, I wonder whether this might be a Chinese vs. Korean difference, because I doubt many Chinese parents would find anything Martian about being slaves to their children. There's an idiom, shang you lao xia you xiao, "the elderly above and the young below," which specifically refers to the problem of being squeezed between obligations to parents and obligations to children.)
posted by d. z. wang at 7:59 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Parts of Park's article make a lot of sense to me, but here's a paragraph where I think she's missed the point

The 2 paragraphs both above and below that paragraph are actually quite bullshitty. Author needs to read up on some sociology papers.
posted by polymodus at 8:27 PM on May 7, 2012


schroedinger: "adopt these cultural touchstones of success (doctor, engineer, violinist) to maximize your recognizable success to the rest of the world and thus bring honor to your family."

This may be a very local phenomenon, but for my parents at least the obsession with medicine and engineering wasn't so much a matter of prestige as political inoffensiveness. Their parents saw the Communist Revolution, and they grew up during the Cultural Revolution. When I was talking about what I would study in college, my father told me that medicine was a good field because no matter what else happened (indeed, especially if "what else" were to happen) a doctor could always earn his keep. Even during the height of the Cultural Revolution as my grandfather the judge was harassed and forced to labor in the streets, my grandmother the gastroenterologist was not only left unmolested but paid a handsome salary for her work.

These are stories that stay in a man's mind. I'm a full generation removed, I've never personally been persecuted, and yet when the Occupy Wall Street people set up, several close friends had to convince me that, in fact, no bourgeoisie were going to be lynched and no protesters were going to be massacred and it would definitely be premature to approach my room-mates about whether, if things were to go south in New York, I could invite my parents and grandparents temporarily into our apartment in Chicago.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:52 PM on May 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had forgotten that Chua attended Yale. I think it's safe to say that if you want to attend an Ivy League school, unless you have money and family connections, you have to work your ass off.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:53 PM on May 7, 2012


My Chinese immigrant parents raised me in America, and together we forged ahead through unenjoyable/unfruitful piano lessons and spelling bees all the way to MIT (oops, didn't get to Harvard). I was totally Tiger-Dad'ed. As a preteen, I was told by my Dad that reading fiction novels was going to get me nowhere (even though I loved reading).

Wrested a basic biology degree in 3.5 years (shortened my time there because I hated attending classes, and the subject matter). Had to abandon my parents' medical school dreams long ago.... now attempting a new career direction in my mid-20s (why choose the difficult route? be normal, time's running out, says Dad) and having daily arguments with my dad because he thinks I'm giving up on a successful career in science (what imaginary career? I ask). Oh and the biggest problem with Tiger Parents is that your CHILDREN GROW TO DESPISE EVERYTHING YOU SAY AND SEE THEIR PARENTS AS THE ENEMY.

I wish I weren't brainwashed by my parents as a child. I wish we actually identified what my true talents were, instead of ridiculously squishing a round peg into a rigidly square mold. Our relationship is wretched. I pray to God, who is now my true authority, that my future children can be WELL-ADJUSTED and that we can MUTUALLY LOVE each other from day one.
posted by dracomarca at 8:54 PM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


My wife's mom made her stop playing cello as a kid because, as someone who knew absolutely nothing about classical music, only violin and piano were "acceptable." Why? Because she couldn't brag to her frenemy-moms in the Chinese community that her daughter played the cello, because they didn't know anything about classical music either. That's the same reason she only wanted her kids to be doctors - she knew nothing about the process of becoming a physician in the USA, but only if her kids were doctors (and only from Ivy league medical schools!) would they be brag-worthy. This isn't a stereotype - this is someone I know who's in my life and who hates my guts because I went to one of those small liberal arts colleges that she and her friends have never heard of.

Yes, that's the other side to the huge personal shaming culture here - the huge bragging ( and making others feel inferior) culture
posted by Bwithh at 9:03 PM on May 7, 2012


I found Amy Chua's original tiger mom article to be problematic at first, but now after reading this Point article, I'm convinced Chua's a monster. She may not be as violent as the spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child Bible thumpers, but she's no less authoritarian in her methods. I can understand a recent Chinese immigrant mom adopting these parenting methods, because she absolutely has no idea about what it takes for children to succeed in America, but Chua doesn't have that excuse. She's a law professor at Yale, for crying out loud. She has access to academics who have studied everything from child nutrition to child psychology to cross-cultural parenting methods. She could certainly forge her own path by consulting other experts and combining multiple traditions of parenting, but she's too close-minded to realize that most experts who've studied actual childrearing outcomes would think that this "tiger mom" phenomenon is full of shit, not to mention needlessly cruel.

One of the first reactions to reading about Chua's book I had was I thought that this authoritarian, brutal, insanely status-focussed, proudly rigid-thinking and narrowminded woman must be a terrible law professor. What's up with Yale law??
posted by Bwithh at 9:15 PM on May 7, 2012


Jeremy Lin: my anti-Chua.
posted by dracomarca at 9:23 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's up with Yale law??

