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« Twilight of the Ayotollahs? | Main | Wikileaks, the Democratic Ideal, and Foriegn Policy (Cyrus) »

January 20, 2011

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Listening to the debate on radio was painful. I went through such brutality myself and cursed Chua. My dimwit classmates with more sensible parents have long since overtaken me in the business of leading a happy, productive and successful life. More recently I saw a niece grow alienated by it; she ran away in her late teens, seduced by an ultra-secretive Christian cult that promised her freedom, never to be seen again. I would like to be reborn as the Chua childrens' future shrink.

Narayan, was it your mother or your father? Not that it matters. But an overbearing mother seems to get all the headlines - from Joan Crawford's horror flickish (and surely false) Mommie Dearest to Amy Chua's self confessed (there, that expression again) tigerish approach.

We have written about motherhood a couple of times on A.B., most recently here.

David Brooks calls Amy Chua a wimp and claims that she is actually raising losers rather than world beaters with her fierce approach to parenting.

But as Sujatha points out wisely, there are mothers and mothers. They come in all shapes and sizes with their own baggage and every neurotic strain that can be found in the population as a whole. It is hard to point fingers without knowing the correct fail-proof formula. What would a mother's worst trait be? Clingy, cruel, emotionally black mailing, tiger, dragon, selfish, manipulative or indifferent? Take your pick. It goes without saying that sympathy, empathy, love and a sense of humor, as well as the ability to see one's child as a person with an autonomous will and identity, go a long way in parenting just as they do in any human relationship.

Narayan- Your parent(s) may have just been following precepts they had learned from their own, and so it continues, this pattern of browbeating, till one generation decides to change or terminate the sequence.

Ruchira, David Brooks exalting the socializing skills taught over sleepovers seemed rather forced to me. I doubt that anything comes of them other than pure fun and enjoyment (at least during the pre-middle school years) and maybe issues of a different variety as the girls get older ( Do boys even do 'sleepovers' or clamor for them the way the girls do? I wonder. Again this is a cultural thing- I don't recall indulging in them in India, it seems like a very American activity.)
I remember listening to a rather saddening interview with a local high school prize-winning pianist (of Chinese extraction)- She carefully remembered to thank her mother for sitting with her every day as she practiced for hours. She then played an excerpt from Chopin, and one could sense the frustration in her playing as she battled the recalcitrant piano in the radio station- there was no sense of the musicality of the piece taking over her performance. I'm guessing that she will (a) evolve into a Dragon mother of some kind (b)Never play the piano again after Carnegie Hall and go on to major in Neurobiology.

In addition to the criticisms y'all mention, I am dubious about the "race" of Chua's mothering as well, given that she herself was raised in the Midwestern U.S. My armchair psychologizing is that she is engaging in a very American hyper-competitive form of helicopter parenting, and then naming the results "Chinese mothering," rather than using the proper name: "suburban narcissism." Let's hope someone gives her kids a copy of Alice Miller's "The Drama of the Gifted Child." Gail Collins made these points much better than I do in today's Times.

Andrew, the Jewish Mother, blamed for raising generations of brilliant but faint hearted Jewish men has been unseated by the Asian Mother. The latter though seems to be more focused on daughters than sons, I gather. I think Amy Chua's husband is Jewish (also a Yale prof). What is his role? Does he have any say in bringing up the two Rubenfeld-Chua girls? He doesn't say in the video clip. Is there a prototype of a Jewish / Asian / White / Black / Christian / Muslim /Gay father? If not, there should be. Parenting is usually not a "singles" activity in the majority of child rearing cases.

From all accounts, my father's parents, impoverished villagers, were both loving, just unable to provide for their too many children. I haven't found a justification for my father's mania in a lifetime of enquiry. My mother, born to an enlightened America-educated father, could barely cope with the tyranny herself. It was the times. Something of my father rubbed off on all of us, as Chua no doubt will on her children. Fortunately, my mother outlasted him and had 25 years to reassert herself in her father's image. My sister's personality suffered through total acquiescence. I bore the brunt and 'terminated the sequence' by getting away at the earliest opportunity and not having children. I wouldn't wish my experience on anyone else.

