The ‘Right Way’ to Parent in the 21st Century

This parenting business really isn’t easy and we should really be very doubting of anyone who seeks to suggest it is. So much so, as this article highlighted, vast numbers of parents feel the need to ‘fake it’ and pretend things which aren’t actually true to appear to be succeeding at a mythical ‘right way’ to be a parent.

Parenting Lies Article – BBC

This is the context and backdrop against which I believe we must view the latest furious debate that has erupted over the Chinese ‘Tiger Mother’ following the publishing of a new book by Yale Law School Professor, Amy Chua:

The background to the Chinese education scenario and the attitudes to parents is summed up well in this BBC article:

‘Tiger Mothers’ Article – BBC

Professor Chua’s argument is a simple one – no nonsense, no compromise, parent knows best parenting as practiced by many Chinese parents breeds winners more frequently than more laissez faire, tolerant ‘Western’ parenting ways. Her viewpoints are expressed in some detail in the following essay ahead of the book’s publication in the Wall Street Journal:

Amy Chua Essay – Wall Street Journal

I’m sure that reading that will leave readers with many different emotions. I’m not sure how many of us could be 100% comfortable with all that she says. However, there were a couple of aspects of her perspective that I really liked;

  1. A starting assumption on the part of a parent that their child has it within them to be a winner – a ‘can do’ mentality rooted in a belief that they have a right to succeed, perhaps even a duty to fulfil their true potential. When I define ‘success’ I mean it in more than just the conventional sense. One can be a successful spouse, parent, sibling, friend, citizen as well as employee or employer, artist, musician, sportsperson etc.
  2. A recognition that if you’re ever to be truly great at something (anything) it’s effort that will get you there and that it’s going to require practice and an acceptance of delayed gratification. It’s not as though this is a new idea, even in the West. For example, in recent years, Malcolm Gladwell has been writing extensively on his belief that 10,000 hours of practice is the requirement to be truly good at anything. Where the difference comes is in Amy Chau’s plain openness about the belief that children are not the best judges about whether or not to put effort in to something, when to put that effort in or how much is enough. I believe as time goes on and so-called ‘Western parenting’ evolves I sense a diminishing ability for children to delay gratification (to accept that sometimes what they want will come later as a result of their doing what they need to in the short term). I also sense a greater discomfort with ‘No’ and a struggle to cope when things are not the way they want them to be.

That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with all of Amy Chau’s methods. That said, when I look around and see so many parents confused and muddling along in their practice as parents I can at least admire that Chau has figured out what is her strategy and is consistent. Her children will not be left in doubt about where their mother stands – they have the clarity that children often crave. Children of uncertain, waivering parents are too often left floundering to figure out right and wrong and the boundaries for their lives. I am greatly troubled in public places when I see children ‘running wild’, behaving badly where the parent’s approach is to ignore it repeatedly until they reach a point where they have had enough, at which point the same act or one no more serious than those previously suddenly earns them a physical or verbal sharp reprimand. The hurt on such a child’s face says more to me of confusion over the inconsistency and a sense that the parent had cheated them in to believing the behavior was OK, until they hit out.

To look at some varying views on the views Chua has expressed, the New York Times put together 8 people from different fields and perspective to share different perspectives on the debate. Their views are really well worth reading.

New York Times – Debate

I would love to hear a cross section of views from parents and teachers in this fascinating debate.

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