Chinese Mothers and Russian Mothers Go Together Like Mao and Stalin (When they Were Besties, not before they had a falling out)


I have no children, so I am obviously a parenting expert.   And my parenting expertise tells me that Amy Chua, of the Mao Disciplinary Style Chuas, is onto something I’ve been struggling to articulate when talking to American-born friends about my upbringing. In her humblebrag post, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,”, designed to engineer enough controversy to ensure a reasonable first printing of her book and dibs on 4-star hotels at a future book tour, Chua outlines Chinese parenting techniques and delineates them from Western ones with a few bullet points that I found particularly relevant to my own experiences of being parented by immigrants:

  • What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
  • Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.
  • Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it’s probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children.

Many of the same techniques that Chua used with her own daughters were ones that I and plenty of other Russian immigrant children were (and are currently) subjected to, making me think that Chinese mothers and Russian mothers are working in some sort of Communist bloc pact to turn out healthy adults that understand their roots.

I and my fellow Russian immigrant children were not so much encouraged to play musical instruments (although I did, on my own initiative, take up the clarinet and later the piano, much to my parents’ disappointment,) but we were encouraged, constantly, to drive and succeed, because our parents had put “vsiu svoiu krov,” all of their blood,  into first raising us as little kids in a country that had no diapers, no washing machines, no cars (unless you were really rich or really connected,) no food, and no toys.  The constant stories about how our parents raised us in absence of first world benefits would drive us into deep morasses of guilt from which we would emerge only with 4.0 GPAs.  One particular favorite of my mom was reminding me how she would take 45 minutes to bundle me up so we could go outside and walk kilometers to the nearest store to stand in line for food.  On the way back, she frequently found that the elevator in our building was out of order and she would have to cary Baby V plus packages of groceries up nine flights of stairs, in the winter.

Once they got us out Russia,  a guilt tactic was explaining to us in detail about how hard it was for them to emmigrate and leave everything behind, and  that we couldn’t disappoint them since they had made a huge sacrifice for us. More importantly,  we were not allowed to disappoint ourselves. We were not just representing who we were in school, but also our families and our culture. Oftentimes, it was the moms that drove this crusade, relentless, neverending, of making sure we had good grades, making sure that Russian/Jewish last names always showed at the top of the list, making sure we contributed to the household, and grew up to be decent human beings.

On top of the guilt, we also had the unfortunate pleasure of often being the children of the highly-educated.  Although they were, in the difficult early years of immigration, hotel desk staff, pizza drivers, fast food cooks, nannies, and house cleaners, our parents, for the most part, were efficiently educated by the excellent Soviet system.  In their past lives, they were economists and physicists, accountants and academics. Even if they weren’t, the Soviet system was such that someone with a high school education knew more than a 4-year college graduate in the United States. (My parents were frequently surprised at how we never read Theodore Dreiser in school and how I’d never even heard of him.) So they pushed and they pushed and they pushed.

I was horrible at math (still am).  Unluckily for me, my mom has a Master’s in Math and Computer Engineering and, all the way up to 10th grade when we got to derivatives and she started to forget how to do certain things, we would sit together and parse out why I made mistakes, an exercise that oftentimes resulted in tears because I hated the way my mom explained things to me.  Eventually, after working through countless problem sets and books from the library starting from third grade on, I got an A in high-level econometrics in college. This is not because I got good at math.  This is because my mom taught me, through the school of hard knocks, a secret weapon: sitting on my ass and studying, until I understood a concept.

My upbringing was only 75% as strict as Ms. Chua’s daughters’ (no 7-year-old deserves to be yelled at for a whole day for not playing a piano piece,) but nevertheless, it fell into the framework of familial guilt and discipline that is so lacking in Western methods and that she outlines in her piece.  When I was younger and my mom told me that my academic or personal performance had caused me to, “vimatat vse nervi,” or literally suck and unwound all the nerves out of her, I was afraid that she was going to die because I was causing her so much mental damage.

