Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Today I read about “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (I first read about from here) and found the analysis is thought provoking, and totally shed some new lights into parenting.

Today’s Chinese is not we used to be, we are influenced more by Western culture while maintaining our Chinese roots. We have a few new age concepts in mind, that’s academic isn’t everything (they don’t have to score A in everything) and to let our children to engage in activities which they like (they have choices beyond Piano and Violin). After reading the article, I was thinking perhaps we had gotten too soft and end up creating underperforming kids? Oh gosh, so much responsibility in parenting.

A few of my favorite quotes from the article:

“my daughters are NEVER ALLOWED to: 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”

Chinese mom does not believe that learning need to be fun. And nothing is fun until you’re good at it, so it’s crucial to override their preference, fence of their resistances, force them to practice and never ever give up (or let the child give up). “Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more..”. This is interesting: nowadays we worry that our children will commit suicide over too much pressure, that we no longer force them to be the best they could be. Once the child wanted to give up, as we could say is “you have done your best”.

The following example gets even better (I try to rewrite it to a shorter version, but it is so much more impactful to read it as a whole):

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then 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. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” 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.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.

“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”

“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”

“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. 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, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

We all know success is a not an easy thing, which require utmost determination and perseverance, which I child might not have such quality (even an adult might not have what it takes). How much should we control and push our children towards the direction which we think is right, and that they could achieve magnificent feat when they grow up (did Jay Chow’s mom force him to practice Piano and he is thankful for her now). Did we give up too easily on our children, or do we have little expectation of them (we didn’t expect them to be someone great; but just someone nice).

How far should we go, and how much can our child take before they attempted suicide or become a very sad and stressful child. When should we give up, "knowing" there is a possibility that our child might not become what we had hope for them. After all, not everyone can be "successful" or be "great" by our definition. Not everyone can survive like Lulu and turn out to be stronger, and not everyone can be No 1.


Mich said...

when i was young I fancy dancing , playing volley ball and swimming but mom said that other activities beside studies will jeopardize my studies.
And the end i persuade her to let me learn swimming claimming that is for survivor :P

d_luaz said...

Haha, good selling which ur mom bought ;)