Let’s stop pretending that everyone should parent the same way.
A lot has been said about parenting and its link to a child’s later success in life. This suggests that some parents get it right and others do not, and there is good evidence to support this. But does this mean that some cultural variations in parenting are better than others?
In the controversial book, “Tiger Mother,” Amy Chua thinks so. She argues that cultural variations represent deficits in parenting. Chinese parents are more exacting and hold higher expectations, while American parents are soft. If this is true, where do the parenting practices of Mexican parents fit in?
I have a slightly different take on culture and parenting. I grew up in Mexico and my husband in the United States. I have seen a contrast between Mexican and American parenting styles. I’m not a mother, so I am not an expert on parenting yet. But, as an aunt to five young children, and probably a future mom, I would like to know what is better for them, because of course I care about these children’s future success.
During a family reunion, my sister-in-law was making sure the food her kids were getting was organic, natural and free from all those new things people say are bad for you. But she would not let her daughter take the sippy cup by herself and controlled every bit of what her girl was getting. At the same time, my other sister-in-law was negotiating with her son about the food he was getting and letting her one-year-old make decisions as well. The one-year-old kept saying “No!” to things she disagreed on.
Do you know which parent is from Mexico? I didn’t think so.
Lareau, in her book “Unequal Childhoods,” forcefully argues that parenting styles are all about social class. How it works is middle-class parents structured activities that offer advantages like children gaining a sense of entitlement, and interacting in different ways with other adults that are not direct family. Working-class and poor parents, on the other hand, let children decide on the activities they participate in, but under conditions where they can grow. Unlike Chua, race is not the issue, class is.
Lareau’s findings are groundbreaking in the field of parenting and social class. However, I find them hard to believe when I see both of my sisters-in-law being from the same social class and still parenting in different ways. And what about Chua saying the Chinese do it better?
No matter how strong the influence of culture or social class in parenting practices, individuals still have choices to make. For example, they choose between the type of activities their children participate in and parenting practices, even if those step outside of their culture. Sure, their social class may influence what they decide to do, as Lareau argues, but decisions are not determined by this. If they were, I would expect to see more overlap in the way both of my sisters-in-law parent. We need to think about parenting less as a deficit model, unlike Chua, and more as a practice that makes sense for the parents as they see fit for their children’s needs.
Not all parents are using their resources in the same way. So, if parents within the same social class use resources differently, why are moms so worried about doing it “right?” Instead of creating an “ideal” parenting style, like Chua and others promote, that seeks to ensure that all kids develop in the same way, lets embrace the differences that come from everyone’s backgrounds.
We can’t have a policy for everything. Let’s stop pretending that everyone should parent the same way. Agency can help enrich the parenting skills that people bring to the table and increase the chances of children’s success in life.
Alejandra Bradford is a BYU student from Mexico, graduating with a degree in sociology.