Friday, February 3, 2017

Beyond Our Own Front Door: What We Can Learn from a Multicultural View of Parenting

In the current atmosphere of parenting it's easy to feel overwhelmed by questions and worries. It seems that many parenting decisions have become the point of debate and competing sides these days.
  • Do I enroll my kids in a lot of extracurricular activities or do I allow them more time for free play?
  • Should my kids' education be highly structured with drills and worksheets or more creative and based around projects?
  • How much homework is appropriate at each age?

These are all questions that get debated in friend groups, schools and families every day. What we may not see underlying all these questions, however, are the cultural biases that guide them and our responses to them.



What We Can Learn from a Multicultural View of Parenting

Although I have never lived in another country, I have enough background in sociology to understand how the culture in which we live influences almost every decision we make, especially when it comes to parenting. Our cultural values seep into our children without us really even making much effort for it to happen.

This was brought to my attention even more while reading the book, Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age. The author has a unique perspective on this issue because she has lived, worked, and raised children in both Eastern and Western cultures. Born and raised in India, Maya Thiagarajan, then moved to the U.S. as a teenager. She completed her higher education in the U.S. and now lives in Singapore with her family.

Given her background, Thiagarajan has one of the best perspectives from which to help us understand the differences between Eastern and Western education and parenting philosophies. This book was really eye-opening for me, given my lack of experience with Eastern cultures. We all know the classic stereotypical understanding of the "Tiger Mom" who pushes her kids to compete and succeed in academics and extracurricular activities. This book helps us look beyond the stereotype to really examine not only how Eastern and Western philosophies differ, but what we can learn from each. 
Beyond the Tiger Mom


The other aspect of the book that was surprising was seeing how the debates we often see here in the U.S. about parenting issues are in some ways, a smaller scale version of this East-West paradigm. For instance, our society often debates the value of memorization and drills in education compared to a focus more on creativity, innovation and child-led learning. This book really helped me see that some component of this debate is really a cultural one--the approach we use in educating our children reflects the goals that we value as a society. 

In Western culture, we lean more towards valuing innovation, independence and creativity. Eastern cultures put more emphasis on structure, immediate results and memorization. However, this is a broad generalization. In each culture you see aspects of the same debate over what really should be valued in education. What this book helps us see is the beauty and effectiveness that can be gained by finding a middle ground. What if we could pick aspects of both Eastern and Western culture in educating our kids? What if the "creativity" and "memorization" approaches both have value and could both benefit our children?

This type of East-West thinking is what you find throughout the book and I found it refreshing. Thiagarajan discusses several topics such as reading education, math education, work-play balance, and technology all from this East-West perspective. Because this book is for parents, she also offers helpful tips and resources to find this balance between the Eastern and Western approaches.

Although I am steeped in the research of child development, I often forget how this research is largely culturally bound. This book reminded me once again that the decisions I make with my own children are a product of American culture. Children around the world develop in different contexts with different values, yet there are universal questions that all parents worldwide face. 

What is the best type of education for my child?
Is my child developing in the best way?
Am I putting too much pressure on my child or being too relaxed?

This book was a great reminder that we parents are all in this together in the sense that we all want the best education and future for our children.

*this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review*
*post contains affiliate links
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