One mother told Wang, "When my
3-year-old daughter plays with friends at home and they fight over a
toy, I tell her, 'You're the host, you need to give the toy to your
guest,’ or 'You're older, you should let the younger ones have it.’
As a host, as the eldest, you're supposed to assume a certain role.
"Then, at a parent-teacher
conference, the teacher told me that we needed to work on my
daughter's assertiveness. At school, the rule is: If it's your turn,
you have the right to say no," she continued.
Angela Wiley, a specialist in
family studies at the University of Illinois and Wang's graduate
adviser, said that immigrants to the United States bring with them a
whole toolbox of ways of thinking about the world, including ideas
about the right way to parent.
Wiley and Wang studied 22
Chinese immigrant families, including graduate students, faculty and
other community families, with children aged 2 to 5, to learn about
the tensions they are experiencing as they navigate American
culture. The two researchers presented their findings at a meeting
of the National Council on Family Relations, and now they are using
what they have learned to develop a series of Extension brochures
for immigrant parents, in English and Mandarin Chinese.
Wiley said that Western parents
expect children to speak out, but Chinese parents value self-control
and obedience. American parents spend a lot of effort bolstering a
child's self-esteem, but centuries of reliance on Confucian ideology
makes this a less important issue for Chinese parents. They even
fear it will cause such undesirable psychological traits as
frustration, stubbornness and an unwillingness to be corrected.
"One mother told me that her
daughter is learning to draw, and she praises her child's work when
they're alone at home together," Wang noted. "But if visitors ask
how her daughter's art lessons are going, she feels uncomfortable
bragging and answers, 'Oh, just so-so.’ She's afraid she's confusing
her daughter because the little girl asks her later, 'Do you really
think I'm good?'"
Instead of praise, Wiley said
Chinese parents are much more likely to focus on what their child
does wrong and use a child's mistakes to teach life lessons. They
consider a child's transgressions a resource to convey moral and
[to top of second column in
Wang explained that Chinese
culture is relationship-oriented and that group needs have higher
priority than personal needs. This begins early, according to Wang,
who said that Chinese parents believe in co-sleeping with their
Later a child's education
becomes a family goal. Evidence of this can be seen in the many
grandparents who arrive on six-month visitor's visas to help with
their grandchildren while their son or daughter attends graduate
school. "This is a tremendous resource, but it is also a stress
unique to most American families," Wang said.
"My parents are often very
perplexed about the way we are raising our son," said one mother in
the study. "He sleeps in a crib in his own room, but it's so tough
for my parents to hear him cry and not go to him. I know it is
confusing for my little boy because I'm trying to get him to sleep
on his own, and my parents, who spend a lot of time with him, have
very different ideas."
Wang said most students are
grateful for their parents' help, but having them here sometimes
adds another layer of stress to their lives. "They are here, they
have no life or career, they need us to drive, so my weekends tend
to be packed. I feel strongly that my parents have sacrificed a lot
to help me, so I should try to organize something fun for them,"
said one study participant.
That sense of obligation runs
deep. Although many American couples wait until their careers are
established before having children, Chinese couples in the study
often started their families earlier, "probably because
grandparents encouraged it," Wang said. "I'm sure couples are
pressured to start families in the U.S. too, but grown children are
more influenced by their parents' needs in Chinese culture. They
want to make their parents happy if they can."
Wiley said that any parent of
children aged 2 to 5 experiences many of the same stresses -- potty
training, the terrible 2s, sibling rivalry -- but immigrant parents
often have a broader range of stresses that affect their parenting.
you have financial stress, feel pressure to perform academically in
a strange culture or face discrimination, these issues all make a
difference in the way you parent," Wiley added. "Anytime you're
looking at parenting behaviors, you need to understand the context
in which they're occurring."
[University of Illinois news