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Update on Dragon Mother story(64 Posts)
Unfortunately I can't give a link to the Sunday Times story today because you have to subscribe. However I thought it would be interesting to put three things, for those of you who thought there was nothing wrong with Amy Chua's pushy parenting.
1. In China the child is extension of self.
2. Her own parents, her mother in particular thought she was wrong. She said that things are different now and Lulu couldn't be forced, she had a different personality.
3. Things came to a head in an outdoor cafe in Moscow. Lulu had increasingly been making scenes in public (an absolute taboo for Chinese families) and she refused to try caviar. It became a battle of wills ending with Lulu saying that she hated the violin, hated her life, hated her mother and hated her family and that she was going to take a glass and smash it. Her mother dared her so she smashed it and said that she would smash more if she didn't leave her alone. Chua was the one to run off in tears and then go back and agree to change. Lulu took up tennis and once her mother realised she was very good she tried to take control again but had to back off, now she does interfere but surreptitiously.
It is agreed that Lulu is a wonderful pupil, polite and with a great work ethic, her mother moulded her this way but I wonder whether it was worth it!
Here it is: -
Heres a question I often get asked: Who are you doing all this pushing for: your daughters or yourself? I find this a very western question to ask (because in Chinese thinking, the child is the extension of the self). But that doesnt mean its not an important one. My answer, Im pretty sure, is that everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.
My main evidence is that so much of what I do with Sophia and her younger sister, Lulu, is miserable, exhausting and not remotely fun for me. Its not easy to make your kids work when they dont want to, to put in gruelling hours when your own youth is slipping away, to convince your kids they can do something when they (and maybe even you) are fearful that they cant.
The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just doesnt tolerate that possibility. The Chinese model turns on achieving success. Thats how the virtuous circle of confidence, hard work and more success is generated.
The virtuous circle didnt work with Lulu, however. I just couldnt understand it. Everything seemed to be going exactly according to plan. At considerable cost but nothing I wasnt prepared to pay Lulu succeeded in all the ways Id always dreamt she would.
After months of gruelling preparation and the usual fights, threats and yelling and screaming during violin practice at home, Lulu won the position of concert master of a prestigious youth orchestra, even though she was only 12 and much younger than most of the other musicians. She received a statewide prodigy award and made the newspapers.
At school she got straight As and won the top French and Latin recitation prizes. But instead of her success producing confidence, gratitude towards parents and the desire to work harder, the opposite happened. Lulu started rebelling: not just against practising, but against everything Id ever stood for.
She even started talking back to me and openly disobeying me in front of my parents when they visited. This might not sound a big deal to westerners, but in our household it was like desecrating a temple. In fact, it was so out of the realm of the acceptable that no one knew what to do.
My father privately urged me to let Lulu give up the violin. My mother, who was close to Lulu (they were email pen pals), told me flat out: You have to stop being so stubborn, Amy. Youre too strict with Lulu too extreme. Youre going to regret it.
Why are you turning on me now? I shot back. This is how you raised me.
You cant do what Daddy and I did, my mother replied. Things are different now. Lulus not you and shes not Sophia. She has a different personality, and you cant force her.
Im sticking to the Chinese way, I said. It works better. I dont care if nobody supports me. Youve been brainwashed by your western friends.
Then Lulu did something else unimaginable: she went public with her insurgency Instead of a virtuous circle, we were in a vicious spiral downwards. Lulu turned 13 and grew more alienated and resentful. She wore a constant apathetic look on her face, and every other word out of her mouth was No or I dont care. She rejected my vision of a valuable life.
Why cant I hang out with my friends like everyone else does? shed demand. Why are you so against shopping malls? Why cant I have sleepovers? Why does every second of my day have to be filled up with work?
Then Lulu did something else unimaginable: she went public with her insurgency.
As Lulu well knew, Chinese parenting in the West is an inherently closet practice. If it comes out that you push your kids against their will, or want them to do better than other kids, other parents will heap opprobrium on you, and your children will pay the price. As a result, immigrant parents learn to conceal things. No one wants to be a pariah.