I hated the system (no TV during school nights; chores without an “allowance”-what the hell is an allowance, my dad asked. You should be grateful we let you live here without charging you; harsh punishments when grades were below the expected; and, the occasional slap when I got out of line or mouthed off.) I was terrified of my mother when I got bad grades and when I did something even slightly suspect. At some points I wanted to die or at least run away to my friend’s house, where movies and fast food treats were abundant and they didn’t have to do homework.

Looking back on that period now, I couldn’t be more grateful, and I hope I have the guts to raise my kids the same way.  I don’t see any lasting “psychological” damage to myself as an adult: I love both of my parents very deeply and I love to spend time with them.  I am moderately successful, have a career path, outside hobbies, and am self-reliant if need be, which is all I think my parents were asking for when they raised me the way they did.

But more and more lately, I’ve been wondering, how can Mr. B and I raise our nonchildren to successful?  What was it about the way that my parents raised me that made me relatively successful and others not?  How much of it was my own doing and how much of it was them?  What if we fall prey to American parenting philosophies?

I’ve come to the conclusion from the WSJ article that I don’t want to be as harsh as Chua was.  Making a child play a piece until she breaks down will hopefully not be my modus operandi.  And kids should have sleepovers from time to time-I still remember some with very fond memories.

But I would not like my kids to be “soft,”  at least the way I understand it. I don’t want them majoring in philosophy or Art History, at least on my dime, because there’s no way they’ll get a job.  I know.  I wanted to major in English (HA.) Luckily I was steered away because my mother wisely saw that my third choice of economics would be a much better investment. And now I can write, in my free time, on my blog (and make no money.)

I don’t want them to think that “trying their best” is trying hard enough if they’re not getting As.  I don’t want them to think that, just because they’re “bad at math, ” like I am, that they have an excuse to slack. I want them to understand that learning problems can be mostly solved by a good hour or three of  sitting on your ass-ness and studying.  I want them to understand that getting an allowance is bullshit and that everyone contributes to the household equally. I want them to learn that quitting is bad for you and that you should always do things that make you proud of yourself.  I want  to teach them that sometimes doing things inside the system will make them suckers.  I want to teach them that respecting your parents is important, and that your parents will be there for you forever,  not just until you finish high school and they start redecorating your bedroom. And the way to do that is the only way I know how, the way I was brought up.  Are there other ways that will yield the same result?  Possibly. But I don’t know them and I’m not interested in pursuing them.  I just know that my parents parented me correctly for the most part (like someone said, no one survives childhood unscathed) and gave me a huge gift in understanding how to navigate life so that I can do it myself and without their help as I get older.

Most importantly, I want to give my imaginary children the greatest gift that my parents gave me: the ability to see and understand both the Western and the Russian or immigrant system intimately from the inside and make the (ahem. Russian) choice for their own children. Because if we have kids, they will be the first generation born in America, and they’re going to lose some of that third-culture kid perspective that is SO important to me in understanding and defining my world. And I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t and don’t assimilate gently into that good night.  And maybe, in between piano lessons and temper tantrums,  that’s what Chua was fighting for the whole time?

Anyway, if you were raised by Western/”Eastern” parents, what are your thoughts? What do you see as the primary difference between American parents and immigrant parents?  Which path is worth pursuing (this section sounds suspiciously like an essay test.)




38 thoughts on “Chinese Mothers and Russian Mothers Go Together Like Mao and Stalin (When they Were Besties, not before they had a falling out)

