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Friday, February 11th, 2011

Maybe Amy Chua is Not so Bad


Having thought further about what intentional parenting entails, I sought counsel from my mother, Nina, about her parenting practices. She summed them up, patly, as “values based parenting.” I was instantly appreciative of her co-opting of the term “values,” as the right wing has cashed in on it for way too long.


“In parenting we transfer daily messages to our children about what is important,” she told me. “Intentional parenting is about looking at what those messages are and choosing what you want to transmit.”


I asked her for an example. “Well, if you are celebrating Christmas and decorating the tree, why are you doing that? What is the value in that activity?”




“Maybe it’s spending time together? In which case, the quality of the interactions should be more important than the product. I’ve seen so many people ruin holidays that way. The moment it ceases to be enjoyable, move on.”


“So partially, it’s keeping in mind why you are doing what you doing?” I asked.


“Yes, if it’s about transmitting traditions, the point would be to present them in a way that your children are likely to adopt as their own, engage and take ownership in,” she continued.


I have been following the brouhaha over Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and the accompanying excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. She presents a view of parenting in contrast to what she terms Western parenting with its indulgent, lax attitudes. It is one based in the long-standing traditions of her culture. Something about the way her parents raised her made her want to raise her children in a similar way, a sign that it is working. The Chinese and “immigrant” (Ms. Chua sets forth that Chinese mothers are part of a larger non-western bloc) strategy includes a large amount of discipline, high expectations coupled with shaming when they aren’t met and demands of progenitor filial piety. This is counter to the attachment parenting ideas of Dr. Sears. Reading about the dualistic strategies as outlined in her writing made me think about the challenges that would arise when the two parenting styles converge. Although Ms. Chua doesn’t emphasize that she is a part of a multicultural family, her husband’s name is Jed, which strikes me as a tip off. Having another person in the home, one who wasn’t raised in the same way as you, means that you have to let them examine your foundation as you move ahead in creating your own. Ms. Chua’s exploration of her parenting style is probably directly related to being married to someone who doesn’t share that background.


Blending parenting styles and cultural backgrounds hinges on the successful communication between parents and kids of what values they are transmitting through their approach. The non-Western parent might emphasize, like Ms. Chua, the competency presumed in the high expectations set forth and how believing your child is capable may be more important than constant praise. The Western parent may counter that the attention and dedication outlined in Ms. Chua’s approach could be coupled with positive reinforcement as opposed to shame and name calling. They might suggest that giving children choices helps to develop the strong character for which both cultures pride themselves.


The last sentence of the WSJ excerpt from Ms. Chua’s book stated, “Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”



All of these are intentions based in the values of the cultures represented. The child who gets all of these things or the best of each will benefit greatly. The fact that this conversation is happening at all I think bodes well for the child involved because the discourse surrounding parenting is a sign of intentionality. It means thinking is going on, which makes me happy.

© 2011 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

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Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

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