With the feverish discussion going on over at the Wall Street Journal about the parenting style of “Chinese mother” Amy Chua (nearly 7,000 comments, last time I checked), I’m not sure why I felt the need to toss in my two cents—perhaps I felt ‘called out’ to defend my own style of parenting. (Ms Chua’s editors apparently chose the title for her article: “Why Chinese mothers are superior”, and if they did it to spark controversy and discussion, it certainly succeeded.)

Naïve, Western me, I didn’t know there was such a phenomenon as “Chinese mothers” (or a parenting syndrome related thereto), though I am well aware of the statistics when it comes to the excellence of Asian children in academics, music, and so forth.

Ms Chua, clarifies:

I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

Loose or not, I definitely qualify as a Western parent. By choice. I am no proponent of indulgent, laid-back parenting. I homeschool my children and they all study music; thus they are subjected to a reasonable amount of discipline (in the sense of having a consistent and ordered schedule and work ethic, that is). When it comes to my expectations, whether in academics, music, sports, or life, my hope is that they will strive to reach their fullest potential, not that they will achieve an arbitrarily assigned outcome.

This is largely determined by my religious belief that each child, having unique gifts, also has a unique calling in life, a destiny determined by her Creator. I want all their successes to be measured in the context of how they live out that calling. I believe my children are made in God’s image, and ultimately, it is him they must reflect, not me. Moreover, even in my worst moments (and all moms have them), I have never called my child a loser, a coward, or “garbage” because she failed to meet my expectations.

I found some aspects of the article appalling, and can’t help agreeing with many in the comments section who believe Ms Chua is essentially endorsing child abuse.

She describes piano practice with her 7-year-old:

I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day…. I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
[…]

I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress…

Yikes. Success was eventually achieved, but at what cost?

But Ms Chua explains why this is necessary, and it’s not just to build character or to train the child for future challenges.

The vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting”…

I’m sure that all parents, to some degree, sympathise with this attitude. What mother doesn’t bask in the glow of a child’s success? But there has to be more to life than this, especially for the child, because sooner or later, he or she can’t be “number one.” Fostering an unyielding (and unrealistic) attitude of “failure is not an option” is no way to prepare a child for setbacks in life. If the adventure of parenting is in any way an ego trip for the parent, it’s often the child who ends up falling under the bus.

I see (and concur with) Ms. Chua’s point about some Western parents being overly concerned about damaging their children’s fragile psyches, to the point where they offer no guidance or correction whatever. Yet at the same time, children have souls, unique personalities, and human dignity. They are not, and should not be expected to perform as, machines. The goal of education is surely not to produce success-at-any-cost “winners”, but to expand the mind, heart, and soul of a human being.

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...