Fusion Parenting: East Meets West in Child Rearing

Celebrating and embracing diversity may also apply to child rearing

Posted Jan 24, 2011

Yale University law professor Amy Chua has certainly caused quite a stir with her newly released book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which claims that Asian approaches to parenting, which are very demanding academically with high expectations for performance, are far superior to Western parenting approaches that are much looser, have fewer expectations for performances, and are overly concerned with the self-esteem, happiness, and the emotions of youngsters. As she makes her rounds in her nationwide book tour, she seems to be softening her stance. Perhaps the change of tune has something to do with the backlash she's receiving from the public, which has come in the form of angry e-mails, accusations of child abuse, and even death threats.

Professor Chua is a law professor and not a psychologist or parenting expert. Yet her compelling book and particular point of view brings up many issues that most American parents chronically struggle with: How do we raise successful, competent, happy children in a modern, competitive, and diverse culture without driving ourselves (and our children) crazy in the process? Additionally, what is the best way to raise our children when parenting styles and experts contradict one another? Part of the answer to these and many other parenting questions are dependent on what our goals are for our children. What is the outcome that we want from all of our parenting efforts and how much control do we have in securing these outcomes?

As a parent of a teenage son myself, I certainly want my child to be an ethical, happy, content human being who has good relationships with others, a vocation and career that he loves, and habits of the mind, heart, and behavior that are healthy, gratifying, and sustaining. I'd bet that many parents want the same for their child. Some might also want him or her to go to an Ivy League college, be a professional athlete or professional musician, and maybe be rich and famous someday (in a positive way). Yet, these goals are likely to be just narcissistic desires for us, living vicariously through our children. Research also suggests that children will likely model the behavior of their parents and other important figures in their lives. So, the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree.

In my experience as a college professor and a psychologist who has been in clinical practice for more than 25 years, a blend of Eastern and Western approaches (high expectations with plenty of love and support) is likely the best way to go. Too strict and demanding and children will likely rebel against your demands, hate you in the process, and be grateful for the day that they can get away from you. Yet, too lenient and they likely won't succeed or accomplish much, as well as quit at the first obstacles they face that might frustrate them. There are risks at being too Eastern or too Western in one's parenting approach in our society and many of my clients over the years have struggled with finding the right balance for them and their families. Perhaps this is yet another reason why we have much to learn from those different than ourselves and why celebrating and embracing diversity may also apply to child rearing.

Professor Chua now admits that her parenting approach didn't work with her younger daughter, who rebelled, and that she ended up using a hybrid of Eastern and Western styles. In a more homogenous society such as China, Korea, and Japan, where most children face such pressures, anything less than an A and no TV may seem rather normal. However, when children are growing up with peers who are allowed to have sleepovers and who don't have to practice playing the piano and violin until mastering a piece, they immediately recognize that their world at home is different and perhaps unfair in their view, making it difficult for them to understand the intentions of their parents. Maybe teenagers like Chua's younger daughter faced another kind of peer pressure of her own-to assimilate by being able to talk about the latest movie they saw over the weekend or by discussing the new video game their parents recently bought them.

While wanting children to focus on their studies is understandable, Professor Chua can learn a lesson or two about putting children in sports, scouts, and allowing them to play with friends, as many Western parents do. Being on a sports team or in scouts can teach important lessons about social relations, team work, responsibility, achievement striving, and mental and physical perseverance. Play time with peers can teach children social skills, nurture productive hobbies, and allow for useful stress management opportunities. So, in a nutshell, fusion parenting thus blending Eastern and Western approaches may better than either approach in their extreme.

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