Sunday, 9 January 2011

Chinese parenting.

Today, Weiling showed me an excellent WSJ article on Chinese parenting titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". It was written by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School - and shed light on what we Malaysian kids are all too familiar with but probably only experienced a milder version of. :P

In hindsight, I think I only had a pseudo-Chinese upbringing. My family is pretty open-minded, to the point that it always shocks me when my parents reinforce traditional lessons like, "Don't paint your nails black" or "Don't wear black to weddings or Chinese New Year reunions". While some of my friends have to have sit-down dinners at the dining hall and eat rice at least once a day, everyday, I only eat rice about 10 out of 30 days of a month. And when I got older, I was even allowed to have some meals in front of the TV or computer.

So it follows that my parents didn't use conventional Chinese parenting styles on me either - or at least, not all the time. ;)

I remember when I was in primary school, my friends and teachers would always gush over my impeccably neat handwriting. Each perfectly formed letter was in equal size to the perfectly formed letters on either side. I could virtually print every piece of the alphabet in penmanship so tidy that it was often mistaken as printed text. Other parents said to their kids (my friends), "Look at Sha-Lene's handwriting. It's so neat. Why can't you write like that?"

And nobody ever stopped to wonder why my handwriting was the way it was. The truth was that my parents - Daddy in particular - trained me to write. My parents sat with me repeatedly, monitoring the slant of the pencil and angle of my grip, teaching me the proper way to write. I remember getting very anxious when my father would sternly point out that the words on the right side of the sentence were bigger than the words on the left side!

He would say, "Why is it getting bigger and bigger?" and I would struggle to force the next word back into proportion. ROFL!

And like how Amy Chua pushed her daughter Lulu to learn that song, my parents coached many aspects of my personality - the organisation, perfectionism, attention to detail. The "perfect handwriting", like Lulu's perfect song, certainly gained me a lot of praise and ego-boosting for many years to come. I don't know what other things my parents trained in me - but I'm willing to bet it was a lot more than just penmanship. :D

I was really slow in kindergarten, way behind in my Peter & Jane workbooks because I spent too much time gazing at the people and objects around me - fascinated to no end that there was such a big world to explore! As an only child and the first grandchild in the family, trust me when I tell you that you never quite realise how many other children there are in the world until you enrol in kindergarten. XD

So my parents did what every Chinese parent would do. After kindergarten was over and before Standard 1 began, they bought tonnes of workbooks for me. They sat with me and we did ALL the books until I could work so fast, do everything so well.

In kindergarten, I hated cut-and-paste class because I always accidentally pasted the tree over the cow and couldn't peel off what I had already glued on the canvas. In class, I would end up with glue on my hands, missing pieces of the barnyard or school bus or whatever picture they had us work on for the day, and tears in my eyes. After kindergarten, my parents did so many cut and paste exercises with me that I actually became good at cut-and-paste - and actually grew to love it!

I entered primary school all ready to take on whatever the curriculum could hurl at me. I had been trained! For the rest of my primary and secondary school life, if I had a problem at anything, my parents used the same careful, unbelievably patient coaching - and we kept at it until I excelled at whatever it was that I sucked at doing.

With the exception of - as Amy Chua wrote - gym and art. :D

Of course, this system of Chinese parenting only lasts up to where ever your parents have the knowledge to teach you up to. Beyond commonsensical knowledge, Chinese parents would hire a tutor. For example, I had to have a private tutor teach me accounting because I just couldn't get it - until one day before my matriculation exam, when it finally clicked and everything made sense!

I wouldn't want to have had it any other way - if my parents hadn't pushed me and employed Chinese parenting when they did, I wouldn't have half the accomplishments I have today.

And the only reason I don't have more accomplishments and had lazy sort of fun instead would probably be because they let me make my own decisions! LOL! If my parents had used Chinese parenting as strictly as Amy Chua did, I would have been forced to take my (stressful) piano exams. I would have been forced to continue law school (miserably), and I would have graduated by now and be a lawyer. I would've had to continue those (horrible) POL classes in primary school and now be able to speak Mandarin. I would have been forced to go on the treadmill everyday like my dad always nags me to do, and I wouldn't be overweight.

So I think that I should apply Chinese parenting on to myself! Now that I'm turning 23 this year, I'm gonna try to be my own Chinese parent. Not about stuff that I can't change anymore, like law school or piano, but other things - like being healthier. I might even hear my dad's voice saying, "Don't finish those french fries!" the next time I'm at TGIF's! LOL!


Liz said...

omg. I only read your blog because i was dying to know whos behind YSK, and I've come to find that you're somehow so awesome and interesting, so smart too. I like how you said that you should be your own Amy Chua, I shall do the same!