The Tantrum: Should Your Babymama Be a ‘Chinese Mother’?

January 10th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in The Tantrum  |  10 Comments

A Chinese mother terrorizes her child.

A Chinese mother and child.

If you are alive and able to understand the English language, over the weekend you probably read Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” That’s the one in which she details the reign of terror to which she subjected her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, denying them the comforts that are an American child’s birthright, like watching too much TV, playing videogames, playing a tree stump in the school play, and having friends.

Instead, Chua forced them to play piano and violin until they—gasp!—became good at the instruments, and browbeat them into getting straight A’s in school. Also, she called them “garbage” to their faces if they gave her any lip.

I probably don’t need to tell you that this is not the DadWagon approach to parenting. There’s little chance Theodore, Nathan or I would spend hours enforcing mandatory piano practice, mostly because we’re drunk whenever the kids are home. Also, our kids already know they’re garbage—we don’t need to remind them.

The thing is, we have wives, girlfriends, and ex-wives, who are, in total, 87.5% Asian. (Correct?) While we Barcalounge the evenings away, we could get them to frighten our demon spawn into achieving the bare competence needed to survive in the modern world. All it would take is a mere nudge from us, and those babymamas—all first- or second-generation immigrants—would revert to their Old World standards of high expectations and easy emotional abuse. Get ready, Harvard—Sasha’s coming your way!

Or not. It’s pretty easy to criticize Amy Chua’s approach to parenting—”garbage,” really? to their faces?—but I have little doubt her children will get Ph.D.’s or M.D.’s and become, at least outwardly, successes. Maybe they’ll need extensive therapy, maybe they’ll commit suicide, or maybe they’ll be okay.

But to my mind, right now they look, well, boring. Another couple of Chinese-Jewish (their dad is Jed Rubenfeld) kids who play piano and get good grades—stereotypes. And while I wish them all the material success in the world, it’s hard to see them as anything but automatons. They may become doctors or lawyers, but so what? I’d rather my Sasha be an interesting individual first, then a successful individual. Of course, I’m not Chinese.

My wife, however, is—or nearly is. Jean was born and raised in Taiwan, and while her parents did push her to learn piano and memorize Tang Dynasty poems (which she then had to perform at dinner parties), I don’t think they terrorized her into submission. Yes, she had to complete a biology degree at Johns Hopkins before they’d let her go to fashion school, but they did relent. They even let her marry a non-Taiwanese freelance writer!

Still, I worry. I worry that one day some switch in her brain will flip and she’ll turn into Amy Chua, a take-no-prisoners monster demanding pointless grades and mastery of arbitrary skills (what, no cello?). And if it could happen in my family, it could happen in yours!

Moral of the story: Don’t marry an Asian woman. (Leave them all to us!)


  1. dt says:

    January 10th, 2011at 3:02 pm(#)

    I’m not sure how far removed from a highly programmed American kid life this is. Both are being told what to do, 24 hours a day. Both will go insane in college.

  2. SCOTTSTEV says:

    January 10th, 2011at 3:47 pm(#)

    @DT – I was totally going to say the same thing about how American and Greenwich/New Canaan this sounded. I have a friend who sings professionally, and he refers to certain colleagues whom “all the kids in the family took lessons, but music was never played in the house.” And finally, when they’ve achieved some level of proficiency, the family objects music as a career.

    At least its good to see the WSJ learning how to troll for webhits. The Atlantic, has mastered the art of pissing off the internet since they started publishing Caitlin Flanagan and Laura Gottleib.

  3. greg from daddytypes says:

    January 10th, 2011at 4:22 pm(#)

    nail on the head, @scottstev, I had fun imagining the scene at NY Mag when they saw the WSJ muscling in so successfully on their Parental Ivy Anxiety beat.


  4. greg from daddytypes says:

    January 10th, 2011at 4:23 pm(#)

    And wow to the high Asian babymama quotient around here, I had no idea.

  5. Nathan says:

    January 10th, 2011at 5:08 pm(#)

    Believe it, Greg. Half of my wife is the only non-Asian female around these parts. Apparently low-earning Jews are like catnip for Taiwanese and Japanese women?

  6. beta dad says:

    January 11th, 2011at 2:16 pm(#)

    Low-earning WASPS, too!

    My 1st generation Vietnamese immigrant/refugee wife has a slightly different background. Her parents had all the expectations and demands of Chua’s mom, and cranked up the shame to 11, but weren’t involved in the kids’ activities at all. They were too busy with work and managing a huge family to even teach my wife any English. And they had no books in the house. Still, my wife and her sibs are all assets to society, and…let’s see…3/6 of them are really ambitious and successful.

    Vietnamese Mom FTW!

  7. Jean says:

    January 11th, 2011at 2:37 pm(#)

    Uh, Matt, Why do you think we have a Schoenhut toy piano?

  8. Matt says:

    January 11th, 2011at 2:49 pm(#)

    Oh, no! It’s already begun!

  9. esa says:

    January 11th, 2011at 4:48 pm(#)

    I think at this point it would also be incumbent to recognize that jewish women totally rock.

  10. Nathan says:

    January 11th, 2011at 5:23 pm(#)

    Yes! Perhaps too much. I don’t recall them lining up to date me, especially not that one girl (you know who you are, you semitic siren).

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