Opinion / Kim Lee

Mothers of the world united by love

By Kim Lee ( Updated: 2014-05-09 16:41

When my editor suggested that I write a Mother’s Day column about the differences between “Western” mothers and Chinese mothers, my initial thought was to refuse. I believe that the more time we spend focusing on differences and convincing ourselves that we are unlike others, the harder it is for us to all get along. Then I remembered a news story involving a clash between mothering styles and decided that I did want to weigh in on this topic after all.

A mother from overseas left her baby sleeping in its stroller outside a small restaurant while she went inside for lunch. Passersby noticed and were shocked, asking, “How could a mother be so careless?” A crowd began to gather around, their criticisms growing more vocal. “It is cold! What kind of mother just leaves her baby outside?” When the mother emerged, they accused her of neglect. The mother lashed back, “You people are hysterical! Mothers in this country are just too overprotective; you smother your children!” Police were called. Media got involved.

Writers from the mother’s home country rushed to her defense and agreed that her accusers were all from a country where children are not only over-protected, but also pushed into academics far too early and spend every minute outside the classroom overly scheduled. In short, the mother’s relaxed attitude toward parenting was right and the people who opposed it were wrong.

Mothers of the world united by love
Kim Lee 

By now you may be wondering how you could have missed this sensational story. It certainly contains all the juicy elements needed to shoot to the top of Baidu’s search list or Weibo’s hot topics. The reason you missed it is because it didn’t appear on either site. The reason it didn’t appear is because the mother was a Swedish woman. Oh, and that country full of hysterical, academic achievement-crazed, overprotective mothers? That was the United States.

To Scandinavian mothers accustomed to letting children nap in their strollers and an education system where formal schooling does not begin until a child is seven years old, American mothers seem to be overprotective, academic taskmasters, who send their children to kindergarten to develop reading and math concepts rather than to foster their exploratory and creative abilities. Those scores of American moms ferrying their children to participate in organized team sports every day after school don’t appear to be willing to let their children play freely and experience life naturally.

Compare this view to that of many Chinese mothers, who perceive the United States to be the land of “pressure-free and happy childhood”, or the scathing critique of Amy Chua (an American of Chinese-Filipino descent) who wrote the very cleverly marketed best-seller Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Ms. Chua’s book, which was interestingly translated and marketed in China under the title Being a Mom in America, asserts that American mothers are too lenient, have low academic standards and even lower expectations for success. The marketing campaign kicked off with an article in the Wall Street Journal headlined “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. This book, the gold standard for all “East vs. West” parenting clichés, succeeded in attracting supporters and critics from both China and the US, once again proving that mothering styles aren’t really determined by meridians. However, it would seem that sales are determined by how extremely an author can proclaim otherwise.

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