Extreme Parenting? My Reaction to Amy Chua

Another update: This is the Gwen Dewar article link that Elyse and Julia talk about in the 44th Episode of Parenting Within Reason podcast.

A parenting book review has caught my attention, and I just finished reading reactions about it a the New York Times. This started out as a comment there (not posted), but it became blog length.

At this moment I have two sixteen year old young ladies playing my late father-in-law’s upright grand piano (okay, now they have moved to the den computer, but they were there for a couple of hours). One is my daughter, The Linguist, and the other is a friend that she is showing what she has learned in a high school piano class. A class she found easy since she has been plunking around the basement piano for years, and did play the violin for seven years (starting in kindergarten, I was going to enroll her with a piano teacher I met at middle child’s preschool, but she said she wanted to play violin, so I found a violin teacher instead).

My two youngest children are both decent musicians, and are/were high school honor students. I had nothing to do with those accomplishments (other than paying for the music lessons).

I was going to be just like Amy Chua, since as a woman working in a highly technological field I knew my kids would naturally be brilliant (yes, I was an aerospace engineer/rocket scientist!). I was going to play German tapes to my baby, and send him to a bi-lingual preschool. He was going to be pushed to excel. Except that he had seizures and was not able to speak even his native language, English. My oldest child, BigBoy, is severely learning disabled.

So as I learned about the ins and outs of special education and the limits of insurance payments for speech therapy, I learned a great deal about childhood development. I read David Elkind’s book The Hurried Child and decided that childhood was a journey and not a competition.

(aside: I went to a talk by Dr. Elkind at Children’s Hospital in Seattle, I told him my son was going into a preschool because he could not speak as a three-year-old, his face looked shocked and then he said “Yes, he needs early intervention.”).

I became a much more relaxed parent.

While my oldest was in special ed. preschool and kindergarten, my younger son was in a play oriented group three times a week (where I also sent my daughter). I introduced them to sports, dance, music and swimming and some things stuck, and others didn’t. The worst was the dance class my where my daughter literally marched to a different drummer (side note: my paternal grandmother and aunt were professional dancers, just glad they were not alive for this!). The best was the swimming for MathMan because he is now a lifeguard at the pool he grew up in, and that is how he pays his rent as a starving college student. Though soccer worked for all three, and value of music lessons was achieved when my two youngest told me to switch off Brittany Spears because she was horrible.

As it turns out my younger kids did well in school. Both of my younger kids actually asked the high school counselors to move them form regular pre-calculus to honors pre-calculus because they found the pace too slow. They both chose to take AP courses, and the youngest is now in Running Start. Both of the younger two failed the math Compass test, but MathMan did pass it and eventually goet the maximum score in the AP Calculus BC test (which saved us some college money, he skipped two quarters of freshman calculus). The Linguist wants to pass it during Mid-Winter break so she can spend her year last of high school away from the high school and at the community college, where she will pick up another language (French).

Truthfully, I have no idea why.

I was prepared to be very angry at Amy Chua, until I read the actual article at here. It reads like satire.

Not being allowed to be in school dramas? Wait, what? When I have attended the school’s spring musicals, there seem to be more than a few Asian faces. This includes the year when speaking Mandarin was necessary (and they were wonderful, both with great comic timing):

So instead, Roosevelt will tackle “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” which requires a large cast that can sing and tap dance, two students who speak Mandarin

I have had the outright battles on practicing with my two youngest kids, and I can also put an extreme spin on them. I have also threatened to leave a favored toy on the sidewalk because daughter decided she did not want to carry it anymore even though her three-year-old self insisted that it leave the car. I have also had wonderful make-up cuddles when it was all sorted out.

I also know many Asian kids and have talked to their parents. The Linguist belongs to one after school group, the East Asian Club. She says it is an excuse for her friends to hang out, most of them are in her AP Japanese class (even though several are Chinese and Korean, it is the only Asian language class offered).

Trust me, the kids and the parents run the spectrum of success and work ethic. At a recent school concert The Linguist pointed to the four of her Asian friends in the orchestra, they were sprinkled around from first to second violin sections. The concertmaster (the best violinist) was not among them.

I trust no stereotype.

