Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

Why Doesn’t China Let Baba Go Home?

I wrote an essay for InCulture Parent about our efforts to keep our children’s Chinese identity alive when their father cannot travel home. Please read it here. And for those who haven’t read it before, InCulture Parent is a fabulous resource for anyone raising a multicultural family (or anyone interested in the world outside the U.S.).


Chinese Mothers

[a Chinese mother by Helga’s Lobster Stew on flickr]

By now half the country has at least heard about an op-ed published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal by Yale Law professor Amy Chua. Titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” it details the sometimes painful lengths she goes to to ensure the academic success of her two daughters. I am not a Chinese mother, nor was a raised by one, but I do have plenty of friends who are Chinese mothers, or were raised by one, and I am married to a Chinese father, so I know well enough that the piece does not come close to defining a universal experience in Chinese families. I have nothing to add to the firestorm that has already erupted over this article (see the onslaught of tweets discussing Amy Chua, for example) but thought it would be useful to sum up some of the reactions.

From China Hearsay, a blog written by a Western law professor in Beijing:

Does Chua really believe that all kids, no matter their background or DNA, can get straight ‘A’s and be at the top of every class as long as they try hard enough? Does she believe that her kids did not start off with some very substantial advantages in life that simply aren’t available to everyone else?

Why do I can care about this? Two reasons. First, I’ve seen a lot of kids here (some are my students) pressured unmercifully by their parents to the point where it is unhealthy. Shit, kids commit suicide from this kind of stuff when they can’t measure up to unreasonable expectations.

Are Western kids lazier than Chinese kids? To some extent maybe they are, and Chinese parents in general certainly push their kids much harder. Chua’s concept of parenting is brutal micromanagement; they should play the piano, stay away from their peers and popular entertainment. Studying 10 hours a day will indeed improve your grades, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a price to be paid for this as well.

Indeed. On her own blog, Betty Ming Liu writes a response to Chua titled, “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy” in which she calls Chua, “a narrow-minded, joyless bigot.”

And a question on Quora also generated several interesting responses to Chua’s piece, including one by Christine Lu which tells the story of her seemingly successful Asian-American sister who committed suicide. Lu writes, “the notion of the ‘superior Chinese mother’ that my mom carried with her also died with my sister.”

Even the Village Voice got in on the act. And a discussion forum has taken up the topic, with a number of people showing more agreement with Chua’s points than the posts linked to above. And a post from the Big Wowo blog looks at the article from the perspective of Chua’s interracial marriage: “People like Chua talk one thing and practice another. ‘I love the culture so much that I searched long and hard for a man who didn’t embody it. That’s patronage.”

[a Chinese mother by kevsunblush on flickr]

Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, from which her op-ed is excerpted, comes out this week. And now will surely sell. It is reviewed in the Washington Post:

…In many ways, “Tiger Mother” did not disappoint. At night, I would nudge my husband awake to read him some of its more revealing passages, such as when author Amy Chua threatened to burn her older daughter’s stuffed animals if the child didn’t improve her piano playing. “What Chinese parents understand,” Chua writes, “is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” By day, I would tell my own two daughters about how Chua threw unimpressive birthday cards back at her young girls and ordered them to make better ones. For a mother whose half-Chinese children played outside while the kids of stricter immigrant neighbors could be heard laboring over the violin and piano, the book could be wickedly gratifying. Reading it was like secretly peering into the home of a controlling, obsessive, yet compulsively honest mother – one who sometimes makes the rest of us look good, if less remarkable and with less impressive offspring. Does becoming super-accomplished make up for years of stress? That’s something my daughters and I will never find out.

As a review of the book in Entertainment Weekly concludes, “We’ll just have to wait for her daughters’ memoirs.”

UPDATE: Read an American mother’s take on the essay. And a moving post by Shanghaiist’s Elaine Chow about her own experiences with the “Chinese mother” model.

UPDATE 2: There have now been far too many responses to Amy Chua to post them all. But I think this video from Taiwan’s Next Media Animation just about says it all:

[a Chinese mother by tylerdurden1 on flickr]


How to get more Mandarin in Your Child’s Life

The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council (mentioned here) has a brilliant post with ideas and specific resources for squeezing more Mandarin into your child’s daily life. It is geared toward parents who do not speak Mandarin themselves, and some of the ideas are specific to San Francisco but most could be used universally. A great resource.


Community-building in the Bay Area

[This has been cross-posted from Today’s Mama.]

If you are raising Mandarin-speaking children in the Bay Area and would like to meet or interact with other families like you, I’ve recently learned about (and joined) a number of email groups that may be of interest:

*Advocates for Chinese Education is a Bay Area-based group that promotes Chinese-language learning in local schools. They helped set up the successful immersion programs in San Francisco public schools. Their website is here and their Yahoo group is here. They also produce an annual newsletter and run Mandarin Play and Learn groups for toddlers.

