There has been a lot of controversy over here in the US lately over a recent Wall Street Journal article which lauds Chinese mothers over their Western counterparts. You can read it here, if you haven't already done so. The author presents her case that the Chinese raise such stereotypically successful kids, due to the strict upbringing enforced by Chinese mothers. It has caused an outrage over here in the US, but I wasn't outraged, I was bemused. Why? Because I'm neither a Chinese nor a Western mother. I'm a Special Needs mother, both alike and different to our cultural stereotype counterparts.
Some of us became Special Needs mothers before their children were born. They learned while their child was still in utero that their child would have a disability. For others, they didn't know until birth that their child was different. And still others, like myself, had a child whose differences became evident as their development took on a different track. Some chose to adopt a child with a disability. Others struggle with coming to terms with the unsuspected turn of events that impacts every member of their family. Some of us have incredibly supportive partners, others are going it alone. We stay at home, or we we go out to work, our hearts always with our children. It doesn't matter how different we are: we are the same, we Special Needs mothers.
And just as we are the same, we understand something that the Chinese mother who feels superior, and the Western mother who is outraged does not always realize. Our children are different. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to raising our kids, even the ones with the same diagnoses are unique, and our approach to them needs to be just as flexible. I've often heard the complaint that there is no manual for raising a special needs child. I'm glad there isn't, it would be useless! A strategy that works one day achieves nothing the next. We are pragmatic and flexible. We do what it takes for our kids to be happy, that thinking doesn't fit in well with any parenting ideology. If you think that makes us pushovers, you should see us when our children are mistreated.
At times we have to push our children. We take our children to hospitals and therapists when the look in their eyes makes us want to quit. We can be as relentless as the Chinese mother in pushing our children towards our goals. But our goals are different. They might be to move our child into an inclusive classroom, or to be toilet-trained, or to bear their own weight for a few seconds, or put on their own clothes, or learn alternative ways to communicate, or recognize colors, or write their own name. You give us a meaningful goal, and we'll work harder than any other Mother to achieve it. And our pride in our children and their determination will exceed what we ever imagined it could be.
At times we are forgiving of our children. The behavior that would shock anybody else often gets us labeled as permissive. When we go to restaurants, it isn't just Chinese mothers who question our methods. I am the mother who would reward her child for every bite of dinner with a cracker. The sleepovers, and school plays, and playdates are celebrated as a success, not obstacles in the path to it. Success is very different for Special Needs mothers. It is the grace and courage we see every day in our children trying to fit into a world that wasn't made for them.
We might not get to watch our children become piano or violin virtuosos, but we get to see the magic and wonder of childhood up close and in slow motion. We get to be awed and humbled by the ordinary, every day. Western parents tend to give up. When it comes to our children, we will never give up, because they never do. They would give up anything for their children, says Amy Chua. So would we, even our dreams of what their future would be. We give up our fantasy of motherhood. Our reward is that our kids are themselves, not some projected image of what we want them to be.
We're irrevocably changed by our children. We crusade to make the world more accepting. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. We definitely agree on that one. You won't find me saying that Special Needs mothers are superior to any other. Our strength comes from reaching out, instead of tearing each other down. Though we can be divided, there are places like Hopeful Parents where we can gather to support one another. That is why we don't care if at times we are considered too strict, or too permissive, too demanding or too coddling. We do our best by our kids. As wonderfully, beautifully different as the mothers who raise them.
a perfect post and response to the recent controversy around here. I still don't understand why as mothers we constantly feel the need to make ourselves feel better at the expense of others.ReplyDelete
Incredibly moving and so true. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
This is lovely and so true. Thank you for sharing this!ReplyDelete
Says it all xxReplyDelete
So beautifully and eloquently said! Thanks for the reminder on a day when I want to give up.ReplyDelete
Beautifully written. If we as mothers can't respect other mothers and their different ways, how can we expect to raise children who will respect other children and their different ways?ReplyDelete
Love this post. I happen to be a Western (Australian) "special needs" mum married to a Chinese guy and living in Hong Kong so that article has been on my mind a lot lately. My mother in law thinks that Amy Chua is the perfect mother, I think :) (or maybe she just liked the title of the article)ReplyDelete
I think that just about every parent is doing the best that they can with what they know how to do... Sure we might do it differently, but most parents love their kids with all their hearts and would do ANYTHING for them.
