TYW’s Chinese Mother (In Response to WSJ’s Recent Article)

I once wrote up a list of all the wonderful things my mother would let me Do and Not Do. After reading Amy Chua’s recent article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior“, I thought I’d write one of my own and dissect my life a little. Tell me if you agree or disagree. I suppose I will dedicate this article to my mother as well. (Thanks, mom. Really, THANKS!)

Miss TYW
Miss TYW

The last example Amy writes about is learning to play a piano piece that one “just could not” do. She talks about sitting by the piano and pretty much coercing her daughter, Lulu, to get through it, while sitting right next to her at the piano. I can definitely remember those days. My mother made me practice for at least 1 hour (scales, sight reading, ear training, pieces, left hand/right hand/together 6x each,etc.) to the point where if I couldn’t get something right, I wasn’t satisfied with myself and would do it more than 6x. During family vacations, we’d have tapes ready for me to listen to for ear training and I remember when I first started, my mom made me name all the notes to her before I started a piece. (I can remember sitting at the car dealership waiting for our car to get an oil change and naming all the notes as we waited.) My mom once promised me a Gameboy if I got 100% on my Preliminary Rudiments Theory Exam. I got 98% and didn’t get it. I was SO UPSET! It was not 100% and that was it. To be honest, my mother could have written that exam and scored 100% – no joke! Nevertheless, I was trained to be a perfectionist at a young age – good or bad?

More on the piano. My family used to eat out once a week (on Sundays) and we’d always leave the house at 8 or 9 pm when all the restaurants were closing just because I wasn’t finished practicing. (At that age, isn’t it already past bed time for many Western kids?) Of course in the morning I was at skiing lessons and then Chinese school came after that, so by the time I got home, it was already getting dark outside. When practicing piano, I got really upset once and actually kicked my piano and threw a tantrum – “I HATE PIANO!!!!” Nine years of practicing for hours on end, in addition to lessons of obedience and perfectionism, I finally received my ARCT Piano Performer’s Diploma. (Obviously, because once I made the decision to start piano at the age of 6, it was like signing a contract – one that I was bound to until I reached the highest level one could.) And the reason why I did my Performer’s and not my Teacher’s diploma is because I wasn’t of age to take that exam at the time…go figure!

Nowadays, I am thankful for my mum because without her, I do not think I could have ever completed my ARCT. At some point, I really wanted to quit and I think I was lucky enough to be given that option, but part of me did not want to give up and I knew that my mother was a good teacher. (She probably also instilled various thoughts in my head about how much I would regret it and how it would (psychologically) affect me had I not continued – but this is true and I do not regret it.) I also wanted her to be proud of me and I wanted to achieve something that was more profound.  Talking to a lot of people, they either stopped at RCM Level 8 to receive school credit or just didn’t want to go through the grueling program for RCM Level 10. ARCT was when I learned to actually “like” the piano. I could probably say I started “loving”  it, but that might be pushing it. My program, alone, took  more than 1 hour to play, so it was at least 3 hours of practice a day. It was good scales were no longer needed, but I still practiced them. My favourite? Probably formula patterns and arpeggiated octaves. (Gosh, I have a favourite?!) My mom always says “the person that cares about you will waste their energy to yell at you.” I absolutely agree.


The investment for Asian parents is huge; especially since I am an only child. I’ve always wondered if other parents were Actually like my mum – I guess they are!  In every family, one of the parents is going to be the “supreme sergeant” to make sure the kids get something done.  I don’t know if I can be like my mother, but I hope I am half as good as she is! Thanks, mom. From the bottom of my heart.

I could probably write until the sun came down, but I can say that “I’ve been there. I’ve done that.” To the next generation of Asian children, I’m telling you, you will get through it and in the end, you’ll realize how amazing it was. Part of me is actually a little concerned about Chinese children of the nextgen – I’m not sure how my children will turn out. I’ve had so many different exposures in my life time than my parents did. I truly believe that being a CBC (Canadian Born Chinese), I’ve received the best of both worlds. I guess it’s all about adopting best case practices, moving forward. I’ll plan that out later. Right now, my focus is my career, my education, and my life.