*The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council is an active group of parents whose children are in the SF immersion programs. Their website is a wealth of information about immersion programs around the country, resources for supporting Mandarin learners at home, and news about local schools.

*The Bay Area Chinese Education Community is a Yahoo group “for the sharing of information related to the learning of (Mandarin) Chinese language and culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pre-K through high school.” You can sign up to join here.

*Farther south, The Mandarin Chit Chat Yahoo group shares information and resources for Silicon Valley and the South Bay. Sign up here.

Please let me know of other resources I may have missed. I’m not aware of any group that focuses on the East Bay, but if any readers are interested in setting such a group up, send me a message and we can join forces.


Raising Bilingual Kids

PhD in Parenting blog has a lengthy and interesting post about raising bilingual children, and why and how to do it. Her conclusion for the “why”: “Overall, there seems to be a correlation between learning a second language and overall intelligence and open mindedness.” She also has a good overview of the various methods to use, depending on your family’s situation and environment. The post has generated a lively discussion on the topic in the comments section. Check it out here.


Useful tips

ChildBook has posted Top 10 Home Efforts to Help your Kids Learn Chinese Faster. Useful tips for learners of any language.


Recommended Readings

A few readings from around the web that may be of interest:

- “Child’s play in China” a British journalist and father writes about the different attitudes toward play he sees in his children and their Chinese classmates

On a related note, an American teacher in Beijing writes about a generation of only children in China being educated without much training in leadership or team work.

And on the topic of play (about which I feel strongly), here is an excellent public radio program on “the educational power of things like play, sports, music, memorization and reflection”:

(If you can’t hear this, click here.)

This last one is not directly China related, though I have found that my children learn Chinese, like other subjects, best through playing, creating, singing, and imagining in the language, not through memorization or sitting still in a classroom and being taught. This program presents a powerful argument for why that is so.

- NPR reporter Scott Simon writes a beautiful essay in the Wall Street Journal reflecting on Thanksgiving with his Jewish-French-Irish-Chinese family including two adopted Chinese daughters:

Our Chinese children sit at the Passover table and scrounge for Easter eggs. They wear “South Side Irish” green scarves around their necks on St. Patrick’s Day. It’s all in the family.

My wife came home one day from our daughters’ Chinese culture class to announce there would be no class next week. “Because of the Jewish holidays,” she explained, straight-faced. Only in America. Our girls speak French, like their mother. My wife and I join our girls to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in Mandarin. We’ve learned that families mixed by marriage or adoption don’t shrink or starve a heritage. They nourish it with newcomers.

Happy Thanksgiving. 感恩节快乐!


The Tao of Parenting

This isn’t directly related to bilingualism, but for those of us raising young children with an awareness of and appreciation for Chinese culture, I thought it provided an interesting perspective on the more difficult moments. The blog A Ku Indeed has a post about taking a Taoist approach to discipline. He quotes a verse of the Tao Te Ching:

Poem 43 says:

The softest things of the world

Override the hardest things of the world

That which has no substance

Enters into that which has no openings.

From this I know the benefits of unattached actions

The teaching without words.

The benefits of actions without attachment

Are rarely matched in the world.

The blogger then continues:

When I read this poem, I immediately see the connection to Big-P and our recent struggles. Basically, in trying to force her to do what she’s been told, and in focusing on correction and on punishment, we’ve set up (or me, more than my wife) an antagonistic structure within the parental relationship. Basically, I’m trying to make sure that Big-P does what I have told her to do. Partly, this is good-natured and well intentioned. However, part of it is undeniably egoistic and has little to do with care for Big-P. I mean hey — I’m not about to let a four-year old dictate to me what she does and doesn’t do! So partly it’s an egoistic reaction to her defiant behavior. “I’m the king here!” is what is partially running through my head while I am correcting and punishing and dictating.

This kind of behavior, as I’ve learned, simply makes things worse. As some Taoists call it, this is “Laozi’s Law” in action. When you push against something to enforce something on it, it pushes back. You push hard, it pushes back harder. The world resists your attempts to control it. This is epitome of what would be called an attached (as opposed to an unattached) action. It means not being “open” to the world, and instead trying to dictate to it how it should be.

Sam at Useless Tree, another blog looking at Chinese philosophy in contemporary life, goes a little further with this idea.

Interested by these ideas, I did a quick search to see what else has been written on the topic of Taoism and parenting. Quite a lot, it appears, though I don’t yet know how good or serious any of those books are.