Lovely, Thank you.ReplyDelete
Good post! I read the article a few days ago via a Families with Children from China post, and was somewhat surprised. When we were in China to adopt our children we found Chinese women to be very permissive (ie, give him some candy so he will stop crying) and hovering, but I would not say strict. I do think that the Chinese are a hard-working culture because they always HAVE been. Life is hard and not all that forgiving. Perhaps the parenting styles are a reflection of that.ReplyDelete
I am a mom to a kiddo with lots of special needs, and DO find myself parenting with much more determination than I would have anticipated. I'm sure that many would say that I am tough on my child, but that is because I so want him to reach his potential. Some kids (like mine) just need a lot of extra encouragement (and prodding), lest they stagnate or regress. It is not easy, but sometimes there is no alternative.
Thank you for this. You have written what I often am thinking so very well. Excellent!ReplyDelete
The whole Chinese Mother article and the fallout has bemused me too. Designed to incite, and everyone just took the bait.ReplyDelete
Love this post though!
Okay so I (finally) read the N Y T article. The 1st sentence: "A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids." Emphasis mine.ReplyDelete
And so she defines it. Were I to believe in "one best" descriptive of parenting this well-written confession/purge/bound-to-pay-well-book might bother me.
Were I to believe it possible to guide others into the one best parenting mode, I might be tempted by this book - with emphasis shifted to "successful". The outcome is subjective. The population is varied, diverse, heterogeneous. But many like to talk about these things, and so they have.
Each to his own. Natural consequences. Meh.
As Kristina Chew tweeted after she read the book: "It's a bit sad, the book; sets up a (faulty/false) dichotomy of Western vs Chinese."
Exactly! Exactly! Exactly! Thank you for this moving post and the reminder that though we may be totally different parents than we ever dreamed of being that we are doing what's right for our kids. And AMEN to finding strength from each other, not from tearing other moms down!ReplyDelete
Great piece, thank you! Like listening to myself think and so thankful you posted this link on the WSJ page (too) where that article is about Chinese Mothers. No one ever says it aloud, but we all know what mothers of superior (normal" kids think of our kids....and they coulldn't be more mistaken.ReplyDelete
I loved this. Very nicely done and is exactly right.ReplyDelete
Your strong and vibrant point of view is uplifting. Many thanils!ReplyDelete
THANK YOU!! I read that article and something just didn't sit right with me--I'm a special needs sister and my brother is autstic. FORCING him to do something like practice piano for hours at a time or to read and write before he's ready or even to toilet train (he was five) would have just hurt him. He's anxious and has no self esteem, so being told he was inadequite/garbage/failure would ruin his life! I'm SO glad you posted this! Sums up my feelings entirely. :)ReplyDelete
I appreciate the way you wrote this as so much has been written on other sites about the way Chinese raise their children. I am married to a Chinese American whose mother is 2nd generation and while she did push her children to get good grades, she never did the types of things Amy Chua admits to doing. I would hope anyone reading her story would know that this is just one woman's story and is not typical of all Chinese American families.ReplyDelete
My daughter has Asperger's and they did push her somewhat when she was younger before we had a diagnosis, but I know they love her and their heart is in the right place.
Thank you so much for your incredibly supportive comments! It is incredible to be on this journey with you all.ReplyDelete
you are AMAZINgReplyDelete
you wrote what I felt in my heart
Love this post.ReplyDelete
Thanks for clarifying what it means to be a Special Needs Mother and how it relates to the "Chinese Tiger Mother" in the WSJ. Bottomline, it's about loving your children.ReplyDelete
Note: for those who have only read the WSJ, pls look into Amy Chua's follow up Q&A http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703583404576080032661117462.html?mod=WSJ_article_related
Specifically, she says:
My youngest sister, Cindy, has Down syndrome, and I remember my mother spending hours and hours with her, teaching her to tie her shoelaces on her own, drilling multiplication tables with Cindy, practicing piano every day with her. No one expected Cindy to get a Ph.D.! But my mom wanted her to be the best she could be, within her limits. Today, my sister works at Wal-Mart, has a boyfriend and still plays piano—one of her favorite things is performing for her friends. She and my mom have a wonderful relationship, and we all love her for who she is.
I actually think that the whole "Chinese Mother" debate has been a good one to have. It's fascinating to me that she has a SN sister...clearly Amy Chua would be the first to admit that her methods would have to be modified for SN kids. I'm one of the few people I know that was actually kind of inspired by the debate. While I obviously would never berate or name-call, I chose to take from it the lesson to "assume strength, not fragility". I think this is important to remember with our kids. I sometimes let myself think that because of my daughter's disability that certain things are out of her grasp. While I'll never be able to make her practice anything for 3 hours, I can apply that lesson in other ways...as it sounds like her mother did for her SN sister.ReplyDelete