Smart people tend to think they know everything.
posted by polymodus at 9:31 PM on May 7, 2012


I tend to identify with Chua. In my opinion, school is so fucking simple, why not all A's?

You're born with ADHD. The kind that gets you kicked out of preschool, and F's by the time you hit First Grade. By the time middle school comes around, you actually get formally diagnosed with ADHD, and is prescribed Ritalin - which you are never told about, and you never get the medication because they're afraid of how you'd react to it. In the meantime, you continue to get bad grades, and what used to be mild, concerned talks with the parents turn into hour long screaming matches that happen every night, because they're convinced that you're getting bad grades on purpose, and you'd succeed if you just applied yourself. And even as an adult, they never told you about the ADHD diagnosis until you had it independently confirmed.

And then - finally - you get on Ritalin, and can actually succeed at what strikes your fancy, which turns out to Math, of all the things in this goddamn world to be captivated by. And then you, in the space of a year, absorb enough to place into PreCalc 2 when you go back to school for the second time, at 42. To study shit that you could have at 12, if you just had the right tools in the first place.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:58 PM on May 7, 2012 [4 favorites]




This may be a very local phenomenon, but for my parents at least the obsession with medicine and engineering wasn't so much a matter of prestige as political inoffensiveness. Their parents saw the Communist Revolution, and they grew up during the Cultural Revolution. When I was talking about what I would study in college, my father told me that medicine was a good field because no matter what else happened (indeed, especially if "what else" were to happen) a doctor could always earn his keep.


Yes, this is exactly how my parents thought in regards to certain careers. If I were able to find a nice stable job, there would be a smaller chance that I'd experience unemployment. The majority of my family is from the working class, so it was important that the current generation born in America be able to secure better lives.

My mother was definitely familiar to Tiger Mom but never quite as extreme from what I've read in the articles. From a young age there was pressure to complete with other Chinese students in my class, despite all of us being very different kinds of people.

I liked to think that my mother was trying her best to care for her children because there was a limit to how she could help us with homework/class. So the least she could due would be encourage us to follow "useful" careers.

Sigh, I have to agree with her thinking though, becoming a accountant may not seem that interesting of a job, but it'd give a chance to create time for my other hobbies. She has always been accepting of my hobbies (reading/drawing) as long as they were secondary to a main career.

After reading the other user's replies, I'm partly relieved that I wasn't the only person who felt uneasy born into this kind of situation.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 9:29 AM on May 8, 2012


Bless his heart, but Father doesn't always see what's best. Your parents have lots of opportunities to cause lasting damage. Try to not lose yourself to their ferocious breakers and waves. Find out how to love yourself and continue to love others, and maybe someday, even love your parents.

Bitterly, I could all-too-well write a chapter on this because this was exactly my fortune cookie-cutter Asian childhood in '90s suburbia, except... I'm not going to be a doctor, like prophesied. DARN it, I didn't make the 0.29% US doctor population. So, to my parents, I'm a major success-turned-MAJOR FAIL. And now, I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not The Biggest Loser, like they insist I am. And that, I'm not a waste of all their efforts and money. And I shouldn't blame myself or think that I've fallen short. I can still be a good role model to my younger sisters. My parents expected to strike gold, and got silver. I don't have to be insecure and second-guess myself, feeling hopeless, never taking risks, wracked by guilt. I can EMBRACE who I am inside, genuinely, let go of the past and not let my parents' wrong-headed parenting haunt me.

Tiger family: A child is born with a To-Do list, distributed by the Asian American Association of Parents. (ok, there might not be such a thing). A child is an investment for the future and her career is the parents' shining jewel. They delight in how large the child's paycheck will be, and how thankful and indebted the child will be to them, and the boasting that comes.

Tiger Moms intentionally take the joy out of learning and the joy out of childhood. To them, Life should be Pain. No pain, no gain. Immigrants taste a lot of pain. Tiger moms don't want their kids to discontinue building the American Dream. Life is black and white-coat. My mom said that even though we were in America, Chinese rules abide in her house. But what works in China, is not so fun to replicate in America. The pursuit of prestige and money is tantamount. Who cares about free thought? Free thought is not appreciated in China. Just play the game with all your strength.

This disgusting thing called 'Fun' and 'playing' must be doled out carefully, or else the little kiddies will get wild off it. To Tiger Moms, 'hanging out with friends' is a waste of time. After all, Life is Competition. So tiger kids don't know how to make good friends. Tiger kids are best at: memorizing and studying for tests.

Back then in China, I get the sense that class rank was really important to my parents' generation. Doors opened only for the number one scoring student, the most diligent. And those overachievers get married and ambition their way to America, and renounce that driven way of life for their kids? NO effing WAY. Congratulations for being the lucky child of Mr and Mrs Battle-scarred Overachievers. Hope you like the taste of your own tears.