Andrew has serious misconceptions of the life & experiences of non-white immigrants, I fear. Many live a generation or more in ghettos of their own making, singly or communally, even if English-speaking and capable of showing white-face to outsiders. I see it to this day in the Indian-Russian ghetto of Bensalem. The worst case of child abuse in recent greater Philly memory occurred three doors away from my aunt in an all-Indian apartment building in that town. Security in numbers has its down side. The mid-west might have made no difference at all to Chua's parents if they were not already westernized before emigrating, as some of us were. A book came out a year or two ago that debunked all the whitewash about the history of the Chinese in this country. (I should go look for it now - does anyone remeber it?)

On her extended visits with me, my mother who was fluent in relatively accent-free English, and conversant with American culture besides (music, film, books, customs, etc), felt out of place here and couldn't relate to white people (though she connected with my black shrink and with older people who knew her father). With reason, I think, having myself witnessed, over the years, several incidents of deplorable treatment of less acculturated students, visitors and immigrants in Boston, Cambridge and Amherst (MA).

Forty-three years in this country and many of my neighbors still relate to me as with an FOB immigrant, and have never cared to knock on my door! It's their loss I'm sure, having seen the culturally arid insides of their immaculate homes. Lest I provoke disbelief, I should offer the disclaimer that some of this might have to do with the fact that I am a bachelor and better educated - the ultimate reason for ostracism here as nowhere else in the world. A woman friend, a psychologist, confirms that foreign women, single or otherwise, find better acceptance.

Perhaps it is the nagging fear of such exclusion by otherwise liberal nativists that drives Chua in part too.

Ruchira,
Maybe, that's the surprise. The Chinese mother being so focused on making her daughters high achievers. Can that be truly said of the real mainland Chinese mothers, given that there is still a remnant of preference for sons? Will the sons be yelled at similarly "You're garbage!", or will there be a more 'Jewish motherly' approach to their upbringing? I think we are missing a discussion on the dynamics: A mother interacts differently with her daughters as opposed to her sons, maybe less so if all her children are of the same sex. A father's interaction with his sons/daughters also shows this kind of difference.

Andrew, you live in the Mecca of hyper-competitive helicoptering parents, perhaps, but there are pockets of fanaticism all over. Just check at any local school PTAs across the country and watch the moms trying to outbrag the others about the abilities and talents of their kids (and by inference their own parenting skills). Parenting is a competitive sport, and it's been designed that way, all the way from amoebae to Homo sapiens to dolphins, at least till we release our offspring into the wilds after their apprenticeship.
http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/animals/mammals-animals/dolphins-and-porpoises/dolphin_parenting.html

Ruchira : Have you watched the latest season of the HBO series "In Treatment". If not, you should rent it as soon as it comes out later this year. Having seen only one episode at a friends', I myself am looking forward to it. One of the patients is an older Bengali man with serious son and (firangi) daughter-in-law issues, teetering on the brink of explosion. Even otherwise, a great show. It may be on the Internet - I haven't looked for it.

... played to perfection by the honorary Bengali actor Irfaan Khan.

Yes, one can watch "In Treatment" on YouTube and also on HBO's own website. Here is an example:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3510334847604885128#

Enjoy the feature, everyone.

Many times have I been told that the best "mother" one can have is a grandmother. Which is probably one reason why so many foster children in the United States are placed by Social Services in the care of their grandmothers (biological or otherwise). Of course the monetary benefit to the older woman is a big advantage, but I have seen a few cases myself where the children really begin to bloom in that kind of loving care.

"Parenting."

I like to consider myself a Chinese mother, and I might even have written a book about it had this Chua woman not over-achieved me. My Chinese approach, however, differs somewhat: I try to impress upon my son the material basis of contradiction and the importance of mastery of the dialecitc to resolve it. Every struggle--the choice of DVD (Scooby Doo or Batman?), snack (cheese and crackers, or apple slices?), or bedtime (8:30? 9:00? 9:30?!)--entails an imminent revolutionary potential. The goal is to expose capitalism, i.e., the tooth fairy, for the illusion it is.

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