Of Tiger Moms and Ramen Noodles

I finally got around to reading Amy Chua’s stirring defense of the “Tiger Mom” approach to parenting.  For those unfamiliar with her parenting techniques, she sums it up for you:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Chua proceeds to justify this approach both in this article and in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. On the surface this strict approach seems to work.  Her children and a staggeringly high proportion of Chinese-American school children perform remarkably well in school.  Furthermore, her comments about western parents’ obsession with the self esteem of their children are not completely off the mark.

Let’s assume that this strict approach is the best way to ensure that a child achieves academic success (ignoring for the moment that I was permitted to do all of the things that her children were not and I still managed to earn a Ph. D).  Setting aside any reservations one has about this almost totalitarian style form of parenting, my question is: and then what?  In other words, after ensuring that your kid gets that Harvard degree, what have you done as a parent to make sure that they are a well-rounded human being?  In case I’m not clear enough about what I’m alluding to, let me phrase it this way: is the goal of life to simply get a great education, achieve academic success, and then land a good job?  Is that all there is?  Does it strike anyone that there seems to be a few things missing from the priorities established by the likes of Chua?  Maybe she addresses these concerns in the book – I wasn’t plopping down $12 to download it to my Kindle – but this seems like an awfully shallow approach to human life.

Which leads me to another story, also a couple of weeks old (I’ve been busy).  Representative Gwen Moore of Wisconsin spoke in favor of continued funding of Planned Parenthood, implying that in the absence of Planned Parenthood we’d have more children eating Ramen Noodle soup and mayonnaise sandwiches.  The gist of her comments were that it is better to be aborted than to live a life of such drudgery.  Again, I will leave aside the personal note that I eat instant noodle soup – in other words the stuff that’s even cheaper than Ramen – just about every day.  For the moment we’ll agree with Rep. Moore that eating Ramen is a fate worse than hell.

Her comments reveal much about the pro-abortion mindset.  Life simply isn’t worth living if you don’t have the material comforts.  I mean, if we can’t at least have some bologna, ham, and cheese sandwiches every now and then, what’s the point of continuing with one’s existence?

Sure it might be easy for a middle class whitey to pooh-pooh the inconveniences of growing up in dire poverty.  I can’t possibly relate to the experience of those who grew up with material want, even if I  was hardly an heir to the Rockefeller fortune myself.  But I’d like to think that most people would choose life over death, even if that life was one of relative poverty.  On the other hand Moore – and other pro-aborts have expressed similar sentiments – think that the dread future of munching on white bread smeared with mayonnaise is the worst thing imaginable.  Frankly, I think a doctor taking forceps and crushing my skull while I lay in my mother’s womb would be much more discomforting, but again I’m just a heartless tea bagger, so what do I know?

It may seem a bit odd to pair Chua and Moore, but they both represent the same side of our materialist culture.  What I mean is that both seem to value human existence only by material worth.  For Chua, having her children succeed in school, presumably so that they might land materially rewarding jobs, is her overarching goal as a parent.  Certainly my daughters’ future education is a prime concern of mine as a parent, but it’s only one of many things keeping me up at night.  As for Moore, she thinks abortion is a necessity to avoid the unpleasantness of not having all that one desires materially.  Again, I know it’s easy for one who isn’t materially deprived to decry materialism, but there is more to life than accumulating stuff and achieving academic and professional success.  Certainly we should strive to better ourselves academically, and as parents it is certainly important to provide some level of comfort to our children.  But I’d like to think that the most important values I bequeath to my children are related to family and faith.  And if we have to share some Ramen Noodles along the way, so be it.  It’s actually pretty tasty.

Share With Friends

Dante alighieri


  1. I just saw Chua on Charlie Rose tonight. She says there isn’t just one right way to raise a successful child. Rose probes her on the place of morals in her parenting. She doesn’t seem to be religious. Her husband is Jewish and she says he takes care of that. Actually, she said her husband is a Constitutional law professor so he takes care of that. Typical of American secularists, I guess her morals are derived from the Constitution.

  2. And if we have to share some Ramen Noodles along the way, so be it. It’s actually pretty tasty.

    Pack of ramen made with half-again extra water, a stick of celery chopped translucent-thin and added just before the noodles are done (or a handful of frozen veggie mix added when you add the noodles), crack an egg into it when the noodles are just about right, stir and serve– great dinner for two, costing less than a soda. If there’s any leftover meat you can flake into it, great!

  3. And yet there are scientists saying that if developing countries earn higher incomes over the next 40 years and eat higher on the food chain, they’ll use up the earth’s resources…so we should use more tax dollars to fund abortion now. They want to cull the population regardless of what they might eat.

    Thank you for the article.

  4. I have heard from Asians themselves:

    They do very well in sciences/math because they are very hard working and will drill until they drop. But, when it comes to creative thinking, well, not so much. In other words, they make great technicians, but not necessarily great innovators. Anyway, that comes from some within the Asian culture, fwiw. Seems this tiger mom approach is right on track with that (and, after it’s said and done, good technicians are always in demand).

  5. As is often the case with many controversies, the problem is lack of balance. Chua is probably right in thinking that children are more resilient than most American parents give them credit for, and will not necessarily wither or collapse when confronted with a serious demand or challenge. However, to insist on nothing less than total perfection assumes that every child is capable of reaching perfection — and as the mother of an autistic child, I know that is not the case.

    Not having read the book (only the media reports and responses) I don’t know if Chua addresses the fact that youth from high-achievement-oriented Asian cultures also have a very high suicide rate because they have been taught never to tolerate failure. Chua also has acknowledged that she backed off from the high pressure approach when her daughters reached adolescence and began to rebel.

    Finally, I believe a lot of the initial explosive response to this book was triggered by the headline the Wall Street Journal placed on it: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” As anyone who has ever written for a newspaper or other publication knows, the author of an article normally has NO control over the headline and a copy editor with a slightly devious sense of humor or desire to attract attention, can slap a misleading headline or title on an article such as this. Chua herself never said that Chinese mothers were “superior” but millions of people assumed she did.

  6. Amy Chua has a sister with Down Syndrome. She knows not everyone is capable of everything. I think parents know very well their children’s limits. I think the difference in attitude is between “good enough” and “I know you can do better.”

    I think depression is more commonly caused by social issues than academic failure. There is some causation. If you’re studying you aren’t socializing. You may even become a social outcast. Remember all the geeks with no friends? It’s tough to balance.

    As for Eastern education being more suitable for technical skills than Western education which develops more creative skills, there is something to that. Amy Chua’s defense is that you need to learn the basics first. You can’t learn basic math but through repetition. You need both rote learning and room for the mind to roam.

    It’d be nice if psychologists could tell us the exact ratios of what kind of activities children need.

  7. I was one of those geeks with “no friends.” (at school)

    I had much less depression that most of the popular girls exactly because I had enough confidence in myself to be myself more fully than they would ever dare– this, in spite of depression running in my family.

    It’s not social issues, it’s stress beyond what someone can deal with. Age-group social stress is probably one of the more common sources of stress because that is what most teens focus on, since we box them in with folks whose main connection is being born the same year and limit the number of alternative options for socializing. (thank God for the internet)
    I would imagine in a more family oriented culture, family based stress– such as shame from failure– would result in depression.
    (Different views of suicide are probably a factor as well– IIRC, many Asian cultures view suicide as a way to remove dishonor, not as an escape tactic.)

Comments are closed.