Australian journalist and writer Katrina Beikoff experienced first-hand the kind of parenting Amy Chua speaks of in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Chua’s narrative of her Chinese cultural approach to motherhood has caused much controversy, prompting many parents to discuss their own parenting styles. Headlines screaming that her parenting is inferior to that of western approaches have caused outrage. Questions have been raised – should we all be stricter? – and some have taken to criticising Chua.
Katrina Beikoff wrote her book No Chopsticks Required about her year in Shanghai, China with her husband and two young children. She admitted she struggled to adapt to such different approaches to raising kids.
In China she faced the prospect of enrolling her three-year-old into her only option of kindergarten: full-time 9am to 4pm five days a week. What’s more, she was shocked to learn her one-year-old was also expected to attend.
Far from rejecting the option totally out of hand, Beikoff found herself being strongly influenced by the culture and society in which she found herself – even questioning whether she was a bad mother who had stunted her children’s development because she had delayed entering them into such formalised, structured schooling.
“We were the odds ones out because we (well, I) didn’t ascribe to this kind of thinking whereby I had to get my kids into lessons, plus extra-curricular activities and on the path to great success before their third birthday,’’ says Beikoff.
“I felt I had pretty strong views on what I wanted for my kids – and that was for them primarily to be relaxed and happy.
“But it’s amazing how influenced you are and how caught up you get in the culture/society in which you are living. I realised that my views were shaped by my Australian ideas/experience. But we weren’t in Australia anymore and because it was different in China, it didn’t necessarily mean it was wrong. I soon found myself thinking that perhaps the Chinese had it right.
“Fortunately, my kids let me know just how much they fancied the Chinese compete-and-achieve system. And we found a middle ground.’’
Beikoff says living with millions of people with Chua’s approach does impact on your expectations of your children and approach to education, training and discipline.
“What I actually find outstanding about the Amy Chua tale is that she doesn’t live in China, but in the US. It’s really hard to go against the popular thinking – especially on the issue of raising your children because it appears to be a universal trait that everyone feels entitled to comment on your parenting. But she did.
“I found it hard in China, but ultimately I did. There I failed my kids by not pushing them. Back home, I feel I might be pushing them too hard.’’
Katrina Beikoff describes her experiences of living, working and raising children in China in her memoir: No Chopsticks Required: My family’s unexpected year in Shanghai (Finch Publishing, Jan 2011).