“We aren’t here to raise happy kids, we’re here to raise healthy, competent, thoughtful adults!” So said I with just a hint of smugness round about the time my oldest daughter was a mere 7 years old and still a compliant little bundle of joy… Then over the next ten years I promptly proceeded to violate that “value” in every conceivable way. (“Value” in quotes because it clearly wasn’t a value to me, rather it was just a good idea…) According to Dr. Lehman, Tina and I are the “permissive” parents, we talk a big game but at the end of the day, our kids pretty much get whatever they want and do very little to earn it. That’s not on them, it’s on us! But I find myself wrestling with a seething sort of resentment toward them at times when they are unappreciative or entitled or bitchy or rude when, after all, “I do EVERYTHING for them! And they don’t appreciate it at all!”
Reading Chua reminded me of the fact that underneath all of the styles and accoutrements of parenting lie the core desires of all parents… that their offspring would thrive and live lives of purpose. So if the desired outcome is the same, how can there be so many different views on how to get there? What is the secret sauce? Is it fond memories of happy times at the park, going swimming, nice vacations, designer clothes, the latest gadgets? Or is it a strong work ethic, pride in accomplishment, winning, straight A’s? What? Should parents be friends or disciplinarians?
Can they be both?
-This same question could be asked about any number of other relational constructs and ultimately culture decides.
While reading Chua, I was alarmed at some of the things spoken to her daughters, things that in our “western” world (to use Chua’s preferred description) would be deemed abusive and worthy of a visit from Children and Family Services. In a western context, the primary motive behind parenting is to buoy the child’s self-esteem, in the Chinese context (at least through Chua’s eyes) the primary motive is to not allow self-esteem to be cheaply bought; it MUST be earned or it is worthless. So, which of these is right? Does one have to be right and one wrong or can they both be right within a given context?
This book was less about parenting and more about the migration of cultural hallmarks from one context to another. Can a hallmark of one culture (in this case Chinese parenting) exist beyond the second generation embedded in a receptor culture? How much power does the prevailing and surrounding context have on hallmarks of culture? It seems to me the forcing of one cultural distinctive into a very different, very foreign context is really where the potential for volatility is found and Chua articulated it well when she spells out the pattern of cultural decline:
- The immigrant generation (like my parents) is the hardest-working. Many will have started off in the United States almost penniless, but they will work nonstop until they become successful engineers, scientists, doctors, academics, or businesspeople. As parents, they will be extremely strict and rabidly thrifty. (“ Don’t throw out those leftovers! Why are you using so much dishwasher liquid? You don’t need a beauty salon— I can cut your hair even nicer.”) They will invest in real estate. They will not drink much. Everything they do and earn will go toward their children’s education and future.
• The next generation (mine), the first to be born in America, will typically be high-achieving. They will usually play the piano and/ or violin. They will attend an Ivy League or Top Ten university. They will tend to be professionals— lawyers, doctors, bankers, television anchors— and surpass their parents in income, but that’s partly because they started off with more money and because their parents invested so much in them. They will be less frugal than their parents. They will enjoy cocktails. If they are female, they will often marry a white person. Whether male or female, they will not be as strict with their children as their parents were with them.
• The next generation (Sophia and Lulu’s) is the one I spend nights lying awake worrying about. Because of the hard work of their parents and grandparents, this generation will be born into the great comforts of the upper middle class. Even as children they will own many hardcover books (an almost criminal luxury from the point of view of immigrant parents). They will have wealthy friends who get paid for B-pluses. They may or may not attend private schools, but in either case they will expect expensive, brand-name clothes. Finally and most problematically, they will feel that they have individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and therefore be much more likely to disobey their parents and ignore career advice. In short, all factors point to this generation being headed straight for decline.1
She discovered, through much pain and personal agony, that the receptor culture is much stronger than the one entering from the outside and will eventually always win…
1. Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 22.