Dear Asian America,
As so many have pointed out through gut-wrenching personal testimony and the horrible statistics surrounding high suicide rates among young APA women–and a high rate of untreated mental illness in our community overall–Amy Chua‘s book hit a nerve. Big time.
But, let’s make this flood of commentary and outrage NOT about Chua’s book, but about the damage a certain kind of patriarchal, homophobic, and authoritarian, high-stakes parenting can do.
Yes, I said homophobic. The narrowness and rigidity of what makes for the Right School, the Right (Ethnicity) Mate, the Right Job…you don’t think it ends there, do you?
Let’s face it, if a parent feels no limits on yelling, belittling, and coercing a kid into high achievement because the ends justify the means, what’s to stop that parent from issuing beatings in the name of the greater good? Because many who harshly discipline their kids say they use corporal punishment for the same reasons–out of love. I’m not saying everyone who experienced corporal punishment is permanently psychically damaged. No. But I am saying that as with any parenting method that is harsh to begin with, extremes of emotional and physical abuse cannot be far behind.
And let’s also face this fact: many in our community may be book smart, but many also have a low Emotional Intelligence Quotient. This ranges from a lack of expressiveness, to parenting that is bullying and insensitive, to social awkwardness and a failure to know how to shmooze.
There’s a dark side to Asian Pacific America. The intensity of immigrant aspiration can feed it just as much as it feeds our other sides.
And there’s also a highly functional, balanced, warm, demanding, and nurturing kind of enlightened APA parenting. One that focuses on each child as a unique person and that is lovingly demanding of that’s child’s best, whether it’s at school, at a sport, in the arts, or as an ethical, caring human being.
Many of us, having had tough adolescences or periods in college where it took a while to sort things out, are now parents. And we’re resolved to improve upon the good and the bad that we inherited. So what does that enlightened APA parenting look like?
I’ll tell you a secret: I agree with Amy Chua on a couple of things. We don’t watch tv in our household. (Dvds, yes, but no tv.) Homework comes first. Pay attention to what the teacher asks for, because you will have to deliver according to the standards they set. You WILL learn a second language. But otherwise? Have fun. Read for pleasure. Go outside and climb a tree, or something. Enjoy traveling when we go to new places, because whiny kids can just as easily sit at home. Don’t you want to draw or paint? Stick with the guitar for at least a year–you’ll thank me when you’re 15. Pick something and excel at it. Pick something you love, and do it regardless of how good you are at it.
If Amy Chua’s failed experiment in implementing 1960s Confucian parenting methods isn’t the way, what is?
I’ve been blogging about this since 2003, when my son was born. At that time, after lots of discussion with my spouse, also Asian Pacific American, we decided that we would try non-violent parenting. So far, it’s worked out well for us. Our son is extremely close to the both of us. There’s a tremendous sense of trust. All our physical contact (including my husband with my son, of course) is hugging, kissing, and other warm expressions of affection. And I really like this. Hands are for Hugging, don’t you know? (Granted, he’s 7 and the teen years are ahead of us yet, so I’ll let you know how that goes.)
But I’m asking you–affluent parents plotting how to get your kindergartener into Stanford, working class parents wondering how to get your kid into Bronx Science–how will we all encourage our kids to excel at being themselves? And do it without breaking them?
We’ve all heard President Obama’s warning that the country that out-educates us tomorrow will out-perform us tomorrow. (I’ve always maintained he’s the first Asian American president, much in the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black president.)
But let’s not go nuts trying to respond to President Obama’s observation.
Here’s our chance to raise our Emotional Intelligence Quotients. This is our “It Gets Better” moment, so to speak. How can we widen what we understand as excellence? Achievement? And happiness? And still equip our kids with whatever skills they need to not only survive, but thrive in an unpredictable and fast-changing world?
Go. (You don’t have to be Asian American to leave a comment.)
Other APA blogs on this subject: