Jan 11

Motivation by Force?

On the drive to school this morning with my kids, I couldn’t get this article from the Wall Street Journal, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior by Amy Chua (click here to read what is clearly a controversial article…the number of comments in the thousands already) out of my mind.  The gist of her article is that pushing children hard builds confidence and let’s them become their best, and that the more typical “western” way of coddling limits children’s achievements.

I am definitely conflicted about how much to control and discipline my kids…I’m not a disciplinarian and am philosophically uncomfortable with that role (another discussion, I know).  So when my older son told me that he found out his math grade my little mother sensors started to tingle…what was coming?  On tests and quizzes (50% of his grade) he has an A.  Okay, good.  He obviously understands the math and can do it.  On homework and the Problem of the Month (50% of the grade) he has a B.  Why a B, I ask?  He doesn’t give a clear answer, but I suspect he’s just not doing a thorough job in that area.  He hates homework (I hate it as much as he does for the strife it brings into our home) and being organized and paying attention to detail are not his strengths, unless he really cares about something.

His argument:  an A-/B+ overall grade is perfectly fine.  And he’s right.  Or is he?  Is it fine?  Am I letting him down if I buy his argument?  I know I don’t want to become the homework police.  I also know that homework is not the most important thing.  But am I doing a disservice to my son by not being stricter and pushing him to do his best?

In response to Chua’s article, Chinese American mother Patty Chang Anker writes on the Huffington Post (click here to read it) that she does not believe the extreme approach of pushing works.  She cites her own childhood, and also talks about her experience with her adopted daughter, G.

We still have high expectations. They’re just appropriate for G, at this time.

That makes sense to me:  appropriate expectations.  But it’s not really an answer because how how does one know what is appropriate?  Chua clearly believes her expectations for her daughters are appropriate, and Chang Anker has found her appropriate.  But what is my appropriate?  As with so many other things, it comes down to values and personal judgement.

If I were coaching my son, I would follow his lead.  If he told me he were fine with his grade, I would trust that he knew what was right for himself.

But I’m not coaching him and it is different because he is a child.  I fully admit that it’s even more confusing because I carry my own baggage about needing to get straight As and be perfect, and part of me is happy he doesn’t have that…and being perfectly honest, part of me wishes he did.

So where does that leave me?  I decided that maybe a good and productive way to move forward (knowing this is not the last time grades will come up!) is to have my kids and husband read Chua’s article and see what they have to say about it.  I know to some this is wishy-washy and coddling western behavior, but I do think kids (and fathers for that matter) should have a say.

We are all greatly influenced by how we were/are raised.  And no one can say they know what the best path is for any given person.  That doesn’t stop many people from thinking and saying they know, but they really can’t know if their choices are deeply damaging or deeply motivating.   I am influenced by how I was brought up, my kids are and will be influenced by the decisions we are making now, and all of my clients bring with them a past that impacts their present.

Could I ever be like a Chinese parent as defined by Chua?  No.  But she raises points that are worth thinking about and her article is going to help start a discussion in our home and for that I am grateful that she took her stand.

How does the way you were raised impact your life today?