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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Parents’ high expectations not harmful

“”Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”” sounds like the start of a racist joke, but is really a book by Amy Chua on parenting “”the Chinese way.”” Chua is pushy and demanding, and her children are overworked perfectionists destined for therapy. But it’s a lot less outrageous than it sounds.

Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, wrote her memoir about raising her two daughters the way her Chinese-immigrant parents raised her. Her daughters could not attend sleepovers, watch TV, play computer games or get any grade less than an “”A.”” After all, we’re Asians, not Bsians. Chua’s daughters’ extracurricular activities consisted of several hours of violin or piano practice each day.

In an excerpt published in The Wall Street Journal, Chua describes forcing her 7-year-old daughter, Lulu, to learn a difficult piano piece. Lulu tries to quit, so Chua withholds breaks, lunch, dinner, Christmas presents and birthday parties for the next two, three, four years until Lulu can play the piece. She calls Lulu “”lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic”” until her husband tells her that everyone learns at different speeds.

She retorts, “”Everyone is special in their special own way … 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.””

Since the book’s publication last Tuesday, Chua has received messages like, “”Go back to China, you abusive monster,”” she said in an article in Newsweek.

Based on The Wall Street Journal excerpt, Chua’s book relies on sweeping generalizations about the way whites and Asians think. But I see a lot of my own strict upbringing by Vietnamese immigrants, and the upbringing of other Asian-American children I knew.

In the end, after several straight hours of practice, Lulu successfully plays the piece. She and Chua hug, and Lulu says, “”Look, Mommy — It’s easy!”” It’s a triumph for Lulu, who imagined she couldn’t do it only to discover that, with enough determination, she could.

The criticism of the “”tiger mother”” is unfair. Speaking in the same generalizations Chua uses, Asian-Americans straddle a divide between traditional and Western thought, what my parents call the “”American way.”” Asian parents don’t tiptoe around issues like weight, or tell their children it’s enough to just “”try your best.”” “”Hate”” is a motivational tool.

There are times when it’s hard to resist feeling resentful, but parents like mine or Lulu’s aren’t “”abusive monsters.”” I’ve never doubted my mother’s faith in me, like Chua’s commitment to her daughters’ fullest potential.

“”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,”” Chua writes.

Chua admits she’s harsh — she rejects birthday cards made by her daughters, punishes her 3-year-old for not practicing piano by making her stand outside in frigid winter weather — but as a product of similar, albeit much less extreme, parenting, I can vouch for her good intentions.

Her methods sound crazy. Her daughters probably just wanted to eat a Happy Meal and watch cartoons as kids. But, based on my own experiences, they also developed wonderful work ethics, an appreciation for hard work and an intolerance for excuses.

Yes, “”even losers are special in their own way.”” But Chua knew her daughters weren’t losers, and made sure they knew it, too.

It’s not fun or easy to be the Asian-American kid with the goofy, squinty eyes and absurdly strict parents. But you do learn to be grateful to those parents for pushing you, showing you how to be better. And you get over the eyes thing.

— Kristina Bui is the opinions editor of the Daily Wildcat. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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