Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:I was particularly struck (horrified? flabbergasted?) by a few events, like when Amy threw her 4-year-old daughter's carelessly made birthday card at her and told her to do a proper job, declaring 'I deserve better than this! So I reject this'; when she made 7-year old Lulu drill a piano piece far into the night without toilet, water or meal breaks, threatening the loss of her dolls' house and telling her to 'stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic'; and when she said to Sophia, 'If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!'.
attend a sleepover have a playdate 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.
For me, reading this book felt a bit like watching a slow-motion train crash: you can't look away, even though you can tell it's heading for disaster (although my friend, more experienced in parenting, tells me that teen rebellion is hardly a train crash). By the end of the book, Amy Chua is standing in the wreckage, still gamely declaring the advantages of 'Chinese parenting'.
There are a few things I think us 'Western parents' can learn from Amy:
- We assume fragility, not strength, on the part of our children, so that self-esteem depends on praising and not criticising them. Amy argues that true self-esteem comes from having high expectations for our kids, on the assumption that they are strong and capable enough to meet them.
- Our kids don't need a protective environment, but skills, work-habits and inner confidence that will equip them for the future.
- Our goal shouldn't be to be our children's best friend: good parents risk disappointing and being disliked by their kids. Children don't need to pursue every passion and fulfil every impulse.
- Western parents try not to burden their children, but it's good to expect children to respect and care for their parents (although I'm not sure the Asian 'never disappoint your parents' or 'you owe me everything' is any better than the Western 'you are free to go your own way and make your own choices').
- Nothing is fun till you're good at it, and to get good at anything you have to work hard; after that, success is self-replicating. I see this in my children's piano practice (on a small scale - no child prodigies here): discipline produces achievement which produces joy which reinforces discipline.
- Honesty about a child's weaknesses and failures can be a good thing: it assumes that they are capable of more, and that they are strong enough to handle the truth.
- Good parenting involves dedication and self-sacrifice: coming alongside our children and helping them to learn skills and character.
What really bothers me is what Amy boasts she was trying to achieve: the 'dreams' she had for her daughters. Musical prodigy, academic success, career advancement: if these are the things we aim for, we're encouraging our kids to pursue idols that will come up empty. Better to aim for things that last, even if it means our children aren't high-achievers: love for God and his word, self-sacrificial love, a longing for people to come to know Jesus, and a willingness to give up everything for him.
In the end, whatever our methods, our parenting will be driven by one of two things: our love for idols or our love for Jesus.