Up Against the Wall Chinese Mother

Up against the wall [Chinese] Mother,
Mother, who has raised her son so well.
~ Ray Wylie Hubbard

ChineseMotherI’ve read some of the brouhaha over this so-called Chinese mother business.  Basically, some lady decided to go way beyond old school and be super-demanding and, apparently, really harsh with her kids, in an effort to turn them into violin prodigies, and whatnot.

I refuse to believe that all, or even most, actual Chinese mothers act this way, but I didn’t pick the phrase and so we’ll go with it.

Back to the matter at hand.  I see all kinds of sides to this debate.   It’s nuts, yes.  But there’s a little more to it.

One, I am pretty sympathetic to the idea that maybe, just maybe, we are too new age with our kids.  Never keep score, everyone gets a trophy, etc., etc.  I think there is a happy medium, but we have definitely swung too far to the kinder, gentler side of things.  Sure, your soccer coach may reward you with a trophy even if you never practice and don’t even try, but your future bosses probably won’t be as understanding.

I’ve coached youth sports, and even though I tried to find a happy medium, I was clearly viewed as a Bobby Knight terrorizer of children.  Every time I got a strange look for speaking in a non-Sesame Street tone to the kids, I’d recall the way my first football coach would grab us by the belt and literally throw us out of the way if we kept screwing up.  And how hard I tried not to screw up after I got tossed around a few times.

If you treat a child like a baby, the child will act like a baby.

Plus, if we treat our children like babies until they are adolescents, it makes it a lot harder to make the transition into that era of school and sports, generally beginning in late middle school, when grades and performance actually start to matter.

One the other hand, nothing bugs me more than some parent who sublimates all his or her frustrations and desires into the parenting of his or her children.  I don’t think all highly directive parents do this, but some do.  For sure.

And why the violin?  When a kid is 3 or 4 he or she doesn’t have the slightest idea what really interests them.  The violin part really bugs me.  What if one of her kids wanted to be a great mandolin player?  Or a world class juggler?

I’m pretty demanding with my kids.  With Delaney, it started with swimming, not because I decided she would become a great swimmer, but because she did.  If she has a bad swim, I’ll say something like “Dang, Delaney, I thought you were going to drown out there,” or I’ll ask if she needs some Floaties.  At first, this made her mad. 

Now it clearly motivates her.  Big time.  Last summer’s league Freestyle championship heat, for instance.  She didn’t need Floaties that night.

Delaney is third from the right, with the blue swim cap.

After seeing how Delaney responded to my raised expectations in swimming, I started being more demanding of all my kids, with school work.  I tell them that if they make a bad grade they’ll have to sleep in the yard for a night or two, on the trampoline.  They’re pretty sure I don’t mean it- pretty sure being the important part.  They are all good students, and they feel personal satisfaction as a result thereof.  That’s the key, because true motivation comes from within, not from without.

Of course, we also goof around together all the time.  Playing Wii Sports, and watching bad reality TV.  We have a good time.  We do the “pull my finger” thing all the time.  Most of the time, we’re just messing around.  But they all know when to bring it.

But, and here’s where I disagree with this so-called Chinese mother, you also need to build-up your kids and express love (I said express, not just feel).  My kids and I hug all the time.  I tell them I love them constantly.  If one of my kids gained a few pounds,  I would never say “Hey fatty- lose some weight,” as described in the article that started this whole rigmarole.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, pisses me off more than someone putting down their kids in a way that affects self-esteem.

I also realize that often we’re just trying to get the kids to school or bed.  There’s not always time to mold your child into whatever you’d like them to be.  Thank goodness.

I tell my kids to be what you want to be, but just be good at it.

High expectations and choices makes kids strong.  They dig it.  Trust me.

Demeaning kids and taking away their choices makes them weak.  It may not look that way at first, but just wait.  Just because you’re not some new age, wimpy American doesn’t make you Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.

There’s also the very important question of what defines success.  I am squarely in the camp that grade school does not need to be Harvard.  Or Yale.  I doubt I could do anything in the 10th grade that Cassidy can do now in the 7th.  And I’m certain I had more free time.  Being a honking nerd is not everyone’s vision of perfection.

I think the fact that the so-called Chinese mother didn’t let her kids have play dates or sleepovers, or be in a school play or play any instrument other than the piano or violin (for crying out loud) is idiotic at best and abusive at worst.  She says:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.

Really?  Well there are millions of golfers, tennis players, card players, painters and God knows what elses who think that is pure horseshit.  I am terrible at Wii Recreation basketball.  Delaney beats me like a drum.  But I love it.  The only time I beat her was by a last second jumper from the corner.  It was epic.  The look on her face when that shot went in makes the countless drubbings worth it.

On the fifth or sixth hand, however, I fervently agree with the so-called Chinese mother that just saying “do your best” is a cop out.  In my house we have a saying, that I stole from Jillian on The Biggest Loser- “to say you’ll try is to fail with honor.”

And on the final hand, I think a lot of the nonsense she was spouting in the original story was designed to get people riled up so she’d sell a few books.  I’m sure she accomplished part one of that plan.  Part two?  That may be a bigger hurdle.  I don’t want her book, but I’d buy a CD of her kids playing kazoos.  Or anything other than the violin or piano.

There’s a middle ground somewhere between ne
w age America and this lady’s perception of China.

That’s where I want to raise my kids.

One thought on “Up Against the Wall Chinese Mother

Comments are closed.