JUDGING THE BOOK BY ITS COVER

I knew it right away. The title triggered me in way that made me want to run and hide, and read it at the same time. So, I guess for every PR firm, the ideal had occurred.  

 

I sort of joke with my parents when I see them interact with my children, their grandchildren. When they come to the door, my parents immediately hug my children, tell them how much they love them, how much they have missed them since the last 24 hours when they saw them, and ask them what they'd like to eat/drink/play with/have.

 

"See," I say to my daughter who secretly 'wishes she was Grandma's daughter'. "It's so much better to be the grandchild than the daughter. When I was growing up, Grandma never told me she loved me."

 

My kids don't believe me.

 

They absolutely cannot believe that a world exists where their grandparents -- my parents -- didn't explicitly say they loved me or my siblings. They don't believe that we never held hands with my parents, never received a hug or a "good job", and never felt like we were good enough.

 

They will never know the grandparents -- my parents -- who told us we were too fat, not smart enough, or that we were too lazy. They will never know the people who said that a 98% on a test included a 2% failure. They will never know the people who stated that if we had 20 minutes to watch television, then we had 2 hours to practice piano, violin, or study more.

 

 

So, when I saw the title in the WSJ that "Chinese Mothers are Superior", I cringed. I knew exactly what it would be. It would be in praise of discipline, structure, and intentional activity. It would criticize the praising of children, the emphasis on play and imagination, and the over affection that many Western parents show by calling their children "little buddy" or "pal" or giving them a "good job" at every mediocre event.

 

I knew I would be faced with my own upbringing by Asian immigrants and my knowledge of Western child development.

 

In simply reading the excerpt from the WSJ, I knew that each of Chua's examples would be pulled from my own life. I also knew that my children would never be able to relate to her stories. For, after all, I am not a Superior Chinese Mother.

 

I am, however, to borrow from my friend Delia, a "kick ass Asian American parent."

 

My children -- ages 7, 4 and 1 -- are disciplined. They have been taught to respect their elders and their peers. They have not been allowed to give up in any situation, even if they do not like the activity. We have signed them up for soccer, karate, gymnastics, and even new schools. And, despite their early protests at each one of these events, I have never let them quit. I've emphasized lessons in perseverance and seeking a positive lesson out of a negative experience.

 

But, they have also been hugged, told they were worth love, and encouraged. They have been told that 98% is awesome and that they are as interesting -- if not more interesting -- than some of my friends.

 

They see me experience emotions: crying at commercials, laughing at movies, and yelling at the television. They hear me dialogue with my husband, sometimes agreeing but mostly disagreeing. But, most importantly, they have been encouraged to do the same. They have argued with me, told me they were upset, and demonstrated ranges of joy.

 

And, every morning and every night, no matter what happens, they are hugged and kissed.

 

Of course, once the WSJ article made its way sufficiently around the internet, people quickly came to Chua's defense. Not in defense of what was written, but in defense of what was not written. She told of the lessons that were learned -- the similar lessons that I, too, learned as a parent -- of acknowledging the way we were raised and moving forward.

 

Though the air has been cleared, one of the greatest things the mis-representation of the Chua excerpt has raised is awareness of the pressures of the model minority myth. Asian American youth have one of the highest suicide rates, and many adults have come out to say that they, too, had considered the pressures of growing up under unrelenting expectations.

 

 

Enough conversations (both online and in person) have occurred about the pain and consequences of the model minority expectations. And, thankfully, the article helped to spark the conversation and keep it on the forefront of our awareness.