But to me, this is old hat. Clearly Amy Chua has never met my mom.
Yeah, Chinese moms may be tough. But you want to know from tough? Welcome to the Uzbekistani mother, shipped straight from the Old Country, tough as nails, opinionated, realistic, someone who calls it like it is and takes no crap from anyone. This is a woman who taught herself English as a god-knows-what-number language (she already spoke Farsi, Russian, Uzbek, Italian and so forth), took the TOEFL, got into Princeton, turned it down to go to Stern, worked her heart out to go to nursing school and raised a daughter who got an 800 on her verbal SAT. I'm an immigrant's daughter who arguably should be speaking heavily accented English and stumbling over words. But that's not what my mother wanted and that's not what she allowed.
The only difference between me and Amy Chua's kids is that my mother expected more from me than Amy expects from her children. I had to get straight As in everything and I was permitted and expected to participate in extracurricular activities as long as this did not bring my grades down. Furthermore, if I was going to do something, I had to do it in the best way possible. If I was trying out for Drama, I had better land the lead role. This pressurized environment wasn't always easy, as I wrote:
- I remember angrily accusing my mother that she was too strict with me, that I never had friends because of her high standards (she believed in friends who would challenge you, not people who you were always benefiting), that she didn't give me enough candy, the way the other parents did, that her idea of a birthday party wasn't "cool" enough. I hated her rigid attitude and how she disliked me "enabling" others (a favorite word of hers, or so I thought), her demands that I finish what I start, that I take what I touch. I hated the way she cared so much about grades and was displeased if I brought home an A- or B+ instead of an A. Oh, I hated many things. Let no one ever accuse me of being grateful.
But with her strictness my mother raised a disciplined, intelligent girl who got straight As through elementary school, high school and most of college. That girl read the canon of great classics (Russian, English, French) by age 14 and the entire 'David Copperfield' by age 11. She had mastered Lord of the Rings by 9, when she was in fourth grade. She won awards for her writing and was consistently published in various forums. She attended a fancy prep school and caught up on a trimester's worth of work when she was 15. The girl managed to do this while participating in drama performances, taking Tae Kwon Doe, writing for the school newspaper or acting as its Editor, participating in Israel Club, Medical Ethics Club, NCSY, the Honors Society and an assortment of other clubs and conferences. She managed to keep her head above water even when faced with great adversity and injustice. And this is only one out of the four children, each of whom possesses outstanding qualities far and away removed from others of their age.
It's true my mother mellowed a little when it came to Dustfinger and the Boys, mostly because I pointed out that she was making our lives as social individuals very difficult by refusing to conform to certain norms. But the core 'Boss' is still there. And I don't know about you- but I prefer the way I was raised to the mollycoddling and neglect that passes for parenting in certain parts of the world today. My mother was strict, but I see her as the blacksmith who forged me on the anvil, pounding away until I could become who I was meant to be. I may not have appreciated it then, but boy, do I ever appreciate it now. Amy Chua goes a little overboard in her parenting, especially when it comes to being hurtful towards her kids and calling them names. But the essence of what she is trying to do is good. My mom grew up in a world where every student who had failed had their name called publicly at assembly during their elite KGB School homeroom. These kids were shamed into doing better. That shame culture isn't something I think is good or healthy for most children- but the expectation that the child can do better and what is more, owes it to her parents to do better than she knew was possible- is one that I welcome. The fact that any grade below A was not acceptable in my house made me hate my mother at times. But it also made me try harder. And the end result was that I was empowered when I realized I could do much more than I had formerly imagined.