There’s been a lot of talk about Amy Chua’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” and some great responses. I especially like the statement one commenter made, that the reason immigrant parents are so crazy and controlling about their children’s success is that they don’t want their kids to grow up in hardship and poverty like they did. Chua, a Chinese American, presumably did not grow up in such poverty.
Chua’s piece basically details how incredibly strict she is with her daughters, even beyond my own upbringing. You’d think raising daughters who are respectful, get mostly A’s, and play an instrument would be good enough. But no. The girls must get ALL A’s (except in gym and drama); they can ONLY play the piano or the violin (no guitars for you!); they’re not allowed sleepovers, play dates, TV, or video games; they’re (inexplicably) not allowed to perform in school plays; they get called names if they’re not respectful to their elders.
I’m all for kids being respectful to their elders, and like Chua, I can’t stand all the Western-bullshit worrying about a kid’s self-esteem. “So how does having pancakes for breakfast make you feel, Jimmy?” I would definitely want my kid to play an instrument. I’d want them to not necessarily get good grades but to work to the best of their ability at everything they do. I’d want them not to give up just because something is hard.
So her daughters get straight A’s. So they’re concert-performing musicians. They get into ivy league schools. They get straight A’s again. They graduate – THEN WHAT?
What is it all leading to? Jobs her parents can brag about? Making a lot of money? Making a third generation of overachieving, Type A nutjobs?
My mother was concerned about all the same things Chua is. The grades, playing an instrument, being respectful. Though she was actually okay if I got mostly A’s, and I was allowed to give up piano by the time I started high school, but by then I liked it and kept going on my own. (See? Choices are good.) She actually would have loved it if I did a sport or was in a school play. True, it was all so that it go in my college applications, rather than being a well-rounded human being, but basically she got there was more to life than straight A’s and piano.
I’d say she was much more crazy about the respectfulness issue, whether to her and my dad, other family members, or their friends. But this concern has made me feel she cares more about others than she does about me. Maybe I was being rude to her friend – after 20 years of being polite – because a shit storm is going on in my life. But no, she was more concerned about what I said to her friend, how I, and therefore she, came off, rather than bothering to ask, “Is something happening to make you act this way?”
And they wonder why I didn’t tell them about my husband’s affair and our divorce till several months after the fact.
My mother’s love and approval were earned. My entire life I felt I had to do things to earn love, which was how my marriage was. If I was very very good, and did exactly what my husband and in-laws wanted, then they’d love me, not just love me, but love me best. They’d be there for me; they wouldn’t leave.
I was wrong.
Of course nothing I did – or didn’t do – caused their behavior. But now in a new relationship, I have to remind myself that I don’t need to earn MB’s love, but at the same time, in some situations, I need to put his feelings first. If something causes him to be upset, I try to stop myself from thinking, It’s because of me, but I didn’t do anything wrong, I’ve been “good,” so he has no right to be upset, and I will give him the cold shoulder. I remind myself, He’s upset because of A, and all he wants from me, as he’s stated, is love and affection. Sounds easy but it’s been hard.
I imagine Chua’s daughters going through something similar after they’ve grown up and start having relationships. Being successful equals being worthy. If I’m not successful, no one will want me. I have to keep achieving, keep “winning,” to be happy. I’m only happy if someone approves of me.
I’ve been there, and it’s not a nice feeling. I hope her daughters have a stronger sense of self than I did, and are able to eventually make their own way, out of the grips of their crazy mom.