I feel that Amy Chua surely loves her girls, and is not really the stereotype that is portrayed in the article. She has gone through the same ups and downs many of us had in trying to get our children to practice. Of course, we only have to wait a few years before they write a very caustic “Mommy Dearest” diary.

Share your thoughts. Do you feel pressured to make your children achieve academic success? Do you want them to experience a childhood? What are academic grades to you? By the way, MathMan decided to not get full night’s sleep and consume no food before he took the PSAT, a test that determines certain sholarships test. I don’t know, I took neither the PSAT nor the SAT. My decision was based on my experience during my last year at Killeen High School when my father was based at Ft. Hood, TX. As a naive 17 year old I went into the counselors’ office and took one from each pile, a counselor accused me of being selfish and I dropped one and kept one. That is why I took the ACT instead of the SAT.

On the parenting competition angle, here is the Mom Competition blog most of us will relate to!

Update: Listen to this interview with Amy Chua. She dispelled some of the misconceptions about the book. Apparently her younger daughter really tested her methods, and asserted herself, plus as a fifteen year old has just been at a sleep-over. The book is more tongue in cheek than the reviews reveal.

10 Responses to Extreme Parenting? My Reaction to Amy Chua

  1. AndrewHall says:

    I read an article (I think it was in the Wall Street Journal for some reason)about Tiger Parenting a few days ago and was shocked. There are many ways to motivate your children without telling them that they are garbage. I grew up with a speech impediment/motor coordination problem (hypertonoia that my son also has)and currently work with individuals who have disabiblities. What is clear to me is that one needs to know the baseline ability of the individual to know how much to push and prod them. Sure, kids slack off (like we all do),but I look at parenting like sauteeing – too much heat burns and too little heat doesn’t get the job done.

    • Julia says:

      I am debating whether or not to google the Tiger Parenting article you mention – it might just make me angry. I thought we as a society had evolved enough to know that insulting ones children does nothing good!

      I like your sautee analogy. I’m going through that with our 1st grader who does not want to do any homework and acts like we’re torturing her when it’s time to do it. It is a fine line I am constantly searching for!

      • Andrew Hall says:

        When Will (my son) was in 1st grade (currently in 3rd) he had a difficult time doing homework. He did the whole torturing act, too. Will now does his homework without any problems. It wasn’t easy, but I found doing the hard work with him then pays off now.

  2. Lesley Borrowman says:

    I’m trying hard to let my son have a childhood, but subtly teaching him every day. My husband and I value education and both have post secondary educations. Our current stand back approach is both because of our son’s young age (he’s 3) as well as the fact that we know nothing of his birth parents’ intelligence and skills, and much of the first year of his life is unknown (we do have some clues). But pretty much all we know of him is what we can observe and infer, which we do closely. When the time comes for school we are going to stress doing his best and striving for success, wherever his talents and interests are. There is a science school for grades 4-9 in our city that we may put him in if he shows aptitude and interest in that area. We’ll try various sports and instruments without over scheduling him, letting him find what he loves to do. I don’t know how I’ll handle home work and practice battles, but I’m hoping to teach him self-motivation and pride in his accomplishments.
    Big dreams for the mom of a 3 year old but not sure how to go about it!
    Good article, with lots to think about. Thanks for posting it!

  3. Julia says:

    Where we currently live (we’re moving in two weeks) my daughter is in an AP program for first graders and it is a mixed group of parents. There are a few like us: I have a very high IQ (I’m not bragging – I was born like this and had nothing to do with it) and my husband was a child prodigy in math. So, our daughter took the testing to (as we told her) “See what class you’ll be happiest in.” I remind her that having a high IQ is a gift you’re born with and all it does it make learning easier so she needs to recognize that and continue to put effort into learning – not just breeze by and feel superior because that’s not how life works and what really counts is whether you do your best and be a good person no matter what your IQ.

    Then there are the parents of kids in her program who are cut-throat about competition. Their kids have literally been pushed in school since kindergarten started, have activities every day after school and are expected to bring home trophies (at 6 years old???) for karate, chess, swimming, soccer, etc. One little boy literally can never have playdates with my daughter because he is always either in class or in a competition.

    One parent at the school caused a big ruckus with our K teacher and the principal when her son did not pass the test to get into AP. She demanded he be held back in Kindergarten and not be let go into 1st grade until he tests into AP. So, this is his 2nd year in Kindergarten.

