Disclaimer: In this article I have used terms such as, Chinese, Asian, American and Western parenting loosely. They are meant to be taken as broad generalizations and not literally.
A book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has fueled controversy worldwide ever since the Wall Street Journal published the editorial “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. Other articles like, “The World on Fire” and Time magazine’s cover story this week, “Parenting Memoir Raises American Fears”, have brought the debate of the merits of Asian style discipline to the front pages of our lives. God knows one thing we parents don’t need is more guilt, or fear, inserted into our busy schedules, as we juggle the demands of working and raising kids. So let us seize this moment by looking past the sensational headlines and sound bites and use this issue as a learning tool.
Chua, the daughter of immigrant Chinese parents, a Yale graduate and law professor, has received everything from praise to death threats for her rather unnerving and revealing book filled with raw honesty about her extreme parenting style, which stands in stark contrast to the “American” style of parenting. The author’s confessions include a family in which, children are not allowed to attend sleepovers, have play dates, watch TV, play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A and play any instrument other than the piano or violin, countless hours of parental supervision (and of course a daughter who gets to play at the Carnegie Hall at fourteen).
When taken out of cultural context Chua’s parenting methods are seen by many “American” parents, as downright mean, abusive and dictatorial, which correspond to Mars in the horoscope. This is definitely echoed in Chua’s personality. However, many people will be surprised to learn that the shock and horror that American parents feel with Amy Chua is pretty close to the same emotion many Asians feel about American parenting.
In the context of Asian culture, Chua’s parenting style is better seen to correspond to Saturn’s nature of delaying and withholding gratification. For me, this controversy hits close to home, as I too was raised by ”Asian” parents, who were very strict and often out of sync in the American International school environment that I attended. However, even as I rebelled, I knew their intentions were loving and were never meant to be cruel. Furthermore, my children attend a public high school in Austin, which has a population of close to forty per cent of Asian-Americans. And yes, I have seen all the stereotypes of the students raised by “Tiger Mothers” first hand.
In my children’s school an A minus in an AP class is called an “Asian fail”, most of the Asian American students are violin and piano prodigies, and generally do not participate in typical teenage activities, owing to the rigorous academic expectations of their teachers and parents. In this highly competitive environment, I got hands on practice on how to integrate both American and Asian parenting styles and raise kids who have rigorous discipline, without the excess psychological baggage of stifling their individuality.
Here is what I have learned. While “American” parents believe in encouraging their children’s individuality and allowing them to discover and pursue their passions, the “Chinese/Asian” parents believe in instilling a strong work ethic and an iron will to best prepare their children for the tough world. American parenting is based on the belief that children must be encouraged to do what they love in order to be successful, while Asian parenting demands that one has to become really good at something before it is possible to love anything. When American parents do push and encourage their kid’s limits, it is often more in extra curricular activities like sports and dance. However, for Asian parents, it is academics, especially math and science, so you can get a good job (lets face it, it is much easier to get your child to practice throwing a ball, or dance, than it is to make them do math drills).
All parents want the best for their children, so why this vast difference in the two parenting styles? Just as people have certain planets that express themselves with strength based on their birth charts and past-life experiences, cultures and countries also have planets that dominate their collective lives. The optimistic and expansive nature of Jupiter’s energy appeals to the Western American culture, as it seeks solutions through inspiration, faith, hope and a license to dream big and feel positive about the future. Saturn’s stern energy is embraced by Asian culture, as it is driven by a sense of harsher realism, the need to overcome limitations, hard work, perseverance and practical efforts to build a better future. The Western American parent is inspired by the one-in-a-million success story, in which someone followed his dreams and became successful, whereas Asian American parents are fixated on the 99 per cent of those who didn’t make it.
In the Hindu scriptures, the Rig Veda says, “the Rishis having meditated in their hearts, discovered by their wisdom the connection of the existent with the non-existent”. As such, Jupiter represents our link to the spirit world and the intelligence that comes forth from our soul’s nature. Saturn is earthbound and binds us to the limitations that come with our existence on the earth plane. He represents our survival instincts and the endurance we will need to deal with the great challenges of life. Jupiter has all the inspiration but none of the stamina of Saturn to achieve the dreams. Jupiter is filled with faith and optimism, whereas Saturn represents the deliberate practice that turns wishes into reality.
It does not matter whether our goals are spiritual or material, successful people in all walks of life will naturally have a balanced dose of Jupiter and Saturn energy. A true Yogi has to have the intense diligence of Saturn as well as Jupiter’s inspiration. Saturn recognizes that in order to be free we have to live a full life here on this earth (ie. pay our bills, have a roof over our head, work hard and sacrifice to get knowledge) and face its limitations with detachment and fortitude. Jesus’ cross, Buddha’s teachings of universal suffering, Krishna’s advice to Arjuna to endure the battle, and Karma Yoga all reflect mastery of Saturn’s teachings.
When Jupiter energy is not balanced with that of Saturn, it can become directionless and gets caught up in hopes, wishes, dreams and fantasy unable to deal with reality. Jupiter’s unbounded optimism is best tempered with the influence of the more stern planets like the Sun or Saturn; otherwise he cannot succeed in his endeavors. On the other hand, Saturn energy without help from Jupiter can render one so disconnected with the heart that life becomes just a burden to endure.
As a Vedic Astrologer, I get to see firsthand my client’s carefree and footloose Jupeterian lives coming to a screeching halt when a Saturn period or transit occurs in the birth chart. On the other hand, I also see those with the rigid and pragmatic Saturnian lives stifling a revolution inside, where the soul yearns to be free. Usually, a major health crises or loss is what brings forth the opportunity to break free.
We can all agree that the price of success should never require severing our connection with the spirit. But, there is also plenty of evidence that tempered Asian American parenting produce successful, confident and creative adults, so let us not be too quick to dismiss Amy Chua. In my opinion, Western American parents need to consider reigning in some of the freedom given to children to opt out too early from demanding tasks and focus on “fun”. Asian parents also need to let go of their fear and loosen up a little. Finally, long after our children are grown, we have to parent ourselves, so we should all check and see if we are opting out too early, or surrendering too late.
Jung said it best, “one sidedness, though leads to momentum, is a mask of barbarism” and there is no one on this earth who exemplifies the integration of American and Asian parenting better than my guru, the Hugging Mother, Amma . She is not just a Mother to millions around the world but also herself a living example of the extreme discipline (Saturn), faith (Jupiter) with of course the receptivity and acceptance of the divine Mother (Moon).
May we all channel Amma’s “Tiger Mama” and become true Karma Yogis (“Tiger Cubs”).