  1. I did comment on facebook after seeing Chua’s article posted over and over- most specifically by non-westerners, and i shared a counter-article by Betty Ming Liu that I feel is worth reading. I’m not saying that the “Non-Western” approach doesn’t have merit, only that I am a Westerner, and feel that I was given an equally good upbringing without being brow beaten. You were in my classes until we were 11 or 12, and I never felt less capable of doing well. I achieved straight A’s in advanced subjects, I played sports and loved art. I had one “bad” subject- history- and because I was surrounded by other children who were good at the subject, i studied my ass for it- achieving roughly an A- in that subject. The fact that i had one subject that wasn’t perfect really should be ok- because i WAS putting the ass-study time in. I didn’t have an allowance, but I was given money for friend time in highschool. I didn’t have cable TV, but I was allowed to watch the 4 channels we had if i wanted (i usually opted to play outside) and go to the movies with friends. I went to sleepovers- even at your house :) The biggest difference that I can see between the western and non-western is that we are allowed to take chances that may fail. I majored in art, and am currently working towards honing my skills and figuring out how to make art profitable. In the meantime, I’m a waitress making roughtly $35k-40k/year (which in the grand scheme of things is actually a decent salary- i live comfortably). I was good at everything- I COULD have been a journalist, a teacher, an accountant, an architect, and engineer, a veterinarian- I CHOSE what I know makes me happy. Non-westerners aren’t given that choice. Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant, Engineer- non westerners are expected to choose and thrive in a high-grossing career. Certainly, many of them are happy, but their way isn’t the only way.

    1. I remember those sleepovers :)

      I think the main difference is, as you pointed out, that failure is not an option. My parents never discouraged me from pursuing my artistic talents-writing, music, and video were always a huge part of how I expressed myself. But they also let me know that I needed to, first and foremost, have a skill and knowledge base that I can support myself with, as you say, comfortably. Otherwise, what’s the point of going to college?

      Some would argue that this is a “technical school” approach and that college is meant to encourage you to think broadly and open your mind. I argue that it needs to be both, and that you need to come out of college with both an opened perspective and, more importantly, a major that is marketable, such as anything in business, engineering, etc, so you can get your career started.

      My point of view is that you can always make art on the side, like you are doing, and then if you become really renown, quit your day job. But in the meantime, it’s important to have a steady day job.

      1. For myself (I can’t speak for others), going to college for art helped me develop a skillset I just didn’t have before- specifically, a lot of my art has to do with metalwork, a skillset that I would not have learned to the extent that I have without the equipment offered by colleges and universities. I can cast, enamel, sculpt, etc- skills you generally don’t pick up as a general hobby. Could I have received the same education in a technical school? Probably. I went to a university, because I originally had a dual-major in Foreign Language International Trade. I changed that dual major to metal after finding their Spanish program fell drastically short of my expectations. I still consider it to be one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

        I realized something else very important in college- I don’t want to put someone else’s name on my work. There actually are job opportunities for both fashion (though for the most part this would require my moving to a city) and metal (jewelers, watchmakers, repair shops, etc). Those jobs, however, would pay roughly the same (or even less) than I make as a waitress, and would involve putting someone else’s name on my work for several years minimum- a prospect that I came to realize I find unsettling and ultimately unfulfilling.

        Many of my friends who pursued typical high-grossing careers are still pursuing their degrees to the doctorate level- having had no luck in the job market at a bachelor’s level.

      2. “Failure is not an option” – doesn’t that one come from USMC? :-) Now this is really funny.

        On the career choice side of things I can only say that in Russian culture “humanities are strictly not an option”, while natural sciences, math and such definitely are. If you look at the most successful achievers of today’s Russia, 90+% of them have engineering/math+physics background.

        An English friend of mine once asked me to talk to his little brother about career choices. The lad was bitching about how math “just isn’t for him” and how he wanted to go the arts way. “Well, I said, at this point I really can’t say anything since I was brought up in a society where the so-called Humanitärmentalität is considered a sort of mental derangement. At least for a boy.”

  2. I am REALLY lazy. But I also know what’s appropriate and that hard work is necessary if you really want something. Did my parents instill this in me? Perhaps. Or the whippings we got at boarding school. Kidding! That was stopped a generation or so before I went so I had to read about it in Roald Dahl’s Boy. Sometimes I do wish that my parents forced me to do stuff from a very young age– now I have no talents, except perhaps knowing how to take shortcuts. And I studied English at college, and I think it’s a perfectly good choice of Major, thankyouverymuch!…. Business Administration is the one you have to watch out for (what the hell do you learn doing that, anyway??)

