I am mother to two girls, and five boys. When I started out, I was the over-protective mother-hen that didn’t let my son carry rocks because they might fall and pinch his little toes. We’ve found that the more “chicks” in our nest, the less time I spend sweating the smaller stuff… like salmonella.
I was inspired to accomplish more as a parent
by a book written by a Tiger Mom (Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). I greatly admire the dedication and die-hard attitude Tiger Mothers give to their kids. It takes more strength and sacrifice to raise children in this parenting style than any other (for more info on this subject, read “ESSAY” located after the Comment section), but the reward is having children who excel in school and out.
I’d love to be a Tiger Mom, but I can’t devote that kind of time and effort with seven children. Instead, I’ve labeled myself a “Taco Mom”. It’s kind-of the same thing, only I’m more flexible in general, greedy with my alone (and couple) time, and willing to settle on grades and chores if it means a drop more sanity on week nights.
My sister is closer to being a Tiger Mom; she has a Master’s Degree in Education and four kids (three Elementary aged, and an infant). She makes buffet style breakfasts, holds her kids to a high academic and handwriting standard, and still has time to make dinner… she’s also a little batty. I have another, even younger sister that also holds a Master’s Degree (in biology)… she only has three kids (all under five years old), so we still consider her a rookie.
As a Taco Mom,
I work hard to organize and plan my family’s world, but I’ve submitted to the fact that I can’t control everything. [The joke is: Once I do all of my planning, I tell my mother my plans, so she can change them.] Once everything is worked out, I take a deep breath and let my family work, play, and live within the “planned” framework. It takes flexibility to allow change, but knowing what to expect (and telling the kids what I expect from them) takes some of the stress out of many situations.
A Different Style of Parenting:
It may be that there is at least one parenting style that has not been recognized because of limited observations in and outside of Western countries. Despite authoritarian parenting styles leading to unfavorable mental and achievement issues in the West, this parenting style is linked to the most successful outcomes in Eastern Asian families (Matsumoto & Juang, 2013). This may be because there is a significant difference between how authoritarian American mothers parent compared to “authoritarian” Asian mothers. Authoritarian discipline co-exists with parental warmth in Asian countries (Newman, Gozu, Guan, Lee, Li, & Sasaki, 2015). Although Asian parents constantly confront children with their shortcomings, they also provide many hours of support and instruction to overcome these shortfalls. Parental care, love, training, and governance- referred to as chiao shun and guan in China- have a positive connotation that reflects parental (and teacher) care, concern, and massive involvement (Chao, 1994); perhaps balancing the control and interference reported in the parent/child relationship. Much of this research study Chinese families as representatives of East Asia, although Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, etc. as these cultures share much of the parenting style that stems from their common Confucian principles (Chao, 1994).
A Different Style of Parenting
At first it seems like a paradox or a fluke of racial nature that Asians perform as well as (if not better than) many other nations academically, given that they largely practice authoritarian parenting (Newman et al., 2015), but I believe it is simply an inadequate label of Asian parenting.
In China, parents (especially mothers) employ highly invasive parental devices to control and shape their children with emphasis on self-criticism, self-improvement, and humility (Kim, Chiu, Cho, Au & Kwak, 2014). Asian parents attempt to control the child’s thought process, self-expression, behavior, decisions about personal issues, etc. through love withdrawal, guilt induction, and corporal punishment (Ng, Pomerantz & Deng, 2013). If this type of intrusion into the child’s life produces unhappy and/or maladjusted adults in Western countries, how is it that Asian adults have great love and respect for their parents, elders, and authority?
Although not happier than Westerners (Ng et al., 2013), some studies have shown that the authoritarian parenting of Chinese children is associated with academic achievement and positive self-esteem. Again, this is not a paradox- we are simply not seeing the full picture because we are not asking the right questions in our scientific studies, and we only have four parenting labels to choose from.
“Authoritarian parents expect unquestioned obedience and view the child as needing to be controlled. They have also been described as being low on warmth and responsiveness toward their children,” (Matsumoto et al., 2013). If difference in parenting styles is characterized by the parent’s utilization of both control and responsiveness (Newman et al., 2015), then we may be correctly labeling Chinese parenting according to control, but not responsiveness. Authoritarian parents are likely to demand obedience, and punish for non-compliance (Newman et al., 2015); however, unlike authoritative parents, Chinese parents do express warmth and affection along with a great deal of personal sacrifice on the part of the mother (Chao, 1994).
This combination of parenting doesn’t produce the levels of low self-esteem in children that one would predict in an authoritarian (alone) environment. In fact, in these collectivist cultures where individuals are adept as seeing themselves as part of a whole, they still maintain a sense of self that closely corresponds to European Americans in terms of the number of positive attributes they assign to themselves (Kim et al., 2014). It is only when Asians (Japanese students in this case) use their “outside gaze” to see themselves through their parents’ eyes- especially their father’s- that the number of attributes they assign to themselves fall (Kim et al., 2014).