Thats why Lulus manoeuvre was so smart. Shed argue loudly with me in the street, at a restaurant, or in a shop and strangers would stare. Once she screamed so loudly that a policeman came over to see what the problem was.
The endgame took place in Moscow on a holiday Id dreamt of for a long time. Jed, my husband, had found us a hotel right in the centre of the city. We headed out for our first taste of Russia.
After roaming around for a bit, we sat down at an outdoor cafe. It was attached to the famous GUM shopping centre, which is housed in a palatial building that takes up almost the entire east side of Red Square.
We decided to get blinis and caviar. But when the caviar arrived, Lulu said: Eww, gross, and wouldnt try it.
Lulu, you sound like an uncultured savage, I snapped. Try the caviar. You can put a lot of sour cream on it.
Thats even worse, Lulu said, and she made a shuddering gesture. And dont call me a savage.
I pushed the caviar towards Lulu. I ordered her to try one egg one single egg.
Why? Lulu asked defiantly. Why do you care so much? You cant force me to eat something.
I felt my temper rising. Youre behaving like a juvenile delinquent. Try one egg now.
I dont want to, said Lulu.
Do it now, Lulu.
Amy, Jed began diplomatically, everyones tired. Why dont we just . . .
I broke in: Do you know how sad and ashamed my parents would be if they saw this, Lulu you publicly disobeying me? With that look on your face? Youre only hurting yourself. Were in Russia, and you refuse to try caviar! Youre like a barbarian. And in case you think youre a big rebel, you are completely ordinary. There is nothing more typical, more predictable, more common and low, than an American teenager who wont try things. Youre boring, Lulu boring.
Shut up, said Lulu angrily.
Dont you dare say Shut up to me. Im your mother, I hissed. A few guests glanced over.
I hate you! I HATE YOU! This, from Lulu, was not in a hiss. It was an all-out shout at the top of her lungs. Now the entire cafe was staring at us.
You dont love me, Lulu spat out. You think you do, but you dont. You just make me feel bad about myself every second. Youve wrecked my life. I cant stand to be around you. Is that what you want?
A lump rose in my throat. Lulu saw it, but she went on.
Youre a terrible mother. Youre selfish. You dont care about anyone but yourself. What you cant believe how ungrateful I am? After all youve done for me? Everything you say you do for me is actually for yourself.
Shes just like me, I thought: compulsively cruel. You are a terrible daughter, I said aloud.
I know Im not what you want Im not Chinese! I dont want to be Chinese. Why cant you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I HATE my life. I HATE you, and I HATE this family! Im going to take this glass and smash it!
Do it, I dared her.
Lulu grabbed a glass from the table and threw it on the ground. Water and shards went flying, and some guests gasped. I felt all eyes upon us, a grotesque spectacle.
Id made a career out of spurning the kind of western parents who cant control their kids. Now I had the most disrespectful, rude, violent, out-of-control kid of all.
Lulu was trembling with rage, and there were tears in her eyes. Ill smash more if you dont leave me alone, she cried.
I got up and ran. I ran as fast as I could, not knowing where I was going, a crazy 46-year-old woman sprinting in sandals and crying. I ran past Lenins mausoleum and past some guards with guns who I thought might shoot me.
Then I stopped. I had come to the end of Red Square. There was nowhere to go.
Families often have symbols: a lake in the country, Grandpas medal, the sabbath dinner. In our household the violin had become a symbol. For me it symbolised excellence, refinement and depth the opposite of shopping malls, mega-sized Cokes, teenage clothes and crass consumerism. Unlike listening to an iPod, playing the violin is difficult and requires concentration, precision and interpretation.
To me the violin symbolised respect for hierarchy, standards and expertise. For those who know better and can teach. For those who play better and can inspire. In short, the violin symbolised the success of the Chinese parenting model. For Lulu it embodied oppression. And as I walked slowly back across Red Square, I realised that it had begun to symbolise oppression for me too.
Just picturing Lulus violin case sitting at home by the front door (for the first time ever we hadnt brought it on holiday so that she could practise) made me think of the hours and hours and years and years of fighting, antagonism and misery that wed endured. For what?
