Why Some Mothers Feel Superior

I read Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior with several hats on. As a mother, of course. As a student of Asian language and culture. From the perspective of having lived in Taiwan for two years, and teaching English as a Second Language here in the US.

And: as a writer. That is where I get most of my insight into this. If you say something reasonable and nuanced and balanced and complex in public you might as well be silent. To get the public's attention you have to have something big to say that will anger people. Better still, make sure that apoplectic anger will look ridiculous because it will expose the critic's own biases.

Not all Chinese, or Asian, or immigrant families are the same. Yes, they often share certain traits, the greatest being that people don't leave their countries because they wandered out of their house by mistake: emmigration requires a very different set of motivations or - when involuntary - coping skills than in the general population. Or the second generation. I know plenty of Chinese people, and Asians, and immigrants who share some of the (pointedly exaggerated) values in the article. I know a good many who don't.

I'm not going to excuse or even explain these abusive values with an argument of cultural relativism. These ideas are all too common but still wrong. I actually share several of her critiques of modern parenthood, but living as I do helping families struggling with pathological and painful perfectionism I can not be less charmed by this gleeful display of it.

But here's the question: how could Chua, or I, have started a conversation about these issues - some of them truly important - without her writing a horrifying article that received 7372 comments (as of this minute) in a few weeks mostly just because it is deliberately provocative? After all, *I'm* using her piece as a springboard for discussion, too.

I don't actually believe Chua is a child abuser. I believe she is a good mom but an even better writer: she's getting people talking about things we really do need to talk about. But please: quietly.


  1. "If you say something reasonable and nuanced and balanced and complex in public you might as well be silent. "

    This is very pessimistic and I disagree wholeheartedly.

  2. Oooo, right, how to comment on this one on this blog??

    Firstly I completely agree with you about how much of the article is written for effect - much like the article about the 'overweight' ballerina, I suspect this article was written in a style most likely to get her maximum publicity.
    Having said that, although I *seriously* disagree with just about everything she has said, I do agree with the spirit (from a teacher’s perspective) of the article (relax, I will explain!).

    There is a great deal of research which highlight the link between expected performance and actual performance. In particular the idea that 'near enough is good enough' will do nothing for developing meaningful intrinsic self esteem. There needs to be legitimate achievement for self-esteem to be significant.
    Instead of attempting to artificially increase self-esteem students need to be encouraged to value hard work and persistence. If students underrate the importance of effort they will not be motivated to choose to challenge themselves through (responsible) risk taking and will only choose the safe option in order to guarantee success. Set-backs should not be something we fear (in an academic situation), but rather viewed as an opportunity for discussion and learning resilience.

    All this is said only from an ‘all other factors being equal’ stand-point. It is not said to upset anyone struggling with their child’s ED or low self-esteem.

  3. How come she didn't mention that Asian Americans have high rates of suicide?

    "Asian Americans also have another not so wonderful distinction; they are much more likely than the average American to commit suicide..."


    Everything she said, reminded my of what I said to myself when I was delusional from lack of nutrition.

    "Hey fatty—lose some weight."

    "You're lazy..."

    "That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame.."

    "..override all of their children's own desires and preferences. "

    "... I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, "

    "Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence.."

    If she was my mommy, she would have made a great pro-ana buddy.

  4. I agree, Laura. In the book publishing world you can say something balanced and nuanced, but your agent has to sell it as something salacious, something controversial and wild. People who have read Tiger Mom (and I haven't) say it is more nuanced then the press it is receiving. Unfortunately this is how we sell books in America. Same goes for Ayelet Waldman and her "I love my husband more than my kids" shtick. We need to have serious conversations about parenting, but when it is sold the way that Tiger Mom is, everybody yells and no one listens.

    Chua probably does have good things to say and could start a good conversation, but so far I haven't heard it.

  5. i hate to say it, on one hand i see how damaging this could be to someone sensitive....on the other hand i can see how beneficial this could be with follow through....maybe there is something to tough love....i might hate my parents for forcing me to meet my goals but at the same time, in retrospect i might really appreciate that they did make me work hard to meet my goals. At least them id learn early on not to make excuses, not to rationalize inaction, not to convince myself I cant at every turn. If there is no option but to succeed, a person will have a much higher rate of success. Verbal abuse is not necessary in many cases, though verbal abuse to me means being maliciously cruel, not motivating someone using negative tactics. If a persons goal is to motivate and to see a child through to success, and they aren't maliciously enjoying abusing a child...it shows it is obvious.

  6. See, here we go! We could be having a useful debate about the issues of high expectations, positive reinforcement, merit-based praise, and a balanced life - and that is all good. But what I see happening is it gets up framed as: Chua is right or Chua is wrong. She's either got a point, or she's horribly misguided. For those of us who might have , sympathy with part of the debate, and hang our head at others, it's quite frustrating.

    This is the way we discuss things in public. It's very black/white, you're in or you're out, you're good or you're bad.

    I've even seen whole friendships dissolved over one point of disagreement because ANY point of contention can obviate all other agreements. I must be getting old, because this dichotomous debate is getting old.

  7. Hey, I realize (thank you, X) that my comment above could be seen as accusing the commenters of black/white debating but I was speaking of the GENERAL debate all over the Internet. The comments here (except for the lively dissenter at the top) HAVE been nuanced and thoughtful.

  8. Parents cause eating disorders. Isn't that what some people (including professionals) still think?

    This is a textbook example for their argument. An over-controlling mother and an avoidant father. The child feels like they don't have control so they control their food and body.

    My parents didn't cause my Ed but the therapist still grilled me. Even after I said "no" there is still doubt. There are still some therapists that use her parenting style as an excuse for why Maudsley won't work. Her parenting style is the reason I'm still grilled and parents are still blamed.

    "We could be having a useful debate about the issues of high expectations, positive reinforcement, merit-based praise, and a balanced life "

    Yeah, we could do that but why not use the mother of Isabelle Caro as a springboard for discussion? After all she committed suicide after this story came out.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts