updated 21 Jan 2011, 14:42
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Mon, Jan 17, 2011
The New Paper
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To be or not to be a Chinese mother

I'VE RECENTLY been toying with the idea of being a Chinese mother. Well, minus the cross-dressing.

You can thank Prof Amy Chua for my sudden obsession with trying to become one.

The law professor from Yale set off a heated debate between Western and Eastern parents after an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother was carried in the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.

Her reason? Western mothers tend to be soft when it comes to child raising. They shelter the child, worry about his self-esteem and don't want to stress him out. Chinese mothers, on the hand, don't play around. They are draconian about rules, work ethics and getting As and gold trophies.

Come back with anything less, and they will call you "worthless" and "stupid" in your face until you get it right.

Chinese mothers operate on this simple rule - if you don't get perfect grades, you're not trying hard enough.

And that's why children of Chinese mothers in the US tend to stereotypically be straight-A students, math wizards and/or music prodigies.

In the excerpt, Prof Chua describes how, when her daughter, who was 7 at the time, wanted to give up practising a particularly tricky piano piece, she threatened the following: That she would donate her daughter's doll house to the Salvation Army piece by piece

  • To withhold lunch and dinner
  • That there will be no Christmas presents and no birthday parties for up to four years.
  • She also yelled at her daughter till she was hoarse, calling her lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
  • She sat her down, practised through dinner with no water or toilet breaks.

In short, she made the guards at Guantanamo Bay look like chambermaids at a bed and breakfast.

But it worked.

Her two daughters are both accomplished musicians.

Would this work in the Singapore context? It probably already has in some households.

But then again, similar results can be achieved without the mental waterboarding of a child. My parents, neither of whom are graduates, never put a gun to my head to make sure I studied, or hired an army of tutors to watch me like a hawk.

When I was failing Chinese, they asked if I wanted tuition. When I said no, they let me be.

Do my best

All they demanded from me was that I tried my best.

And my best earned me a scholarship when I went to university.

So I guess softer parenting methods can, and do work.

Now, I'm having second thoughts about turning myself into a superior Chinese mother - or is it Chinese Mother Superior?

And it would be really hard for me to do it anyway.

First, I would need to be a woman.

And then there's the Chinese part. I failed, remember?


This article was first published in The New Paper.

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