Tuesday, January 11, 2011

1/11/11 Extra work

Discussion continued on at work today about the controversial article Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. The vast majority of people I work with were raised within some form of the author's philosophy, so it makes for very interesting discussion.

It occurred to me in discussion that I'm one of the very very few engineers at work who doesn't speak another language fluently (I can only think of one other). Most are foreign-born, including one of the 3 other Caucasians. At least 3 coworkers I know of had arranged marriages (all men), probably more. Other coworkers escaped arranged marriages only by one generation. So, many things that seem foreign or outdated to most Americans are very familiar to the vast majority of people I am surrounded by every day.

Anyway, overall, feelings are very very negative about Amy Chua's harsh style -- no one liked it, but most Asian-raised coworkers relate to it. An interesting comment on the online WSJ version of the article said that Chinese kids complain privately about their parents as they're being raised, but then go and raise their own kids the same way.

My Korean coworker astutely observed that this is probably why me and my (rare) American-raised coworker have a harder time with our Middle-Eastern-raised authoritative management. It also made me realize just what Dave and I are up against when we complain to our school about too much work. Crafting a Heritage Doll is in the noise to the Indian and Asian-raised parents. (That said, the school itself promotes a "positive" philosophy about incenting kids to behave, which ironically rankles us.)

So much is wrong to me with Chua's child-raising philosophy that it's barely worth enumerating. I see no benefit to insulting or berating children, even if they know they're loved; nor to them having no social life, choices, or fun of their choosing. I see great harm and countless missed opportunities in choosing their activities for them or forbidding unstructured time. While I'm inclined, to some extent, to agree that Western parents fret too much about their children's self-esteem or a close relationship, I think children having warm childhood memories isn't just about parental ego: it's important to the children through their adulthood too. And I see no reason to sacrifice that for "achievement," whatever that is.

In fact, it was amusing talking today about my lax high-school education, the freedom I had and abused, and how I regretted later that no one had the time to participate more in my schooling. What a drastic difference from my Asian-raised coworkers -- my Korean coworker had to stay at school until 10pm and only got 1 week off for summer "vacation" -- yet here we are in the same sorts of jobs. (However I must clarify that she is far, far more qualified, experienced, capable and educated than I am!!) Somehow we all got there, but with very very different routes. I don't recommend either.

What possible detriment to "achievement" do happy warm fun silly childlike experiences present? Those moments are irreplaceable -- not even by performing at Carnegie Hall. I want my children have warm fond memories of their childhood, and of me, for their sake -- even if those memories have to bubble through additional memories of me insisting they do extra work to make up for sloppiness.

And that started today. I decided Gabriel had to do the practice sheet that is always stapled to his math tests, thinking about my Chinese coworker's comment that sloppiness usually indicates a need for more practice. In fact, I felt newly silly -- why haven't we insisted on this every week?

Then Julian announced loudly and rudely that he'd done enough homework yesterday and didn't need to do any more tonight. I decided on a new rule on the spot: as long as he has homework to finish, he had to do it, even if it is only Tuesday.

After my horrendous conflict with Gabriel last night (aren't kids supposed to cry when their mean nasty mother puts them on the porch in only thin pajamas in 44-degree weather??!?), Julian was no match for me. I insisted -- channeling Amy Chua again -- that he go upstairs and finish his homework. This isn't just philosophy; in practice he leaves the time-consuming parts for Thursday nights, and we end up having a big struggle that night. No more.

Then, at 6:15pm, it struck me. Julian was upstairs working on finishing his homework. Gabriel was, without argument, working on his practice sheet. Katrina was shouting songs to herself in her room. It was more peaceful than it's been at homework time in weeks. I know this magic won't last, but I relished the moment anyway. Could this be a direct result of my new inspiration?

Probably. In fact, Gabriel wasn't working on his work that peacefully at first -- this is Gabriel after all. He'd said he wasn't going to finish his math homework, and threatened to tear it up. Amy Chua's daughter tore up a music score that she resisted working on, then her mother taped it back together and laminated it so that she couldn't tear it up again, and insisted again that she sit down to the piano and work on it. Wow. Major.

So if Mrs-Extreme could go that far, I could at least take a first step. And I did. I told Gabriel if he tore up his math homework, I'd tape it together, laminate it, and he'd still have to do it. Incredibly, Uber Tough Cookie backed down and finished his homework. I'd started forming a plan in my head to run to Michael's to get a laminating machine -- that thought must have come through in my voice when I told him he had to finish.

I definitely don't want any readers to think I condone Amy Chua's methods or conclusions. I have a much broader view of "success" in life, and have never believed it could be measured with academic achievement alone. And if I'd never had a Gabriel, I'd probably be a complete Positive-Parenting advocate and would write Amy Chua off as a nut case. But in many ways, "positive parenting" failed me with my extra-tough kid, and I do draw inspiration from someone willing to stand up to extreme child resistance, even if she created it herself with, in my opinion, unreasonable and destructive demands.

I want to do better than her (I can't wait to see the memorial book written by her kids) -- I want my boys to love me and take happy funny memories of ski trips and camping and air shows with Mom to their graves. I want them to leave home truly ready to face the world on their own, with confidence and independence and resilience and social skills and athletic skills and an open mind.

And some part of that needs to be because of Mom and Dad's insistence on their best work. Amy Chua would call that "believing" in them. I would agree with that to a limited extent, but will set my expectations and "beliefs" more fairly and constructively, at least in my Inferior Western Mother view. I'm not going to turn into a parent with the same level of expectations she has, nor willing to make that level of scarifice (who has the time?!), but she does give me a much-needed poke to stand up to my resistant sons, and to the notion that the only approach is praise and encouragement and incentives to get kids to do their best.

Gabriel came home today with two perfect math practice tests, first time ever. He said, "I wrote it better only because you insisted."


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