For a snapshot of my life, here’s a little outline. I’ll be as general/brief as I can. (Not many people know this about me, as I was really busy going here and there focusing on each activity and compartmentalizing my life. See this as a sharing, now that it’s finally – somewhat – all over! Don’t laugh if this says a lot about who I am today and the choices I make about my lifestyle!) My mother was really strategic about when I should take on new things and what she chose:

Preschool/elementary/junior high: started with daycare (English at daycare, Chinese at home), Chinese school, Mandarin classes, swimming/skating/skiing, arts classes (Chinese painting and those at the Art Gallery), summer programs (webpage design x2 – in elementary or was it junior high(!), summer/science camps, horseback riding, creative writing, science conferences, etc.), citizenship/leadership team, science fair, lots of travelling…

Junior high school *Additions: violin (only after I completed RCM level 10 piano) and slaved away at the piano for my recital/ARCT exam (which costs $500+ for the practical exam alone!), RCM history/theory lessons (good ol’ counterpoint/analysis), volunteered as a music therapist (senior care centre), swimming (bronze med.), school clubs (Chinese yoyo, jazz band – got in trouble from my piano teacher who wanted me to train classical only, etc.), summer camps (musicamp away from home), Sunday school, lots of travelling…

High school *Additions: (I had a good ol’ “IB mom” during this time) Royal Canadian Air Cadets (marksmanship, bush camps, effective speaking, FAM flying, etc.), school clubs (you know…all of them…especially the leadership related ones!), Students’ Union (huge part of my life), team sports (track & field, badminton- how stereotypical!), summer school/summer programs (left the province on my own for one of them), work experience, started teaching piano, regular Sunday Service with mum, lots of travelling…

(I’m pretty sure there are some really intense Asian parents out there who have a list twice as long as this. I am satisfied  with this one. My mum even keeps all my * memorabilia* in a binder! She’s awesome, I know!)

JDC West 2009
JDC West 2009

University: The world is in my hands. OR should I say, “WIP = Work In Progress.” (This is where I say, I’ve got the best of both worlds. My parents have given me the choice to choose my own career path. That is not to say that I haven’t been exposed to mainly “Chinese-acceptable” careers most of my life… Funny story, I am now on a Co-op term and away from home. I posted a photo of my recent home-cooked creations and my mother (who is, yes, quite tech savvy, commented on my photo with a grading – for my cooking!) To say “the world is in my hands” might be an overstatement…

To be honest, by High School, I was allowed to make my own decisions about the clubs and summer programs I joined. My parents continued to drive me Everywhere and were very supportive, although this meant that I had to excel at whatever I was doing and obviously, this is when I started developing the “intense” lifestyle many of my friends say about me. Much of it was probably brought on before I started high school, but once I had full control, I felt like I had to prove myself and to my parents that I could be just as successful making decisions on my own.

Results: Am I proud? So far – not too bad. I pay for a big part of my life and treat my parents all the time. To be honest, I am leaving out the…my parents still pay for x and x…and still x…x…x.. for me.  Am I indebted to them (like the article states?), I’ll leave my personal thoughts to myself, but I should ask my cousins and take some stats on this. I’m curious to hear what other Asian parents have to say on the topic  of “indebtedness” !

All the best and feel free to leave your thoughts!


9 thoughts on “TYW’s Chinese Mother (In Response to WSJ’s Recent Article)

  1. Hey Tam-o,

    Interesting read. My reaction to AC’s article was “hmm, my Filipino father is secretly a Chinese mother” mixed with “ohhh, that’s why I’m in therapy”. See another blogger’s response: http://bit.ly/fYOUsE.

    I’m proud of you for going for your goals and achieving all that you do. I hope you remember to take care of #1, as trite as it reads. Remember our Transcend convo! My career counsellor is fab – http://www.kathleenjohnston.com – I will fwd you the current newsletter, Women @ Work.

    Take care!


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  5. Paul

    It’s interesting learning how different cultures raise children and reading through this made me wish that I had a Chinese mother. I don’t think my mother is a bad mother but I don’t have anywhere near the drive and motivation you seem to have and that’s a shame to me. I have trouble motivating myself to do anything, even projects I’d really love to try. Are you available in pill form via a subscription perhaps?

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  7. I totally hear your voice in this and I see myself in it also! I rmb going through that lifestyle from being enrolled from sports to arts classes. I was stopped being pushed later on in life but it just reminded me I need to start taking action myself! Great relatable article!

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