    1. This is what I go back and forth on. Would i Have still been successful if my parents hadn’t pushed me? Or would I have been like I am anyway, as Neo mentions further down in the comments? You don’t know.

      English is a great major, except that people who usually take it, unless they are very successful, have a hard time finding a job and have to market themselves in other ways. In my personal experience I’ve seen too many English majors struggle after college. What was your experience like? Did you find that it helped you?

      Business administration is bullshit, and I know because I’ve taken classes in it and, at a certain point in time, wanted to transfer from Business Economics to Liberal Arts economics because I was tired of the bullshit and how easy the classes were. Luckily my professor convinced me to stay and I got an education that straddled two good disciplines.

    1. I’d seen that and debated whether to post it as an Edited note, but you did all my work for me :). As I noted above, I was sure the piece was edited in some way to make it sensational, but it still doesn’t stop me from being angry at how easily the truth is manipulated in excerpts.

  3. My wife was raised in China. In elementary school, her parents were pretty lenient, and she had a lot of playtime with her friends. Then they sent her to a piano academy/boarding school for junior high and high school. She had to practice 8 hours a day, no playtime, and couldn’t see her parents much. It helped her get out of the country, so she’s appreciative. She goes back and forth on how strictly to raise our daughter, though. Chua’s claim that only ABC’s would possibly ease up made us snicker.

    1. Thanks for your perspective. As I said, I think there needs to be a balance. Every kid needs to play. But every kid also needs lots of discipline. What are your views on how to raise your daughter?

  4. There are parents from ALL schools who mess their kids’ lives up. ALL approaches need to be taken with honesty, sincerity, effort, humanity and other essential human values-in-action. If you bring up your kids without close attention to and awareness of their emotional wellbeing, there is a risk you will miss something lethal. Emotional disconnect can occur as a result of from parental complacency about “being right” about everything, from excessive forcing against the child’s will, and also from letting them do whatever they like with no direction. It can even occur in moderate parenting styles.

    A good parent (hell, a good friend!) knows when her loved ones are genuinely happy and thriving, because she understands and knows what makes them tick. She also has an instinct when something is wrong. If need be, one backtracks until the problem is solved. Better to gently homeschool a kid than have them commit suicide from being bullied at school, I always say.

    Basically It’s really dangerous to promote any parenting approach as superior, as if that mattered more than kindness, humanity, sensitivity, knowing one’s child, looking out for their emotional wellbeing.

    Parent wars are just as bad as inter-religion/atheism wars. One day human beings will learn to communicate and respect each other’s choices, but probably not till will bring up children with the relevant values.

    1. Thanks for this beautiful comment and the insight. I don’t have much more to add because this comment is smarter than my post of generalizations, but I wish we could do parenting experiments on kids and see how different ones turn out under different techniques. Just the statistitician in me talking.

  5. Research is slowing showing what I knew instinctively to be true when my son was 5 days old: kids are born genetically programmed with a lot—even most—of their personality, fears and strengths.

    There are kids with psyches so fragile, a single harsh sentence from a parent can change the course of their lives; there are kids who will stare you down and play a game of chicken with you each time you ask them to go to the bathroom.

    Having a preconceived philosophy of parenting is about as useful as an ER doctor who treats all his patients with Tylenol.

    1. The more I interact with little kids, the more I am starting to see that this is true. Do you think that if two kids are parented the same way, they will turn out differently? I guess so because I see differences even in sisters I know.

  6. I am still trying to figure out how to articulate how I feel about Chua’s article. Hers is obviously an extreme viewpoint – and assumes that western parents value the same things as Asian parents do – but overall I think that the trend now is for Western parents to be lenient to a fault.

    I know so many parents who will not raise their voice or speak strictly to a child who obviously needs discipline for fear of hurting feelings. My kids go to a Montessori school and I don’t believe this is what Maria Montessori ever intended, but many of the Montessori parents seem to think that allowing a child to be an individual is the same as treating them like a little adult, when in fact this is a disservice to the child.

