I have had this topic simmering for a while, and given it more thought in the wake of the uproar surrounding Amy Chua’s new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, featured in the Wall Street Journal about Chinese Mothering.
One of the most startling comments I’ve heard in a long time came from our language teacher in class a month or two ago.
For the record, we’ve known this teacher since we arrived in China, and she was there when we found out we were pregnant, had our China Surprise, and has taught us with either child #3 or 4 in class nearly daily for a year.
The topic of children came up (shocking, yes) and she casually mentioned that most Chinese think that foreigners don’t love their children as much because they have several of them. She said they feel like we can be more casual about bumps and falls, about colds and illnesses, and that our love is diluted among multiple children.
While conversely, since Chinese can only have one (mostly), they love their one and only treasure, their precious jewel, so much the more.
At first I flared up, both internally and a little bit on the surface.
Actually I was shocked.
What do you mean, people think we don’t love our children as much? Really???
Yes, really, she casually assured my husband and me (plus the other mother of 4 in the class).
After I had a chance to recover, vented to my classmate during our icy bikeride home, and fumed some more on my own, I calmed down.
Although, I must say, this is a deeper level of cultural difference that I am discovering.
I think it is really an expression of cultural differences in how love and caring are expressed.
I have been pondering this, and it is still an evolving thought process, so bear with me.
I am pulling from my years of experience as a pediatrician as well as some of the learning I’ve been doing on culture.
So here goes:
As westerners, we value teaching our children independence, self-sufficiency, and endurance from an early age.
The United States, in particular, scores among the highest in the world on scales rating individualistic vs. community-oriented cultures.
We coax our children to roll over, crawl and walk.
We can’t wait to feed them finger foods and let them eat independently.
We push creativity, we encourage free-thinking. Think playdough, preschool art projects. No two items are the same.
We focus on individual choice in every aspect of life. Think, offering your toddler the blue shirt or the green shirt. Or allowing the Easter bunny outfit in July or snowboots in August. Choosing a library book, or a career, or a spouse, for that matter.
We encourage them to be brave, climb a little higher, risk a tumble.
Get back on that horse, sonny.
Most grandparents have several grandchildren, and the cultural norm is for grandparents to be more hands off about discipline and leave the parents to do the child-rearing.
Granted, if the grandparents live nearby there may be some tension about discipline and spoiling, but overall the expectation is some boundaries between where the roles of the parents and the grandparents begin and end.
You know all these things, and may disagree with some nuances, but bear with me.
These are broad generalizations with room for discussion along a plane.
Things are a little different here.
We’ll take it to another dimension of discussion tomorrow.