I rejoined my family at the GUM cafe. The waiters and other guests averted their eyes.
Lulu, I said, you win. Its over. Were giving up the violin.
When Lulu realised I was sincere, she surprised me. I dont want to quit, she said. I love the violin. I would never give it up.
Oh, please, I said, shaking my head. Lets not go in circles again.
I dont want to quit violin, Lulu repeated. I just dont want to be so intense about it. Its not the main thing I want to do with my life.
Lulu decided to quit orchestra, giving up her concert master position to free up Saturday mornings for tennis. Some months later I picked her up from some godforsaken tennis place.
Guess what, Mommy I won!
Won what? I asked.
The tournament, Lulu said.
What does that mean?
I won three matches, and I beat the top seed in the finals. She was ranked No 60 in New England. I cant believe I beat her!
Over the next six weeks Lulu won three more tournaments. At the last two I went to watch her play. I was struck by what a fireball she was on the court: she never gave up. No, Mommy no! Please dont wreck tennis for me like you wrecked violin
At the next lesson I watched her drill her backhand with a focus and tenacity Id never seen in her. Shes so driven, I thought. So ... intense.
Lulus tennis instructor told me: She has an unbelievable work ethic Ive never seen anyone improve so fast. Shes a great kid. You and your husband have done an amazing job with her. She never settles for less than 110%. And shes always so upbeat and polite.
Youve got to be kidding, I said. But despite myself, my spirits lifted. Could this be the Chinese virtuous circle in action? Had I perhaps just chosen the wrong activity for Lulu? Tennis was very respectable.
Michael Chang had played tennis.
I started to gear up. I familiarised myself with the rules and procedures of the US Tennis Association and the national ranking system. I started calling around about the best tennis clinics in the area.
Lulu overheard me one day. What are you doing? she demanded. No, Mommy no! Dont wreck tennis for me like you wrecked violin.
That really hurt. I backed off. The next day I tried again. Lulu, theres a place in Massachusetts. . .
No, Mommy please stop, Lulu said. Ive watched you and listened to your lectures a million times. But I dont want you controlling my life.
I didnt really give up. Im still in the fight, but with some significant modifications to my strategy. Ive become newly accepting and open-minded.
Meanwhile, Ive resorted to espionage and guerrilla warfare. I secretly plant ideas in her tennis coachs head, texting questions and practice strategies and then deleting the messages so Lulu wont see them.
Sometimes, when Lulus least expecting it at breakfast or when Im saying good night Ill suddenly yell out: More rotation on the swing volley! or: Dont move your right foot on your kick serve! And Lulu will plug her ears, and well fight, but Ill have got my message out, and I know she knows Im right.
Thanks lalalonglegs. I defy anyone reading that to say that Chua was right in her treatment of Lulu!
I do sympathise with Chua a bit - she obviously has/had huge problems distinguishing her achievements from her children's. She's clearly quite an obsessive person and she wanted what she thought was best for her children and, as with a lot of obsessives, she became over-focused.
I actually feel worse towards her husband who must have known her treatment of the kids was wrong but who let her go ahead because, I suspect, he quite liked the result: very talented, high achieving children whose reflected glory only added to his own.
I'm also not quite sure that this coda does tell us that her methods were entirely wrong: in a way, it's proved what she thought all along - that by training her children in particular way, they can succeed in whichever field they choose. Lulu has gone from being a violin prodigy to wiping the floor on the tennis court, her coach has never seen a child so motivated etc.
I agree that a certain amount of pushing is a good thing but that the initial choice should come from the DC and then you support and perhaps push a little when the going gets tough. Where I think it is wrong, and will backfire, is if the parent is the one to decide on the activity. You also have to bear in mind the personality of the DC, some can blossom but others will break and others will rebel. Lulu standing in the freezing cold at 3 yrs old in total defiance could have told her which way it would go.
I agree with someone's comment on the comments part and that is 'why can't the parent practise for 4 yrs a day and do it for themselves rather than through their DC?'