    Anyway, I digress. I think the primary difference between eastern immigrant and western parents is that eastern/immigrant parents function within an elder/novice dynamic and try to instill in their offspring a sense that there are things yet to learn and nothing should be taken for granted, while western parents tend to view their children as emotional and intellectual equals, which can be a real disservice to the child.

    Whew. I guess I have “feelings” about this!!!

  7. Thank you Vicki, for your excellent article!

    I can relate to dragging your baby (and the baby carriage as well) to the ninth floor of a Soviet high risee very day, twice a day at least, just like your mom described it. You made me laugh when you mentioned your parents say how you “vymatala vse nervi!” and “vypila krov” , because I often felt (still do – my son is 19) the same way. Maybe your parents and I should meet and have a good talk about all that:)

    I am one of those parents who straggled to raise my son (slavicpolymath) between two cultures. I also had a chance to teach all levels of secondary school in the Soviet Union and in America.
    Because of these experience, I feel I have a unique view of the panorama of education/parenting across two cultures. In addition, I spent 2 years teaching in the elitest boarding schools in New England and got a good view on how more affluent Americans choose to educate their children. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

    While it is true that each child is an individual and has to be treated as such, it is also true that each person in this world must grow up with a sense of responsibility.
    As he or she gradualy gets in more and more contact with the family, community and with the world at large, it becomes the parents’ responisibility to prepare the child to face the intensity and challenge of it all. It is up to the parents to teach the kid the practices, challenges and coping mechanisms of being a decent human being.

    The goals of child rearing change in every new community and are determined by the education, political and social position of the parents, and most of all, by the values of the family and the society around them.

    I have to say, I had to work hard to stick to my guns and raise my son according to what I felt was right, rather than what everybody else around me was doing. I had to be firm about having no video games, but plenty of books in the house and my son learned to read at the age of 3 and has been a happy reader ever since. I had to limit TV viewing, but increase piano practice time and my son grew up to play several instruments and enjoy ALL music. I made sure we spent enough time with both Russian and American friends and now he appreciates the best of both cultures. As a result, he speaks 4 languages fluently and is open to any idea or opinion that may come his way.

    But most of all, I taught my son to respect a human being of any culture and backgraound and to practice love and compassion at all times. The importance of these values comes straight from the roots of Orthodox Church and the heritage of Russian intelligensia. Needless to say, these are the hardest virtures to internalize and I am sure it will take any person a lifetime to master them. However, I set the bar high from the start and I am sticking to it.

    When it came to education, I was just as much of a Nazi/Nurturer as your parents were. I knew then and I know now that education is the only way to both independence and happiness. So I pushed and pushed my child to learn the hard work and the discipline of learning and the joy of it’s rewards at the same time.

    On the home front, my son just confessed to me today, it was about guilt 30% of the time: contributing to family life was expected, allowance came later, when there was a need to have and learn to manage a mini income. Now it is just expected and there is no allowance, my college kid comes home and he does part of house work, because he is part of the family. He cooks the church meals, because he is part of the church community. He respects the Muslim service when he visits a Mosque in the Middle East. I believe this is the way humans should treat each other and I preach, teach and practice it.

    Well, it is not easy to be this way. It takes an tremendous amount of dicsipline from you as a parent, as an adult, a a person. In this culture, with the cult of individualism and with the parents too busy to think about different aspect of their child’s life, let alone maintain a certain control of it, it is a luxuary. But if you are willing to offer the world a decent human being, educated and compassionate, it is worth the struggle. It is worth the sacrifice, it is worth your time. After all, we only get one chance to raise a child right.

    I am looking forward to more of your writing, and I will keep you posted about my writing the memoir about raising a kid between two cultures.
    Please excuse my writing’s imperfections.
    Take care and keep writing.