So there must always be pain throughout childhood (if you slack off for even a second, goodbye precious Ivy League). But what child is born wanting and knowing that they must suffer for some reason? A child has to toil during the day, for what? For the parents' dream, which, if the child loves her parents, will also become her dream (a scenario that's hit or horribly miss).

I have a friend who was tiger mom'ed and she's on her way to being a surgeon. But I see her hiding things in her life from her parents. But at least, she held up her end of the bargain. I could envy her at times, but she's in pain, too.

Tiger Moms enforce conditional love. "If you do not obey me, you are not really my child. Do well, or I will be ashamed of you." Tiger Moms dangerously inflate the kid's ego and create little monsters by saying nonsense, "Look how smart you are, you were surely meant to be a great doctor. You're better than the neighbor's kid. Ignore their happy laughter outside. One day you will live in a big house and you can pay me back for braces and piano lessons! All you do is waste money. Have a piece of apple."

The rewards for doing well as a child are things bought at the store, NEVER a hug. Tiger kids become materialistic.

And how successfully can a young person change the views of their parents who have 30 years life experience on them? I owe my life to my parents, right? Why wasn't I born with an innate love for them? I think I did seek love from my parents once upon a time, but they failed to nurture my needs.

It's better to be loved than feared....in a parent-child relationship for goodness sake. You only get one go-around. And that go-around belongs to Princeton Review prep books? I know there must be happy moments in my childhood, but it's terribly overshadowed by the negative overtone. I was happiest escaping my life through novels. So I'm a huge Harry Potter nerd. Yes, my parents sacrificed for my sake, but one thing they did not give to me was a modicum of free will. Even Adam and Eve started out with some free will. Sure they messed it up, and paid consequences, but God still blessed them with children like Abel and Seth outside of Eden.
posted by dracomarca at 10:09 AM on May 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a not nearly as horrible white-people version of this Tiger crap, i.e. lower-class parents who'd worked up to middle class and wanted me to succeed further, with at least some of the motivation being bragging rights. And that very (very) minor version of Tigerism was bad enough for me to become near suicidal in high school and college.

Tiger Moms enforce conditional love.

To me, that was (one of) the saving grace(s) of my parents. Their love has always been unconditional at its fundament, and I wouldn't have survived if it wasn't.

It was an interesting (long) read, but I gotta say there were a lotta "well, duh" and "huh?" moments. So, people's worldviews affect how they raise their kids? You don't say ...

Asian families are notorious for their bitter feuds and decade-long estrangements.

So are Mormons? Notorious to whom?

and c'mon:

Keeping up appearances while sneaking around behind our parents’ backs is a long and cherished tradition within the Asian American community.

My opinion is that materialism is the scourge of humanity and anything parents do to encourage that mentality is seriously fucking things up for them, their kids, and all of us. My parents kept telling me "the best things in life are free" while simultaneously and mostly unconsciously re-enforcing the dominant paradigm that success is measured by how much money you make.

It wasn't until I read Growing Up Absurd that I started to feel comfortable with the myriad paradoxes of modern life and to settle into my own skin and beliefs about how to live my life.

Learning how to life your life in a way that leaves you content and fulfilled (and healthy) is a challenge, perhaps THE challenge. I can understand the appeal of having a simple path (good grades, good scores, good job) and not having to think about all the complications of human nature, but it's a recipe for disaster down the road, when, like Peggy Olsen, you realize you're busting your ass to make Heinz Beans happy.

I prefer to think of it as living "sustainably" mostly because I'm not a fan at all of "authenticity" because none of us are really that discrete after all (OK, I gotta admit that psychedelics helped me out a lot too ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:23 PM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think one thing people aren't understanding is that this is both an ethnic problem and also not limited to being an ethnic problem. There is a point behind the MIT statistic cited in the article. This is not contradictory and yet it would be wrong to ignore either of the demographic demarcations.
posted by polymodus at 2:18 PM on May 8, 2012


and that I have to deal with the assholes once their parents are done with them.

Isn't that the truth? I used to have to teach freshman calculus for biology majors (basically, all pre-med students). I faced a room full of tiger children 3 times a week. It was enough to force me out of academia (seriously).

One thing I've always wondered about this tiger parenting technique, is that there are a lot of skills you need to be successful. Academic success isn't the only thing -- you need to be at least somewhat personable to get to the top (unless you are an Einstein, and that doesn't come along that often. I get the feeling Tiger Parents are looking for the upper middle class type of success, not the outlier type). My parents were slacker tiger parents. They would push me when they saw my friends' parents pushing, but, in reality, my mom would tell me every night at dinner, "studies are not the only thing." And, she's right. I've found that if you are nice and social and a team player, you don't have work like a tiger. You have to work hard, yes, but not as hard to be somewhat successful.
posted by bluefly at 7:41 AM on May 9, 2012


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