by Cherszy (@cherszy)
Parenting is probably one of the most complex, if not confusing, things in this world. It’s complicated that sometimes, any parent would wish that there’s a manual for perfect parenting that he/she could follow. Not only that, parenting can be crazy too that you’d want to pull your hair out at certain points. But, despite all these, at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure any parent would agree with me when I say that parenting is an experience full of experiences. I’m saying this because this is what I see in the way my parents raise me and from the stories that I hear from other parents.
You know, when parents talk about their kids or about parenting with other people, more often than not, they’d start off by saying that parenting brings in a lot of frustrations, problems, difficulties, stress, and sacrifices, even pain and depression that it feels like they want to quit but they just can’t. But, as the conversation proceeds, they go on to say that parenting can also be rewarding, fun, fulfilling, and it makes them feel proud and complete. I guess at the end of it all, you’d realize that these parents can quit but they just don’t want to. And it’s nice to know that many parents out there are like this. And it’s even nicer to know that my own parents have not given up on me yet (and hopefully, they never will).
All parenting experiences may have a common factor: challenging, but despite this, each parent’s story is unique in itself. One parenting story that has been viral on the web lately is that of Amy Chua, a Chinese mother whose article on how she raised her daughters with rules such as no sleepovers, no playdates, and no playing of other musical instruments aside from piano and violin, has received a lot of criticisms – both good and bad – from readers all over the world. I don’t know how many views that post must already have by this time, but the last time I checked, the comments were in the 2000 mark, so just imagine the number of hits.
The first question that’s probably popping out of your head right now is: who doesn’t let their kids go on sleepovers? Aside from Amy? My mom. Yes, that’s true. My mom, or rather, my parents don’t let me go on sleepovers. Well, at least they do not let me unless they know the person whose house we’re going to have a sleepover in extremely well. And when I mean extremely well, that excludes almost everyone I know. So, now you’re probably thinking “that’s insane”. True. It might be. But, that does not make me think less of my parents as parents because I know how much it’s going to worry them when I attend a sleepover since I’m in someone else’s house where they can’t keep track of me for the whole night. That’s going to drive them insane. What if someone breaks in that person’s house? What if something ugly happens to me there? They just have to make sure that I’m safe by simply not permitting me to go and for me, that makes them good parents, not bad ones just because they don’t let me attend sleepovers.
When I was younger, I did not understand the strictness of my parents. I was like, why can’t I go on sleepovers when all of my friends can? Why can’t my parents be more lenient like all the other parents out there? At one point, I became mad and disappointed at how my parents treated me. But, when I grew older, I realized how grateful I am for them because they were only thinking of the best for me. I realized that not all parents are the same. Not all parents have the same parenting technique. Not all parents looked at the world in the same manner. And more importantly, every parent shows their love differently. Mine just happened to be disguised as safety paranoids.
But, what about Amy? What kind of parent is she? Well, although she and my parents agree on the ‘no sleepover’ rule, she kinda freaks me out a bit. I mean, my parents let me do all the other things she doesn’t let her daughters do. I am allowed to get any grade (as long as of course I do not fail) I can get, be in a school play when I want to, and pick my own extracurricular activities. At some point, I’d like to think there is a slight exaggeration to her “list”. Like, come on, no TV? No computer games? Who in this modern age does not do that? However, no matter how absurd or sadist Amy may sound in her post, I do not exactly want to be judgmental of her parenting technique just because everybody looks at the world differently.
In relation to what I’ve just said – about the whole not being judgmental of Amy’s parenting style – I think nobody should tell someone how they should be as a parent. I cannot tell Amy that she’s a bad, inconsiderate, and insensitive mother. No, because we do not see the world in the same light. Therefore, I think no parent can tell another parent what the perfect parenting style is. So, when Amy criticized the Western parents of being lenient and too considerate of their kids’ feelings when they don’t scold them and when they praise them for success that’s not even enough yet that it sounds like that Western parents do not know how to be parents because they don’t push their kids the same way Chinese parents like her do, I felt like that her article was more like exerting superiority rather than tell a part of her parenting story. I was saddened because she was so condemnatory and her culture biases were clearly showing. Her opinion of good parenting uses herself as a reference and in this world, not everything you think is good necessarily stands true for everyone.