    Our new school doesn’t have an AP program – you have to go all the way to a different town to a special AP school. So for our family we decided that we want our daughter to be in her neighborhood school for grade school and then it’s her choice in junior high to test for AP again. If she gets bored we’ll work with the teachers and make sure she has outside learning opportunities to keep her challenged. But a lot of gradeschool in my opinion is learning the basics (reading, writing, math, art, music) and learning how to be comfortable in society and finding where one wants to fit in society.

    My husband is successful and brilliant but his greatest dream in life has always been to be a comic book artist but he was always discouraged from that because it wasn’t “successful enough”. So, for our daughter she is encouraged to follow her dreams – even if it is something we’re horrified by like “pop star” or “fashion model” (of course we will protect her – like no getting totally used by large corporations like Miley Cyrus is).

    Not sure all that rambling made sense or not!

    • Chris says:

      I actually actively avoided having my younger kids take the test for either Spectrum or AP. This was back when you had to request it, and there was a fee.

      But things did change a bit. My daughter was surprised that when she entered middle school she was signed up for the honors math. I guessed that they used her score in the fourth grade assessment test.

      One of the very competitive mothers, the one who created more enemies than friends in the elementary school PTA, was not pleased that her son was placed in regular math. I think she may have moved him to a different school.

      One of my daughter’s friends attended the APP program at Lowell, but her mother decided to have go to the neighborhood middle school and high school. She is doing well, and is very busy because she wants to. She is also taking classes at the community college as part of Running Start.

      Oh, I also remember a competitive mother in daughter’s little playtime preschool. She wanted the program to be more academic, and the teacher replied that she should then find a different preschool. I found the phone list for that class and googled her daughter, the same child who declared that my little girl was not very smart. Turns out she attends Garfield, obviously their AP program and is a teenage fashion model.

      On the side bar over there —> I found an interesting article on the same subject:
      http://www.parentingscience.com/chinese-parenting.html

  4. Liz Ditz says:

    Please read the article on Chua’s work and the WSJ article at The Disgracian (a blog written on all things Asian by two Asian women):

    http://disgrasian.com/2011/01/battle-hymn-of-the-tiger-mother-you-hated-the-excerpt-now-read-the-book/

    and Jeff Yang’s interview with Chua

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/01/13/apop011311.DTL

    for a more complete picture of the book and Chua’s parenting philosophy.

  5. Squillo says:

    I have deliberately avoided the recent controversy over “Tiger Parenting,” but appreciated your perspective on the issues about parenting and expectations.

    As you point out, one of the unexpected gifts of parenting a special-needs child (autistic, in my case) is that you get a bye on the ridiculously competitive aspects of contemporary American parenting. The fact that I have to (get to!) appreciate my son for who he is, rather than who my starry-eyed pre-parenting self had hoped my kid would be, and really enjoy his hard-won skills rather than always be looking at what’s going to look good on a college application, is a blessing. When my second child came along, and was totally neurotypical, I think my experiences with my autistic child made me a more relaxed parent. Maybe not a “better” parent, but I think I’m able to enjoy both my children’s childhoods in a way that some of my peers don’t seem to.

  6. Enkidu says:

    I just read the WSJ article last week and was horrified at some of the things that Chua listed for her parenting regime. No playdates or sleepovers? Nothing but piano or violin? (Why on Earth…?) No sports, no boyfriends until 18 – it’s like her daughters were “grounded” until college. Not to mention the insults Chua claims to have hurled at her daughters if they didn’t perform as expected. Like someone else mentioned above, I was certain this article had to be satire, but then I got to the end and it wasn’t.

    My daughter will be 3 at the end of the month. She isn’t in preschool yet, but was in speech therapy for about a year (she didn’t say more than 10 words until she was almost two and a half). She was born 3 months early, and unlike Chua’s view in her excerpt, I view my daughter as a gift not as an “IOU.” I will encourage her to try many different things, and not be afraid to tell me what she loves and what she hates. Right now she is a bit of a tomboy, having a love of cars (she’ll only play with Barbies if they are riding in a car LOL), so we use her numerous matchbox cars to teach her colors and counting skills. :) We’ll see what our parenting style evolves into once she enters school, but I’ll tell you one thing, she’ll be allowed to go to sleepovers!

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