In American culture, specifically African-American culture, where authoritarian parenting is more common compared to European Americans (Ng et al., 2013), this style is often hostile and somewhat uninvolved. This parenting style may be due to highly challenging daily living. African American mothers are more likely to be single parents, with a shortage of resources. If we assume that the parent must work more than one job, or has more than two children, or doesn’t have the support of the other parent or relatives, or any combination of these factors- then the parent (usually the mother) may feel a need to exhibit dominance over the child/children in order to get quick results. In these circumstances, low affection/parental warmth emerges through a lack of time, energy, and support.
This is not the case with Asian parenting where parents, especially mothers, are highly involved and invested in the child as well as the family’s harmony as a whole (Chao, 1994). In this culture of interdependence, parents view their child as an extension of themselves and their ancestors. Chinese mothers are willing (and expected) to devote any amount of time and energy to her child, in part because the child is how she measures her own self-worth (Ng et al., 2013).
Dealing with homework in Western authoritarian parenting, a parent might tell (but not supervise) the child to complete the day’s homework before the child can play. The parent might then either punish the child for not completing homework or punish the child for not doing well on homework.
Asian parents are also punitive for underperformance in school; however, they manage homework (or music lessons, etc.) differently in their society. Amy Chua, a third generation Chinese immigrant, explains the “virtuous circle” of how Chinese parenting leads to the child’s accomplishment, and therefore helps the child’s self-esteem and willingness to perform: 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. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something… he or she gets praise, admiration, and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more. (Chua, 2011)
In this way, the mother’s steadfast motivation for her child to achieve trains the child to work hard and develop self-discipline until his or her own drive and motivation becomes adequate (Chao, 1994). Perhaps because the child learns what he/she is capable of, and that the parent knew it before the child did, it is accepted (on the part of the child) that the parent knows and wants what is best for him or her. This concept may be helped along by the fact that (in Asia) this style of parenting is normative (Ng et al., 2013).
Chiao Shun and Guan
To understand where the difference lies culturally, we have to understand the concepts of chiao shun (“child training”) and guan (“to govern”). Confucius teachings are hugely influential in Asian cultures, stressing social harmony, hierarchical relationships, and respect for elders and authority. The parental tools of chiao shun and guan are used to achieve the expectations of Confucian teachings.
Ruth Chao’s (1994) study of Chinese parenting revealed the idea that Asian countries are devoted to training their children in the appropriate and expected behaviors. Chiao shun and guan take place from birth, where the mother is physically and emotionally responsive to the child’s needs, to include co-sleeping; providing the drive for achievement in school; and modeling societal and familial expectations (Chao, 1994). Training and governing, even if seen as psychologically controlling, are actually the manifestation of parental concern that allows for healthy self-esteem, above average achievement in school, and well-adjusted parent/child relationships later in life. In fact, according to Chao, chiao shun and guan are seen as the moral responsibilities of parents and teachers to invest in the future.
Asian parents are responsible for their children’s development, with the accomplishments of the child being the sign of proper parenting (Ng et al., 2013). Collectivist nations demand children maintain their family’s face, and through religion and school (in addition to home life), children are taught respect for elders and authority. Just as achievements honor the parents, dishonor or loss of face is also a reflection of the parents, so even successful parents are wary of future failure. For this reason, many parents are highly invested in their children’s academic and cultural progress, which is a direct contradiction of the authoritarian parenting style.
Newman (2015) and Chao (1994) suggest extending our concepts and measuring tools to encompass more variations of parenting styles. “Governing” would be a more accurate description of Asian parenting than “authoritarian” since Asian mothers exhibit a high level of personal involvement and concern in their child’s life for the purpose of academic success and cultural acceptance using governing techniques.
It may seem that this style of parenting is culture bound to Asia, but I believe there are parents all over the world that engage in this parenting style; perhaps we should look closely at the parenting practices of successful musicians, neurologists, and other high-achieving adults?
Chao, R. K. (1994). Beyond parental control and authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development, 65(4), 1111-1119.
Chua, A. (2011). Battle hymn of the tiger mother. NY, New York: Penguin Group. (6)29.
Kim, Y., Chiu, C., Cho, S., Au, E.W.M. & Kwak, S.N. (2014). Aligning inside and outside perspectives of the self: A cross—cultural difference in self-perception. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 17(1), 44-51.
Matsumoto, D. & Juang, L. (2014). Social and Cultural Foundations (Looseleaf) 14th. , p.69. Saint Leo University.
Newman, J., Hamide, G., Shuyi, G., Ji Eun, L., Xian, L., & Yuriko, S. (2015). Relationship between maternal parenting style and high school achievement and self-esteem in China, Turkey and U.S.A. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 46(2), 265-288.
Ng, F.F.Y., Pomerantz, E.M., & Deng, C. (2014). Why are Chinese mothers more controlling than American mothers? “My child is my report card”. Child Development, 85, 1, 355-369.