On January 8, 2011, the Wall Street Journal published the article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” and, as could be reasonably expected, American parents were furious. The piece, which contained excerpts from author Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was intended to be a humorous look at the Chinese-American mom’s attempts to buck American (read: relaxed) parenting ideals and raise her daughters in a more strict, traditionally Chinese manner. Unfortunately, most readers weren’t laughing, and they instead found Chua arrogant and condescending.
But in the spirit of the “melting pot” that is modern America, in which multicultural customs impact food trends, fashion and everything in between, it may not be wrong to glean parenting advice from moms who can provide a global perspective (provided we leave out the marathon sessions of classical piano training, of course). So following is a bit of mommy wisdom from multicultural women who tend to take a non-American approach to parenting – just in case you want to release your own inner tiger.
On non-democratic parenting: Natasha Swords, Irish immigrant from Dublin
My main theme for parenting is that in fact, it is not a democracy. My husband and I are in charge, and what the parents say goes. My Los Angeles friends thought me overly structured at first, but have come to see that my kids are happy. They have structure, parents who know what they’re doing, and there’s no room for the kids to manipulate us. Of course, we should listen to our kids, but after we’ve listened, we – the parents – make the decisions. Not the kids. And they might not like it, but that’s OK. They don’t have to like it; they do have adhere, though. I have friends who run their families in a voting-style, which is ridiculous. Why would I let a 7-year old dictate what’s best for her? She doesn’t know, so what I say goes. I try to let them garner power in other areas, like what to do for fun on Saturday afternoon, but not when to do homework or go to bed, or whether or not they should include veggies in their diet.
On respect: Hope Oriabure-King, Nigerian-American
Culturally, my parenting style differs from American culture when it comes to respect. Respect is given and not earned. Adults and elders are respected, but older siblings fall into this group as well. My younger children are not allowed to tell their older siblings to shut up. When my children enter the house or first wake up, they are tasked with finding the adults in the home and greeting them.
Respect is important to Nigerian families to give order to society and to ensure that elders are not forgotten. And it holds the family unit together; everyone knows what is expected of them. For example, if you are the senior son you are not only responsible for your family but your parents. In Nigeria there are no retirement communities or old folks’ homes. Instilling this level of respect helps children grow into their position and maintains the fabric of our culture because children know that one day they will be senior and have those rights. I see that a lack of respect negatively impacts American families and society as a whole. Children who are not held accountable to respect their parents in the home are the same children who have no respect for teachers and other authority figures that cross their paths.
On chores and family time: Alba Salgado, Colombian
I have heard that there are American children who go to college without ever learning how to wash their own clothes or do other chores. In Colombia, we are taught at an early age to help our parents with housework throughout the week and on the weekends. For us, it’s a great way to spend time together as a family but also teach our kids how to be self-sufficient and responsible. Also, Latinos see cooking as a great way to bring family and friends together. When it comes to my kids, I strongly believe that they should know the basics of cooking. Due to their ages, my children don’t use the stove or anything like that yet, but I do let them stand by me so that they can learn how to create various dishes.
Most American parents tend to get very busy with work. Many kids are in afterschool care programs and don’t get picked up until around 6 p.m. And when the parents get home, they are distracted – they need to cook dinner, check messages and pay bills. In my culture, we have very similar responsibilities, but we really try to put family first. I make sure to set up a schedule each week that I go over with my kids. The schedule has information on when we should meet for lunch and dinner, and it also has time set aside for doing homework together, as well as extracurricular activities. I find that setting up this schedule helps keep us focused and united as a family.
On technology and education: Ruth Marino, Zimbabwean immigrant
We do not own a Wii, or a Playstation or an X-Box – not because I can’t afford those things, but because I know that my kids would be glued to them and monitoring their activities would be difficult. If I don’t have them in the house in the first place, I remove the entire dilemma. In turn, their absence leads to my kids reading more and playing outside more. We also do not have TV’s in bedrooms for the same reason. My daughter, who is 10 years old, does have a laptop because she needs one for her studies, but I closely monitor her activity on it and take it away when she doesn’t have to be using it. My son has a tablet which I simply take and keep when his time on it is up.
Growing up in a third-world country, I learned very early on that education was the most important thing anyone could ever attain for themselves. So in our house we literally eat, sleep and breathe school. My kids have homework assignments that I prepare for them all throughout the summer break, and during the school term I am vigilant about monitoring homework and their overall academic progress. Their schooling goes beyond the walls of school, and they are to answer to me for everything that goes on at school. In America, the culture seems to be that the teacher should teach the child, and education just doesn’t seem to be stressed that much in the household. I will never get over the fact that elementary and high school education is free in this country, yet people drop out of high school. Where I come from, education is a privilege because it is not free, and I parent my children with that exact thinking.