    1. Thank you for your kind and lengthy comment, especially your insight from both education systems. I would love to read more about your experiences teaching Russian kids vs. American kids from the other side (I often hear about Mr. B’s experience of the Soviet education system and it’s pretty biased against Sofia Efimovna since she took him to task pretty well when he didn’t do his homework.)

  8. I completely agree with you, even though I know a lot of Americans are offended by the idea that they’re doin’ it wrong. My parents are basically exactly like Chinese parents, but without the instruments. I think I’m better off for it because I’m doing pretty well if I do say so myself.
    In addition, a lot of parents who want to be their children’s “friends” seem to worry about their kids not liking them or wanting to avoid them and that’s entirely untrue. Just because you push your kids to be successful it doesn’t mean they’ll hate you. Loving your parents and staying close to them is a big part of Eastern culture and so is the discipline! On the other hand referring to your child as “garbage” is not.
    I am very grateful for they way my parents are raising me because it’s their method that taught me to be free-thinking and compassionate but not, as you said, “soft”. To be hard-working and disciplined to get what I want out of life, but not to forget that there are other things worth experiencing. Yes, the fact that I don’t have an allowance and cannot go see The King’s Speech because it is rated R (while Passion of the Christ was a-okay) but it’ll all be worth it in the end (hopefully).

  9. My Eastern European mother would say things like, “You got a B? Good… B is good for working at McDonalds. You wanna work der?” She would slow down next to a garbage truck and point “you see him? He got a C in math.”

  10. OK, so here’s my full raised-by-Americans response.

    High expectations, encouragement, and discipline. Authoritative, not authoritarian (big difference).

    YOU should not feel guilty for your mother having to bundle you up and carry you around as a baby. That was her choice – to get married, to have kids, to take you with her to the store instead of working out some kid-swap thing with another mother at store time. There are always other options, which you should know, as an economist.

    Will you blame your kids for choices that you made? Or will you hold them responsible only for their own choices?

    I honestly don’t care whether my son ends up a garbage collector or a neurophysicist, so long as he’s happy with his choices and successful within them. My only real sticking points: I’d like Jewish grandkids. No substance abuse. No criminal activity. Vote. Everything else is pretty much up for grabs.

    1. The problem with the Western idea of “choice” to have children, is that in “Eastern” societies, children are almost never a choice, and parents don’t really think of having kids as a choice as people in America do; it’s just the path of life that they follow, much as going to primary school is often not a choice, it’s just something that everyone does (mom, you can weigh in here), although obviously with Westernization this attitude is changing some.

      And when I actually told my parents when they were exasperated with me, “Well, you chose to have me! Now you have to deal with me,” it was dismissed summarily.

      So yes, in a way I am responsible for my parents’ decisions because I will be taking care of them when they are older, no questions asked, and I will be doing things that reflect well on our family instead of being found in some sketchy side alley facedown in a tub of Nutella, because I do have an obligation to my parents, especially after they raised me and “put me on my feet”, so to speak.

      You, of course, are at more liberty to speak about what kinds of choices your son will make since you actually have one and I am just forecasting here.

      But, frankly speaking, I really don’t want my child to be a garbage collector. Not even a Jewish one. I want my child to have a career, not just any day-to-day job, with stability and a chance for growth, and one where he can make enough money to be independent and to be comfortable with their salary. And if they’re not happy with their job, it’s ok; they have enough skills to switch jobs. That is my real goal.

      Of course, this is all hypothetical and subject to change.

  11. OK, Just read Elena’s comment and I realized that things like helping without being asked, contributing to family and community were things I was just assuming as a given. I’m talking more about career paths and working hard at things you’re not interested in, which I will NOT make my son do.

  12. Okay I really couldn’t help myself and wrote a post about this, even though it’ s not the sort of thing I do on my blog. What can I say you inspired me.

    Here’s the thing, I love that your experience was that your parents did right by you and that you plan applying what worked to your own kids, but you will be raising a different child in a different culture so don’t be surprised if the results are well..different.

    1. Love your post, but disappointed that the juicy details will have to wait for the autobiography and subsequent movie starring Natalie Portman.

