by Arnold De Villa
January 21, 2011
A recent article in the “Wall Street Journal” featured an essay about “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. Amy Chua, a Law professor at Yale University, described methods of raising her own daughters that justified the principle behind the cultural beliefs of Chinese parenting. John Keilman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, featured Amy Chua’s thoughts in an editorial column of the January 16th issue. He also added his views from a typical western perspective.
I have not yet read the “Wall Street Journal” article. And I do not intend to delve on the comparative analysis of parenting styles between the Chinese and the Americans either. I am not Chinese nor am I an American at birth. This leads me back to myself, a Filipino father with a son born and raised in America, a not so simple concoction, the brew of which I throw back to the readers.
Amy Chua writes that the Chinese way of parenting is stern, relentless, and unconcerned about the over-hyped American issues on self-esteem. John Keilman on the other hand indicated that parenthood is all about “swinging between the poles of freedom and authority”. American democracy is embedded within the fibers of American parenting. We are aware of the Chinese penchant for excellence in so many things. We know that despite the common stereotyped perception of Chinese students as geeks and nerds, we cannot deny the long list of Chinese recipients of a Nobel award. We know that Americans reflect their love of freedom in almost every undertaking that life bestows on them, parenting included.
Filipinos seem to swim between these two cultures, adopting a parenting style that values a relentless pursuit of good education and a laissez faire behavior that infuses individual freedom.
Looking more closely, there are certain things unique to us alone. A typical middle class Filipino parent in the Philippines oftentimes motivate children to pursue careers leading to their becoming doctors, nurses, lawyers or engineers. It seems that parenting in the Philippines is directly influenced by the utilitarian and financial impacts of a good education. We thus end up with an abundant supply of nurses and doctors hoping for an American job.
The Filipino American parent on the other hand, seems to swing between the concepts of American freedom values, and the Asian pursuit for academic excellence. Between these poles, the notion of a good and healthy self-esteem is perceived through the lens of fun as if fun were the most important element involved. It is so common for a Filipino American or a plain Filipino to force a child into piano lessons even if the parent does not have a single iota of any musical aptitude.
In other households, while some Filipinos will not accept anything less than an “A” from their children in the same way that Amy Chua refused anything but “A” from her daughters’ report cards, there are those who will do so without being involved. They will pay a tutor, hire a teacher, let their student child stay longer in school, while they dress themselves up for a Simbang Gabi party, barely knowing what their child’s homework is or how their child is doing in school. On the other end of the spectrum, there are Filipino parents who apply democracy to the letter in raising their children in America that they get voted out; that is, nothing they say is ever considered bound with authority deserving of respect or obedience.
I do concur with Keilman’s thoughts that children are put on Earth to trouble their parents. No matter what we do or say, no matter how good we are at providing a role model, regardless of whether we emulate the Chinese style of parenting or copy the American method of child raising, children will always do what they want to do. Parents can only provide the guidelines, nag them to death if they want to, and then wait that something positive turns up.
The Filipino style of parenting is so diverse in different settings. In many of them, the old Filipino values still persist. “Go to school so that when I am old you can take care of me” is a phrase that so many adult children seem to be burdened with. Although it is biblical for children to take care of their parents at their advanced age, there seems to be an ethical issue involved on imposed expectations. If a parent sends a child to school with a vested interest of converting that child as a sole source of retirement benefits, I am almost certain that there is large cauldron of sheer selfishness involved.
The notions of democracy in parenting can help the child to discover the enchanting world of individuality. Yet the same notions of democracy could end in total rebellion, sedition and segregation.
Parenting is not a political activity though. It is actually being able to be firm in what is right, flexible on what could be negotiated, and incorrigible for what is truth. In the process of doing, we do what we teach..
Amy Chua reminded me of my grandmother, a former schoolteacher. My grandmother took care of my cousin and me when we were very small kids. We had a taste of the good old fashion parenting. Like Amy’s kids, we had to hammer the piano with our little fingers until the right rhythm and proper melody reached my grandmother’s ears. As a reward for doing it right, we will either play the piece all over again or we can read a book after lunch, that is, if we do not take a nap like the rest of the household would do.
The democratic process in parenting brought me thoughts about my own father. He was a proponent of open discussions and town hall meetings. He applied the parenting technique akin to an open door policy without the need for spanking.
Our children come to us as citizens of the world because they needed a shelter to undergo the normal growth patterns of a eukaryotic cell. Although we share the same DNA, the protein combinations within it are infinite. They look like us, yet they cannot be exactly like us. We may give our children our love or talk to them about our thoughts but they will still grow up to be their own persons. In the end, as Lebanese American artist, writer and poet, Kahlil Gibran, wrote:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you they belong not to you” (Kahlil Gibran)
Happy parenting, everyone!