I’m a Chinese Parent, Raised by Chinese Parents…

…and I think Amy Chua’s book is full of crap.

Wow! There are so many things I want to comment on after reading that excerpt… I’ll just do it stream of consciousness because there are so many things to unpack in Chua’s book and in the reactions of the APA blogosphere over the weekend.

First off and full disclosure, while my parents were first gen immigrants, my upbringing was decidedly not the result of stereotypical “Chinese parenting.” My parents always encouraged me to get good grades, but they never discouraged me from choosing my own activities. For instance, I never even touched a piano or a violin growing up. In fact, when it was time to pick an instrument in a fifth grade music class, I went for the drums so I didn’t have to learn to read sheet music!

The first thing that struck me after reading the excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal was that Chua seems to have a whole lot of time on her hands if she’s spending all those hours being such a hardass. My parents worked such long hours everyday that, even if they wanted to chain me to a piano, there was no way 1) we could afford a piano, and 2) that they had enough free time to worry about me practicing the piano.

See, I grew up in a small rural town in the south and my parents worked 14 hours a day, six days a week at the family restaurant. So I grew up in a working-lower-middle-class home. My memories of parental pressure didn’t involve hours practicing scales or memorizing elements of the periodic table. Instead, their expectations primarily revolved around me helping out at the restaurant if I had any free time. This isn’t to say that I was a bad student. I was an okay student. In elementary school, I was part of the Gifted and Talented program, and I took honors and AP courses throughout high school, but I was also encouraged to play sports, make friends and enjoy life as well. I even brought home the occasional C (mostly in math and science, go figure) and the house didn’t crack in two.

I actually look back on my childhood warmly and fondly. I was surrounded by uncles and cousins and grandparents who all had a hand in helping to raise me. I remember sitting in the restaurant’s back office watching “Wheel of Fortune” with my grandmother and great grandmother (neither knew a lick of English, but loved watching the contestants react to winning or losing on the TV), play basketball with my uncles and football with my cousins on the weekends, even, god forbid, had sleepovers at friends’ houses! In fact, the first time I encountered the stereotype of the overbearing Chinese parents–probably in something written by Amy Tan, I couldn’t relate at all. The idea was foreign and exotic to me. Which is probably why people love reading about it so much.

So, three-and-a-half years ago, I became my own “Chinese” parent when my daughter was born. Early on, my wife–who came to America from Japan when she was a high school freshman–agreed that we would provide our daughter opportunities to be successful, but that we’d never force them on her. And in her first three years of life, she’s already taken more “lessons” than I did my whole childhood! Most recently, she’s been enrolled in a Developmental Dance class for toddlers at the university where my wife works; she takes soccer lessons at her daycare, and took infant swimming lessons her first two summers. A few months ago, her daycare started giving her homework–which usually involves coloring something or tracing a letter or two–once or twice a week, and occasionally my wife attempts to help her recognize hiragana. All of these activities do not come at the expense of playtime, or trips to the library, or eating meals as a family, or just spending quality time together.

Ironically, I was having dinner with my father a few weeks ago and the topic of my parenting skills came up. Believe it or not, my dad thought that I was a little too strict. His reasoning? I didn’t let her watch television. “That’s not exactly true,” I told him. My dad was basing his conclusion on the fact that the television is usually off when they come over to visit. And to be honest, what’s the point of visiting your grandkids if they’re preoccupied with the tube the whole time?

Even when YeYe and GaGa (that’s what my daughter calls her grandmother. It has nothing to do with the meat-dressing pop star) don’t visit, it’s true that we limit the amount of TV she watches, because trust me, she could definitely stare at Kai-Lan or Dora for hours if we let her. Heck, that would probably make it easier on us too. Ya know, Nick Jr. is a heckuva babysitter. Instead, we have a pretty standard routine: after she gets picked up from school, she usually spends the early part of the evening playing with her toys with one of us while the other gets dinner ready. Then, when dinner’s served, we all sit together and talk about her day. After dinner, she picks up her toys before we sit on the couch and fire up an episode of Dora the Explorer or Micky Mouse Clubhouse (thank god for DVRs). After that, and a discussion about what she just watched–usually facilitated by her–it’s upstairs for a bath, a book (actually two), and bedtime. Plus, hugs, kisses, and “I love yous” before lights out.

See, my Chinese mom and dad think that’s “strict.” And “Chinese mother” Amy Chua probably thinks that I’m incompetent. I like to think that it works. Our daughter’s healthy and happy. What more could we ask for?

FYI, this is cross-posted at Rice Daddies.


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