She's obviously really pushing the book this week - there's another article about her in yesterday's Guardian family section - Amy Chua which gives a bit more perspective, including her husband's input (more of the fun stuff), and the fact that she has a sister with Downs syndrome, who also experienced 'Chinese parenting' from their mother, and learned to do more than people expected. But then expectations for children with Downs were very low forty-odd years ago.
The desired result will be to sell the book.
I hadn't realised that her DH wrote Interpretation of Murder'.
What strikes me about Chua, is how spiteful she comes across as. Her daughter begs her not to ruin tennis for her like she did the violin and she embarks on a campaign to do just that. There's the stuff behind her back with the coach which seems to give her a malicious thrill, and then there's the constant quick digs and undermining "when Lulus least expecting it at breakfast or when Im saying good night".
Doesn't that remind you of some of the threads on the relationships board about women dealing with emotionally abusive and controlling partners? Why must Lulu be defeated at all costs over every single thing?
Because she is a control freak Catkins, she has just learned the hard way that she can't be too obvious. I think that Lulu is lovely and very forgiving, she is very lucky to have her.
"so much of what I do with Sophia and her younger sister, Lulu, is miserable, exhausting and not remotely fun for me. Its not easy to make your kids work when they dont want to, to put in gruelling hours when your own youth is slipping away, to convince your kids they can do something when they (and maybe even you) are fearful that they cant."
never mind being a Chinese dd, I don't fancy being a Chinese mum!
"in our household the violin had become a symbol. For me it symbolised excellence, refinement and depth...symbolised respect for hierarchy, standards and expertise. For those who know better and can teach. For those who play better and can inspire. In short, the violin symbolised the success of the Chinese parenting model. "
Interesting, makes some sense out of her attitude to the music thing whihc had me frankly puzzled. It sounds like one thing that is really, really hard for that woman to do is relax about anything. She sounds like the product of her own education - driven to achieve, fixed on excellence and worthiness and so on. I don't think she can relax at all really, attention to detail and peredtionism probably govern her whole life and it is hard for her to step outside of that. In some ways I like her, she is very honest about herself, sin't she? Doesn't baulk at showing herselfi n an unattractive light and her dh she portrays well too in just a few words here and there.
I think that you have to admire her honesty! However maybe she is just doing it to sell the book!
could be. Dunno think there is something generally unflinching about her whole character though
For an alternative Chinese Mother, read this:
good Chinese Mother
Its a collection of stories about an altogether different Chinese Mum.
I just read it in the Sunday Times.
What struck me most was her need to control the child. Having had 3 teenagers you do learn that it isn't about control. It was the same when she had toddlers. She wanted the child to obey and I've read British mothers talk about not letting the toddler out of the high chair until they ate ever last piece. Yet if instead your philosophy is like mine - that we are privileged to borrow our children and we can learn frm them as much as they from us - the the idea that coercion as a matter of principle to impose your will on them is alien.
You almost want to say "get a life" - don't live life through the children. It's the methods not the result I object to because in some ways I am similar to her in career terms and in having children who I have got through a multitude of music and school exams. It's just I think you can achieve it through better Western psychological methods. I certainly don't however think children do great ignored and left to say don't fancy homework.
And children who learn music do bnetter in school. The difference I see is adore classical music and I sing every day. When I did singing with the twins today it was because the music makes me happy and the fact we haven't spent a second this weekend learning latin or French vocabulary is that it gives me no joy at all . She seems to subsume herself to the chidlren and thereby she is less happy and the less happy parent is not what children want and thus she has a cycle of unhappiness and confrontation.
I remain totally struck by the terrible sexism of it all. Where is this Mr Absent father. He needs a year's feminist conditioning course. How could he leave his children out of his own care delegated to the mother when they both work? It's bizarre. I don't know Jewish fathers who do that. I know involved Jewish fathers particularyl where the mother has a successful career. I suppose he was just too lazy to bother. An easy life to give in to his wife and let his children suffer but he is at least as complicit.
I agree Xenia and it fits in with the wonderful poem you quoted by Kahlil Gibran.
'They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.'
I think that it applies to any nationality or culture.
