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Update on Dragon Mother story

(64 Posts)
Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 12:02:51

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!

OP’s posts: |
lalalonglegs Sun 16-Jan-11 12:32:56

Here it is: -

Here’s 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 doesn’t mean it’s not an important one. My answer, I’m 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. It’s not easy to make your kids work when they don’t 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 can’t.

The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just doesn’t tolerate that possibility. The Chinese model turns on achieving success. That’s how the virtuous circle of confidence, hard work and more success is generated.

The virtuous circle didn’t work with Lulu, however. I just couldn’t understand it. Everything seemed to be going exactly according to plan. At considerable cost — but nothing I wasn’t prepared to pay — Lulu succeeded in all the ways I’d 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 I’d 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. You’re too strict with Lulu — too extreme. You’re going to regret it.”

“Why are you turning on me now?” I shot back. “This is how you raised me.”

“You can’t do what Daddy and I did,” my mother replied. “Things are different now. Lulu’s not you — and she’s not Sophia. She has a different personality, and you can’t force her.”

“I’m sticking to the Chinese way,” I said. “It works better. I don’t care if nobody supports me. You’ve 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 don’t care”. She rejected my vision of a valuable life.

“Why can’t I hang out with my friends like everyone else does?” she’d demand. “Why are you so against shopping malls? Why can’t 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.

That’s why Lulu’s manoeuvre was so smart. She’d 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 I’d 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 wouldn’t try it.

“Lulu, you sound like an uncultured savage,” I snapped. “Try the caviar. You can put a lot of sour cream on it.”

“That’s even worse,” Lulu said, and she made a shuddering gesture. “And don’t 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 can’t force me to eat something.”

I felt my temper rising. “You’re behaving like a juvenile delinquent. Try one egg now.”

“I don’t want to,” said Lulu.

“Do it now, Lulu.”


“Amy,” Jed began diplomatically, “everyone’s tired. Why don’t 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? You’re only hurting yourself. We’re in Russia, and you refuse to try caviar! You’re like a barbarian. And in case you think you’re a big rebel, you are completely ordinary. There is nothing more typical, more predictable, more common and low, than an American teenager who won’t try things. You’re boring, Lulu — boring.”

“Shut up,” said Lulu angrily.

“Don’t you dare say ‘Shut up’ to me. I’m 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 don’t love me,” Lulu spat out. “You think you do, but you don’t. You just make me feel bad about myself every second. You’ve wrecked my life. I can’t stand to be around you. Is that what you want?”

A lump rose in my throat. Lulu saw it, but she went on.

“You’re a terrible mother. You’re selfish. You don’t care about anyone but yourself. What — you can’t believe how ungrateful I am? After all you’ve done for me? Everything you say you do for me is actually for yourself.”

She’s just like me, I thought: compulsively cruel. “You are a terrible daughter,” I said aloud.

“I know — I’m not what you want — I’m not Chinese! I don’t want to be Chinese. Why can’t you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I HATE my life. I HATE you, and I HATE this family! I’m 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.

I’d made a career out of spurning the kind of western parents who can’t 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. “I’ll smash more if you don’t 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 Lenin’s 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, Grandpa’s 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 Lulu’s violin case sitting at home by the front door (for the first time ever we hadn’t 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 we’d endured. For what?

I rejoined my family at the GUM cafe. The waiters and other guests averted their eyes.

“Lulu,” I said, “you win. It’s over. We’re giving up the violin.”

When Lulu realised I was sincere, she surprised me. “I don’t want to quit,” she said. “I love the violin. I would never give it up.”

“Oh, please,” I said, shaking my head. “Let’s not go in circles again.”

“I don’t want to quit violin,” Lulu repeated. “I just don’t want to be so intense about it. It’s 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 can’t 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 don’t wreck tennis for me like you wrecked violin

At the next lesson I watched her drill her backhand with a focus and tenacity I’d never seen in her. She’s so driven, I thought. So ... intense.

Lulu’s tennis instructor told me: “She has an unbelievable work ethic — I’ve never seen anyone improve so fast. She’s a great kid. You and your husband have done an amazing job with her. She never settles for less than 110%. And she’s always so upbeat and polite.”

“You’ve 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! Don’t wreck tennis for me like you wrecked violin.”

That really hurt. I backed off. The next day I tried again. “Lulu, there’s a place in Massachusetts. . .”

“No, Mommy — please stop,” Lulu said. “I’ve watched you and listened to your lectures a million times. But I don’t want you controlling my life.”

I didn’t really give up. I’m still in the fight, but with some significant modifications to my strategy. I’ve become newly accepting and open-minded.

Meanwhile, I’ve resorted to espionage and guerrilla warfare. I secretly plant ideas in her tennis coach’s head, texting questions and practice strategies and then deleting the messages so Lulu won’t see them.

Sometimes, when Lulu’s least expecting it — at breakfast or when I’m saying good night — I’ll suddenly yell out: “More rotation on the swing volley!” or: “Don’t move your right foot on your kick serve!” And Lulu will plug her ears, and we’ll fight, but I’ll have got my message out, and I know she knows I’m right.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 12:35:38

Thanks lalalonglegs. I defy anyone reading that to say that Chua was right in her treatment of Lulu!

OP’s posts: |
lalalonglegs Sun 16-Jan-11 12:50:24

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.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 13:58:28

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?'

OP’s posts: |
exexpat Sun 16-Jan-11 14:05:28

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.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 14:10:13

The desired result will be to sell the book.
I hadn't realised that her DH wrote Interpretation of Murder'.

OP’s posts: |
Catkinsthecatinthehat Sun 16-Jan-11 15:09:44

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 Lulu’s least expecting it — at breakfast or when I’m 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?

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 15:23:38

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.

OP’s posts: |
ZZZenAgain Sun 16-Jan-11 15:34:39

"so much of what I do with Sophia and her younger sister, Lulu, is miserable, exhausting and not remotely fun for me. It’s not easy to make your kids work when they don’t 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 can’t."

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.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 15:37:35

I think that you have to admire her honesty! However maybe she is just doing it to sell the book!

OP’s posts: |
ZZZenAgain Sun 16-Jan-11 15:42:06

could be. Dunno think there is something generally unflinching about her whole character though

Melty Sun 16-Jan-11 15:55:55

For an alternative Chinese Mother, read this:
good Chinese Mother

Its a collection of stories about an altogether different Chinese Mum.

Xenia Sun 16-Jan-11 19:09:31

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.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 19:14:36

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.

OP’s posts: |
allnightlong Sun 16-Jan-11 19:44:30

grin I like the sound of Lulu good on her for challenging her bitch of a mother.

Xenia Sun 16-Jan-11 19:58:00

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.

Lamorna Sun 16-Jan-11 20:17:14

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.

OP’s posts: |
DarrellRivers Sun 16-Jan-11 20:22:53

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

Xenia Sun 16-Jan-11 20:53:13

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.

mathanxiety Sun 16-Jan-11 21:02:53

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. hmm

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.

Xenia Sun 16-Jan-11 21:16:43

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)

differentnameforthis Sun 16-Jan-11 21:37:32

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!

You’ve been brainwashed by your western friends

I’d made a career out of spurning the kind of western parents who can’t 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.

mathanxiety Sun 16-Jan-11 21:40:23

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.

mathanxiety Sun 16-Jan-11 21:46:08

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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