I Don’t Love My Child, You Say?! Part 1


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.



3 responses »

  1. Let me first to add my perspective to this posting. Perhaps the word “love” is viewed a little differently. In the west we think of love as primarily a feeling. But love is also an action verb. Love is doing. Perhaps this women is using the love as a verb expressing itself through dutiful raising, guiding and educating of a child. I’m not saying you don’t but with only one child there is so much time focused on that one child that it is simply not possibly with many children. The one child policy did not start until 1979 so the Chinese are very familiar with larger families also. My wife was raised in China and is one of four children. Her mother loved her very much but she was not the sole focus of attention. Today things are so different. There is an expression in China – “little emperor” 小皇帝which expresses that many children in China are actually spoiled from so much attention. And this not just from the parents but the grandparents also. As far as the manner of raising children, that’s a different topic. I anticipate your next posting and I can reply then.

  2. This is really interesting, and I look forward to watching how your thoughts gather and evolve. This might sound bizarre, but I wonder if this is how we think about love of spouses too? Our culture is monogamous (praise God), but for those cultures where polygamy is common, do the love of numerous wives the same as love for one wife? Maybe that is a poor analogy because I do’t know of a culture that accepts multiple husbands, and those cultures that I have seen with multiple wives tend to undervalue women and limit their freedoms in general. In any case, I respect your opinions, and look forward to hearing and learning your thoughts and insights.

  3. Great to see your thoughts on the subject. I to bristled at the discussion of the book on the Chinese child rearing.
    I can see there point to some extent, with the population and competition for jobs.
    We as a society have not seen the full fruits of our actions on child raising.
    Looking forward to seeing more on this topic.

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