For me – I don’t know how many of you would agree with me – parenting is not something you can judge from your perspective. Amy Chua cannot judge how not challenging and strict Western parents are when it comes to their kids – the same way I cannot judge how suffocating and weird she’s treating her kids. I see two reasons why we cannot do so:
First, there are different types of kids everywhere. One kid is not the same with his classmate in terms of many things, and parenting has to be based on what kind of child a parent has. You cannot impose the parenting technique you use for a conservative child on one that’s liberal because you’re likely going to end up in a disastrous relationship with that child. It’s like you don’t prepare grilled chicken and fried chicken in the same way although they’re both chicken. Although it is true that kids grow up according to how you raise them, meaning that although there are different types of kids, you can mold your own child in a way that you’d like to see them grow up as, you, as a parent, is not the only factor that affects the kid. In modern ages like today, media is bigger a factor than you. Also, friends, school, professors, and all the other things he/she is exposed to will affect him/her in a way that could be or could be not contradictory to what you have wanted for him/her. And every kid is exposed to different kinds of media and influences around him/her, so each parent has to orient his/her parenting style according to these influences. You cannot make a pre-planned parenting in detail because even though you have something in mind for your child, it can always change when some other factors come in, such as media influences. Therefore, you, as a parent, will have to adjust and act according to what or how your child is acting at that particular period of time in order to guide him through. Because of differences in child traits and behaviors as well as types of things that are exposed to the child, we cannot judge a parent’s style of raising up his/her kid as something good or bad from your perspective because we do not necessarily understand the situation (parents know their own more than we, as critics, do) unless of course, the parenting is obviously harmful to the kid (e.g. parents agreeing to child trafficking and allowing their kids to be sex slaves/prostitutes).
Second – I’ve said this already – we all look at the world differently. Each of us has our own conception of good and bad – the same way each parent has his/her own mindset of what is going to be best for his/her child. There are parents who think that it is important for their children to understand the importance of freedom, free will, and expression of self, so they’re more lenient and they encourage their kids to find their artistic sides as they explore life. On the other hand, we have parents who think life is about being stable through ways like staying on top, getting rich, and being competitive, so they’re more strict by letting their kids be involved only in economic and political stuff. Either way, we can’t really say which parenting style is better than the other. It sounds like they’re both right, but when you’re looking at it from your perspective, I’m pretty sure you will lean towards one or the other. However, that’s not enough for us to judge the parenting of a parent.
So, Amy Chua, if you’re reading this, I’m telling you that it is not enough for you to judge Western parents from your perspective just because you think your parenting style is great. For you (and probably some others who share the same technique), that’s great. For others who have another way of parenting, that’s not great. If you want to tell your parenting story next time, I’d suggest you stick to your own and don’t generalize and compare yourself with others where you show how superior you are because a lot of things are subjective. I have nothing against your parenting technique because I do not know what your situation with your kids are, but I just have an issue with how you generalize Chinese parents to be strict (and somehow inconsiderate) because trust me, not every Chinese parent is and how you also generalize Western parents to be contented with the inadequacies of their children and are not encouraging and strict enough. Parenting does not solely rely on culture; it is an individual decision.
As a final note, I’d just like to state this point: parenting is an art. It is a piece of art that you can judge but you can never judge justifiably. You can judge a particular painting to be simple, ugly, and not artistic enough, but that judgment is not enough for you to conclude that it is not art because you do not exactly know what that particular painting signifies. It may be of deep meaning to the painter and that in itself is art because it is an expression of the self. The same thing can be said for parenting. You can simply judge from a general point of view, but you will never be able to judge a parent truly because you do not know what situation he/she is in. For example, the parent of a suicidal kid cannot be too harsh or strict for the fear that he/she may lose his/her child in the process. The parent has to act according to what’s best for the current situation despite his/her want to impose something better. However, when a strict parent hears of how the mother of a suicidal kid is lenient, he/she would judge this mother as being incompetent as a parent. This judgment is insufficient because he/she does not know the situation of that mother.
I may not be in a position, or rather, I am definitely not in a position to tell you what good parenting is because I’m not yet there, but as a child, I can tell you that parenting is about listening and responding according to the current situation of a kid. No pre-planning in detail but taking the time to observe your kid and find out what he/she’s like and what he/she’s into and parent accordingly. As a child, I’m telling you that I feel happy when my parents do that. I guess as long as the parenting involves the parent doing what he/she thinks is best for his/her child AND the child being thankful at the end of it all for the parenting that she got, then that type of parenting is successful.
So, what is good parenting after all? Is it the Amy Chua way or not? Well, you’re the parent, right? Parent as you see fit.
What is your parenting style? What is in your opinion good parenting? Share with me and the rest of the readers your parenting stories and/or your idea/s of parenting in the comments section below.