  13. On one hand, I think Chua is shock-jockeying, if that makes any sense. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would believe that a sleepover, being in a school play OR having a play date could prevent a child from becoming a success. Those kinds of fluffy extra-curricular activities build social skills that are an integral part of becoming a successful adult.
    Her entire premise seems to be based on an assumption that Chinese ex-pats raise more children that go on to become successful adults than their western counterparts. Has this been proven? Have any studies been done to validate that assumption? If she is going to be using her own children as an example of “success” shouldn’t she wait until they are both adults? Being a successful student and a successful adult are two very different things.
    On the other hand, I agree – children need discipline. They need attention and they need to learn the value of hard work. My parents, being the typical Russian immigrants instilled that in me from a very young age. In I majored in Media Studies, and while my parents did not agree with my choice, they allowed me to pursue my passions, as long as I paid of my education myself. Though I do not work in media now, I consider myself to be a fairly successful twenty-something. I am on the right career track, I like my job and I am absolutely self reliant.

    So in conclusion, I just don’t know what to think. As a Russian immigrant, I get it – the idea that children need to practice in order to excel at something, and sometimes parents must force it. I just think that there has to be some sort of a balance, where a child is able to have friends, a social life and develop his or her own interests.

    1. From other commenters I’ve come to understand that the bullet list she compiled at the beginning of the piece is satire but the way she phrased it, I had an extremely hard time believing that it was. I agree with balance.

  14. Vicky, I’m pretty sure that if you were raised in Russia, you’d be good at math. 😉
    It’s sometimes said that Chinese are the new Jews because their success in the US mimics that of American Jews in the 20th century. Much of it has to do with pushy mothers, I’m sure. But Jewish mothers mostly nag and guilt trip. I can’t imagine a typical Jewish mother “going to war” over a silly music piece.

    1. Yeah, I don’t really envision the stereotype of American Jewish mothers as forcing so much as playing up the guilt trips.

  15. Immigrant parents are interesting species…. I was raised by immigrants. My younger brother was raised by New Americans. These same two people at different points in their lives post immigration functioned differently and parented differently too. I never had choices and I learned to work hard, to do everything well, be accountable for my actions – all that clearly was a result of my parent’s lack of flexibility on everything. Ultimately I have no regrets, except for one – my education – that was a joke. I felt then and continue to feel today that I was muscled into a major that was not for me. As a result I worked a lot harder at PennState than I wanted to and really needed to. I never wanted to be an art major or English major. I was raised to know that the consequence of such education would be a stellar career in retail and thus poverty. I just did not want to be an engineer… However my natural aptitude in Math and Science apparently gave me no other choice… New immigrants are naturally focused on survival and not on what majors are available for their reasonably talented and hardworking young daughter to pursue in college. I have to believe that if they were more educated on the educational opportunities in the US they would have advised majors like economics, accounting, Industrial Engineering (vs the hell that my Electrical Engineering major was), operations research…all of the educational paths that I always knew I would do well in and now know tend to lead to gainful employment, interesting work and career growth. Back in the day my parents knew hard core Engineering and nothing else. Being an immigrant child I did not assert myself for the longest time. When I did my timing was very poor, as were my methods and my arguments did not hold water. Ultimately I did what I was told. I graduated and worked as a software engineer for a couple of years before I revolted and switched directions. My parents were not happy, but accepted it as I was not dependent on them. I have been gainfully employed ever since. I have a solid decent paying job (that pays a whole lot less than a tenured software engineering professional would make), but not a career. To me my job is OK because it allows me the life balance few mothers of young children enjoy. It is all cool and I did learn a few things as a result of my educational mis-steps, as did my parents. When 7 years after I started college my now New American (vs new immigrant) parents, were sending my brother off to school they sent him to a college they knew about, to take on a major that would tax his mental abilities just enough while allowing him to hone his social skills. That combination of academics and skillful interpersonal manipulations allowed him to get a job that would turn into a stellar consulting career. I had a hand in guiding my little brother in that direction…and to me that almost makes up for my own lackluster experience with education.
    My kids know that they will have a choice in what schooling to pursue in college…as long as it results in their independence and self-sufficiency. At their age they talk about what they want to study and ponder about how that education may benefit them. They do not take classes outside of school any longer (except for son’s piano lessons – those are non-negotiable just like school classes are not but I do not yell when he does not practice, although I do grumble a little. At the end of the day I only need him to take the appreciation of music form that and he clearly gets it.) They did take all kinds of classes and that proved to be only time and resources wasted – neither seemed to have passion for tennis, dance, ice skating, deck hockey or karate. We told them “no passion no $$ or time”. My son plays football in high school and trains for it year round. He loves it. My daughter takes a running class and loves it. She is taking piano and violin at school – that is a benefit of us paying super high taxes in one of the best school districts in the Commonwealth. They watch TV and play video games….after their school work is done and household responsibilities are fulfilled. They receive no allowance. They get $$ for going out with friends and social/religious/school events.
    My kids often tell me that I am not like all other Moms – I am way tougher. I take that as a high compliment. At the same time I know that I am only Russian Jewish Mother LIGHT…compared to my Mom…and I am reminded of that regularly…by my Russian Jewish Mom Extraordinaire who did alright raising me.

