Friday, January 14, 2011

Banana Parenting Part 2: I'll Never Be A "Chinese Mother."

This is why I will never be a true blue "Chinese mother." Ariel missed her first violin lesson today.

Last night, I saw an email from her music teacher at school with an attachment - both online and on the Blackberry. Groan. More schedules. Let me tweet these articles first, before I look at it. Of course I Twitter-ed away the hours, in between fiddling with Rapid Weaver.

This morning, I received a very polite email from the violin teacher, Ms C, gently reminding me that Ariel is "clearly very interested in starting violin lessons."

I'm just glad Ms C is not Mdm Amy Chua. I think I just commited a reprehensible offense in the latter's books.

In my "Banana Parenting" response to Ms Chua's piece in WSJ (Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior), I painted myself as prefering a more balanced approach, but nevertheless veering towards the camp of discipline, rules and my own somewhat oxymoronic concoction of reasonable strictures.

But this morning, I felt more like a bananas-in-pyjamas parent. I was sloppy, in my own book - no excuse. Thus humbled, I thought it fitting to acknowledge that while I don't completely agree with Ms Chua's style of mothering, I should give her credit where it's due.

Ms Chua has written a response to the responses to her piece and her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She maintains that her style of "Eastern parenting" involves high expectations "coupled with love, understanding and parental involvement."

Despite her clarifications, I believe many people will still find her methods extreme and be unable to wrap their minds around how such methods can speak of love. But if one was to stop for a moment and turn off one's own cultural biases and personal judgment and just read her response objectively, it is not so hard to fathom.

Open Salon blogger Grace Hwang Lynch has written an excellent review of Ms Chua's book and it would be a good idea to read this, if not the book, before passing any further judgment or comments on Ms Chua. Some of the more impassioned reactions (on other forums, of course) have included name-calling and other uncalled for vitriol. I don't believe Ms Chua meant to find herself in a clash-of-the-cultures maelstrom. At the end of the day, I agree with Grace, that we need to remember that this is one woman's personal memoir.

This woman, in allowing us a no holds barred look into the (sometimes ugly and painful) details of her struggles in parenting has laid her vulnerabilities at our feet. That may not be so apparent on the superficial level because she is coming across as being so strong, so agressive and yes, somewhat superior.

But this is also the same woman who confesses in her reply to readers that she is "definitely a Type A personality, always rushing around...not good at just lying on the beach." She didn't say the rest of us shouldn't lie on the beach if we choose to - just that she can't seem to do that herself.

So here is my confession. I'm very much a Type A maniac myself, always doing too much. That is why, despite not agreeing with Ms Chua, I can empathize with her.

Consider this: doing everything that she did for her daughters required extreme stamina and focus.  If the child had to practice for 3 hours, it meant the mom had to watch for 3 hours. I can't do that (especially if Glee is on TV.) On my good days (i.e. not the bananas/pyjamas days), I can probably claim to have a B+/A- level of that kind of mental strength. (And yes, I was pretty much a straight A student, or at least in the top cohort because I went to schools that sadistically didn't give "A" grades to motivate us to perform better. Let's not go there.)

So again, while I don't agree with Ms Chua completely, I have to say I respect her for: 1. being honest and sticking up for what she believes in; and 2. her commitment to her family.

Let's put this in perspective. We may feel strongly that it's not good to call our children "garbage" but she is also not an abusive drunk who left her kids starving out in the streets like garbage. Different strokes for different folks. Let's leave it at that, and thank Ms Chua for giving us fodder for much interesting debate/discussion.

So I'll never be a true blue "Chinese mother" but I'm happy chewing on my parenting bananas. Now I need to get out of my pyjamas and go pick the kids up from school.

Note to self: print music schedule, highlight dates, put it somewhere I won't forget to look. 

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