I like the sound of Lulu good on her for challenging her bitch of a mother.
The end point is still I was right. I made her a hard worker and even if she chose sport not music she took on my ethos to succeed at that. There's still a valedicotry the child is only good tbecause of my won input about it - I own this child for life who owe me a debt of gratitude for life and will care for me in old age because I have done so much for the child.
Now in Vannesa Mae's case (violinist) I think she wasn't speakign to her moter for a time so it can backfire if you're not careful.
The other point is that Lulu is still young, it would be interesting to know how much contact she has with her mother in the next 40 or so years, I feel that they won't be close.
I did laugh at her claim that her method backfired, when she really wasn't saying that at all.
She was still claiming she was in the right.
That said, I am a mother who wants all her children to succeed.
Not using her methods, but my mother's methods
Penelope Leech int he Sunday times says
" The seence of chuas's aooach is almost that children are possesions and that parents if they put enough effor tinto i t can mould them to be what they likje Her account reads very much like training racehorses. Ro me there is a hgue diference between doing all you can to facilitate what your children appear to want to do and deciding what you want them to do and forcinv it on them".
It can force the child to rebel. I certainly think you can mould the children. I'm sure mine like classical music because of their upbringing but I am happy if they do sport as music. What I like to thik is that they've been exposed to a smorgasbord ./ rich range of hobbies from skiing to riding, music to sport and they then pick from that what they wish and that even a choice to be a lotus eater of monk is not wrong - that they choose their own path but having the information to nkow that choice a might mean a life of poverty and choice b not so.
Xenia I agree with you absolutely. (Speaking also as a mum who has got children through many, many exams - no, it doesn't just happen all by itself) There are far better ways of skinning the cat...
I am struck by the reported conversation in Moscow - Amy Chua behaving like a spoiled child, in effect throwing a parental tantrum.
And yes, she still can't accept that she is a separate being from her daughters - utterly pathetic and imo a failure as a parent and perhaps as a co-parent; I doubt if her H is enjoying the spotlight all of this has cast on him or on his family's life. Her own parents are probably mortified.
And the tennis coach has seen stage mothers like her before.
She seems so blithely unaware of what a spectacle she has made of herself with the publication of her book, and continues to deny and deny. 'But despite myself, my spirits lifted. Could this be the Chinese virtuous circle in action? Had I perhaps just chosen the wrong activity for Lulu? Tennis was very respectable.
Michael Chang had played tennis.
I started to gear up.' Really pathetic, sad, desperate woman.
It's interesting because I doubt she did it to make money as she and her husband are successful so it must have been written to make a point. I've done the same - written things which might expose the family when I think there's a moral principle or point that is worth making but I can't see hers.
I don't disagree with her that children need some guidance and no child will go to school and do homework unless a parent to an extent forces them but the Chinese methods seem psychologically wrong and counter productive.
(Sorry about my bad touch typing above on the quote)
She even started talking back to me and openly disobeying me in front of my parents when they visited. This might not sound a big deal to westerners
she makes it sound like we don't know how to raise our children. I would be furious if (and when) dd talks back to me, and deal with it! She is so patronising, I'm almost pleased Lulu rebelled!
Youve been brainwashed by your western friends
Id made a career out of spurning the kind of western parents who cant control their kids
Wow, she really hates westerners, doesn't she!
She won't give up controlling her daughter (txts to the coach, getting little digs in etc) until that child leaves home, and that probably won't be soon enough for the child.
I think it was done in order to make a point too; that's even worse as she shows she is incapable of stepping back from herself, despite the appeal for sanity from her own Chinese parents, and seeing herself as others now do. There's a huge ego problem here.
And she is painting herself further and further into a corner, and taking her children and husband with her. She has hit just about every nerve that's there to be hit. I can't imagine she has left a single eyebrow unraised.
It's all about feeling superior, Differentnameforthis. Being 'Chinese' is just fuel to the ego trip. If she was willing to admit that she's American (which she is actually) she would claim some other distinction from the rest of Americans. She needs to feel distinct and superior and she has used her children to get that feeling.
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