    1. Thank you for your very thoughtful perspective as growing up with one foot in one world and another in another.

      I really like this line because it’s basically what I was trying to say, but you said much better:
      “My kids know that they will have a choice in what schooling to pursue in college…as long as it results in their independence and self-sufficiency”

  16. First of all, I think we need to define success, if we’re going to talk about achieving it. Is success money? Fame? Happiness with what you’re doing?

    I was born in the former USSR and raised by immigrant parents, too. However, mine didn’t “push” me in the classic sense. I learned to work hard by watching how hard they worked, without necessarily being told to. But, I worked hard on things that interested me.

    My degree (a Master’s, no less) is in Writing for Television and Radio (a major my parents “let” me pursue, despite the many, many objections and questions of their friends). And, guess what? I went to work in writing for Television and Radio (okay, full disclosure: I’ve never written for the radio. But, I have worked for most of the major networks, and a few cable ones, and I’ve written and published over a dozen books, two of which were NYTimes best-sellers.)

    So, am I successful? Am I famous? Not even a little. Am I rich. Not by NYC standards, that’s for sure. My husband (a non-immigrant, but an African-American, so similar in some ways) has an engineering degree from MIT (oooh, a top school any Asian or Russian Jewish mother would be thrilled with). But, he works as a high-school math teacher. Because he prefers to be a high-school math teacher (yes, at half the salary) to his days of sitting in a cubicle.

    Between our combined salaries, we are not destitute, we are not broke, and we are not on welfare. But, do we make enough to pay our children’s private school tuition? No. (However, we are diverse enough to qualify for financial aid, so we send out kids to the top schools, not so that they can be “successful,” but so they won’t be idiots who we’re bored to talk to down the line.)

    So, to summarize: Not rich, not famous, love our jobs and chose them over other, more high-paying possibilities. (Then again, at the moment, I write from home and otherwise take care of my three kids… another choice.)

    So are we successful or not? And would we be more so, if my parents had pushed me the way culture dictates?

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Success, to me, means being able to support yourself without the help of your parents and without going into debt, doing things that make you proud, and being able to balance work and life. For everyone, as you said, success is different.

  17. What Chua didn’t say is that it’s possible to be good at something and still hate it. My mother is black and religious, so from an early age I’d hear “your ancestors” this and “God-given” that. I was guilted/scared into making good grades and chose to major in science… partly to minimize risk of ten plagues, mostly so I could hurry up and make a lot of money and then quit instead of wasting my life in a job I hated. I would’ve returned “God’s gifts” for store credit.
    To this day, if you show me a calculus book, yes, I’ll do the problems… but I’ll want to fight you too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>