Chinese Parenting, Part II: Why Chinese Mothers are Superior January 29, 2011

Here is David Brooks defending the upper middle class American approach to parenting.  He declares that Amy Chua sheltered her daughters from the kind of social interactions that teach us how to deal with people in the real world.  In Anglo culture, home schooling parents, though usually much less manic than Ms. Chua, have the same question directed at them – are not your children learning to get along with others?

But I thought it was Confucianism, rather than Christianity or Western neopaganism, that stressed ‘harmony’ above all things whatsoever.  And I was reading in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves, that “American executives averaged 15 points lower than Chinese executives in self-management and relationship management” (p. 242), and “China seems to have a slight advantage here because of the culture in which Chinese execs were raised.  If you grow up in a culture where emotional outbursts and careless self-gratification are not only discouraged but are also considered personally shameful, such an upbringing is going to affect the way you manage yourself and others” (p. 244-45).  I’m trying to figure this one out.  Maybe Ms. Chua’s daughter, in having to put up with her in an atmosphere where emotional responses had to be strictly controlled, endured the equivalent of a ‘sleepover’ or a ‘school cafeteria’ in spades from her own mother, so that social experiences would have been as nothing in comparison.  And, Chinese people in China are a different thing from Chinese-American immigrants.  We should know now how well young Chinese-Americans are doing in emotional intelligence.

I might add that Confucianism absolutizes both harmony and parental authority, while Christianity favors both, but does not absolutize them.  A story my wife likes to quote a lot is “The Barnburner” by William Faulkner.  In this story, a 10 year old boy grandly named Colonel Sartorius Snopes is the son of a layabout who periodically indulges a desire to burn barns.  C. S. Snopes finally gets to see inside a truly beautiful and harmonious (sorry, Confucianism is on my mind) home, so to stop his father from burning the barn again, he turns his father into the police.  To a Confucian, that would be an act of profound disrespect to one’s parents, and would be wrong.  In Christianity, honor and obedience to parents are very important, but they are not absolute, and sometimes things happen that supersede them.  We Christians are stewards of our children, and we can be concerned about how they represent us; but for us, children ultimately belong to God, not us, and we are merely stewards.

In this vein, by the way, I think that while Western individualism may have indeed gone to excess, one of its roots is found, oddly enough, in some of the hard sayings of Jesus: Matthew 10:34-38. “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother in law – a man’s enemies will be the enemies of his own household.’  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more then me is not worthy of me . . .”  Here, not modern Western anarchic individualism, certainly, but a note of individual responsibility to God apart and above one’s covenant family, important as that is – is clearly struck.  The West today takes that too far; but many cultures in the world need the liberation of this message.

Related: “Op-Ed Columnist:  Amy Chua Is a Wimp” by David Brooks at

One Comments
Rwormald 01/31/2011

This is a very interesting topic, and Amy and I were discussing it earlier last week.

As a home schooled (up to high school – and Amy through high school) child myself, I can understand why home schooled kids get the bum rap they do. However, I wonder how much of this debate really is cultural or even value based, and how much really does matter.

I know many home schooled children who are much more adjusted and mature than non-home schooled children. Often home schooled children better interact with adults, work better on their own, and have better study habits then their “public” schooled counter parts. Of course we all know those “typical” students who are very shy and socially awkward.

I have often pondered how much of this is due to the parent’s parenting (or teaching) and how much is due to the education style itself. Consider that for the majority of human history education was primarily in the home, I wonder if the institution deserves the negative press it often receives.

As to the Chinese parents vs the “western” parents, it seems to me that there is good and bad in both. To ignore sports, art, and drama is a blatant mistake if one is concerned with culture, and well rounded children. However, if one’s goals is only to raise children who play music well, do well in school, and make good money in business – perhaps the Chinese method is a good one. I guess it boils down to what one values, and what values they wish to pass on.

No doubt our “western” culture has become too concerned with feelings and too lax in their discipline and teaching good work habits to their children. I think we “westerners” can learn something from the Chinese parents: our children can do greater things than we often think they can. With the right amount of pushing they will better achieve their potential. First we must more rightly understand what their potential really is. I think our biggest problem is we both under estimate and over estimate our children’s potential.

We over estimate what they can do in what we tell them: “you can be or do anything you want”, and we underestimate what they can do in how we treat them. We let them be sloppy and lazy in their work, and we do not challenge them to be the best that they can be through hard work and perseverance, and especially through pushing them to do good things that they do not want to do.

Anyways thanks for talking on this topic.

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