The Corner

The Chinese Way

Amy Chua has set the cat among the pigeons with her WSJ piece on the Chinese-Mom style of parenting. As an 18-year resident of an American household that includes a Chinese Mom, I’m getting asked about my reactions.

Something like: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I cheer Ms. Chua’s scornful rejection of all the happy-sappy idiocies of “child-centered” parenting. The Englishman in me says that kids should be flogged and bullied through to adulthood, if they are to arrive there with any learning, skills, or character.

My inner Murdstone, however, would prefer that the job be done by someone with more time and patience than I have. Few of us have any interest in devoting hours a day to parenting; amongst working males with active social lives, very few; and it’s an intractable fact that you don’t do anything well if you have little interest in it. That’s why there are schoolteachers.

Nature-nurture-wise, we’re in the territory here of r-K strategies, otherwise known as the cads-dads dichotomy. In one environment a critter’s best species-survival strategy might be to have as many offspring as possible and not bother about them much — to be a cad. In another, the best payoff may come from having few offspring but investing heavily in them — the dad strategy. As with many other features of human nature, the rule of three applies here, with East Asian populations statistically most daddy, sub-Saharan Africans most caddy, and the rest of us scattered in between.

On a cad-dad scale of 0 to 10, I’m about a 4. Mrs. D. is more of a traditional Chinese Mom, but not out at the Chua end of the spectrum: about a 7, I’d say. This has created stresses and strains with parenting issues, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Our offspring seem to be turning out pretty average American kids (though Nellie does play a mean violin). Now, in mid-to-late teens, they meet Mom’s Chua moments with patient tolerance, or at worst a rolling of the eyes. If, however, I were to tell you that the phrase “control freak” has never, in all these 18 years, been screamed across the Derb living-room, I’d be telling you an untruth.

(For my reviews of Amy Chua’s books, see here and here.)


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