My Chinese babysitter is going to FIRE me soon

January 20, 2011

in no manual for parenting

I sometimes feel very sorry for my children: because how I am caught between two worlds, they too are caught between two worlds.

Many of you have commented on my responses to the Tiger Mom Controversy with great insight, grace and kindness. One comment that made me pause and reflect upon the factual state of what I am doing to my children came from MacDougal Street Baby:

Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors. We can pontificate all we want about how others are raising their kids but, really, there’s no way to know what’s going on. Believe in your own way. Trust yourself. And then deal with the fallout.

It is this unwavering conviction that has been eluding me ever since I became a parent. I am torn between the “Chinese way of parenting” and the, for the lack of a better term, “Modern American” way.

So I wobble.

One day I am a Chinese mother. The next day I am an American mother. I feel so schizophrenic and now am worried what this kind of wishy-washy parenting is doing to my children: they have no way of knowing which mother will be greeting them every morning. It is like living with Eve White.

Either way, I am constantly feeling guilty because of the pressure coming from both sides.

I am either too strict and overprotective or too lenient and permissive.

The worst would be when I am “confronted” by other Chinese parents either in this country or back home.

I am not kidding when I mentioned my brother asking me whether he could discipline my children on my behalf. “Just a slap on the face will solve all your problems!” In fact, he did not even need my approval since he is my elder brother and as their uncle, he has all the “right” to discipline my children the way he sees fit. Even my nephew, who was a so-called “problem child” in his youth  (with petty misdemeanors, unfinished high school and truancy which constituted as “family scandals” that shall not be spoken of, and who, one would thought, should hate this kind of heavy-handed, literally, parenting style), asked quite a few times with exasperation, “What do you mean you cannot beat your child? Oh I am telling you, it pangs me to watch them misbehave so much that my hands are itching. Could I please just hit them upside the head?”

(If you are wondering WHAT crime did my children commit to deserve such wrath? My kids were simply, according to the American standard, “being independent, rambunctious boys”.)



We have a babysitter that comes every morning to accompany Mr. Monk to his bus stop: I have to leave before that in order to catch my train downtown and my husband travels a lot. We are now on our second babysitter who started last month. Our babysitter does not need this job: she lives in a house bigger than ours and drives a Mercedes. As a fellow Chinese, she is doing this as a favor for me and for that, I am very grateful. But I am afraid that she is going to quit very soon.

Mr. Monk was reading at the kitchen table and ignoring both of us when we asked him what he would like for lunch. I could see his finger moving across the page. I could tell that he was frantically trying to get to a place where he could stop without losing his place on the page.

He is a child of many peculiarities since birth. I have learned to go along with these special requirements of his to keep a smooth and orderly existence. I have learned the hard way.

If it were his elder brother at the table this morning? I would have punished him for blatantly ignoring me.

“You are very permissive. I would have snatched that book away this instant.” My babysitter commented in Chinese.

I explained to her what Mr. Monk was trying to do and his needing such an order in his life.

“You should have fought to get him to change. You should have made him change through persistence. If it were my daughter, I would have taken that book away already.”

I made some feeble attempt to explain why I did not. Could not. “He’d be harping on this for the rest of the day if I did so. Maybe even tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. He’ll remember this for the rest of his life.”

“My daughter remembers everything too. Oh she fought but I persisted. You just have to be persistent and make them change their ways. It is not possible for him to not change if you just work harder.”

“You must have been very strict with your daughter?” I asked, as a compliment.

“Yes, I was.” She beamed with pride as she should since her daughter is now a VP at a prestigious investment bank on Wall Street.

“Oh she hated me back then. I am pretty sure she hated me but I persisted. She is very nice to me now, she calls me all the time. I think she finally understands why I needed to do what I did. She can see now.”

“You know, I cannot do that.” I admitted to her. “It must have taken a lot of strength on your part to remain strict.” I stopped short at telling her, “But I need my children to like me, and I cannot stand the thought that they may hate me.”

“Yes.” She paused. “But I did what I had to do.”

In traditional Chinese culture, (Warning: Gross generalization ahead. Buyer beware!) your success as a parent is not evaluated by how happy your children are but by how obedient they are when young and how successful they are when grown-up. Providing your children with a happy childhood is not a requisite for being a good mother. I am not suggesting that Chinese parents go out of their way to make their children miserable but rather that IT is not a priority.  Or rather, the definition of happiness is quite different, and also who gets to define happiness is debatable since we were often told, “You don’t know what you want. You don’t know what will make you happy. You will know when you are older.”

I am happy for her and for her daughter’s accomplishment. As I said, I am grateful for her coming here every morning so that I could keep my job. But it feels like an indictment of me as a parent every single morning. I will be getting out of the house as soon as she arrives from now on.


Jessica Chen February 24, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Your problems is not just a Chinese problems, a lot of western parents are also stressed by Children’s discipline problem. There are a lot of help out there, like parents hotline, parenting classes, to teach you how to set rules and limits for your children without hitting them. You can put him to quiet time for few minutes according to their age, if they don’t follow your instruction, do it for few times, then the child will remember. You need some professional help.

Wildology January 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I can’t imaging being caught between worlds.

Trust yourself–that is all you can do anyway. It seems to me (who has experience only with dogs:) that children show respect in many different ways. As long as you are being respected (and rushing to find a stopping point would count!) then you are doing great!!!
Wildology´s last blog post…Species- Single-Male-Wildlifer

Absence Alternatives January 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Thank you so much! You know, I do sometimes think that discipline children has got to be quite similar to training puppies. Was tempted to spray my kids with a spray bottle though. LOL

Jack January 23, 2011 at 1:45 am

Parenting is something that requires constant adjustment and fine tuning. There is no one right way to do it, no matter what people say.
Jack´s last blog post…It Was My Favorite Toy

Absence Alternatives January 23, 2011 at 1:59 am

I like the idea that it requires constant tuning. Some parenting books tell you that you need to be consistent and it stresses me out.

secret agent woman January 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Oh, my. I was raised in a very strict household. American, but military. Lots of physical punishment for minute misbehavior and even times when no one had done anything at all. I came away from it committed to nonviolent parenting. Am I too lenient? Perhaps at times. Also a bit over-protective at times. And yet.. my kids are now teens and are happy and loving and good in school and generally well-behaved. I wouldn’t have done it any differently.
secret agent woman´s last blog post…Why I dont do well with sleep deprivation

Absence Alternatives January 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I have never been punished physically by teachers or my parents but I have seen enough of that (and heard enough horror stories of how my parents beat my two brothers) to know to behave all the time.

Life with Kaishon January 21, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Wow. I can’t imagine parenting like that. I like that you waited for him to find his place. You waited because you know how that would have thrown him off. You are a good mother for waiting. And a very good mother for even knowing that you needed to wait in the first place.

I hope she stays with you. How nice that she has a mercedes. My babysitter doesn’t even have a bicycle. I keep meaning to get her one : )
Life with Kaishon´s last blog post…We say ‘I love you’ a lot

Absence Alternatives January 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm

While I was having this exchange with her, I was thinking, How do children with Asperger syndrome or severe OCDs survive IF the parents believe that they HAVE TO force the children to change/conform otherwise THEY are failing the children and failing as parents?

You know, just imagine Amy Chua having Andrian Monk and his brother as her children?

writerwoman61 January 21, 2011 at 9:54 am

I don’t see the need to stop a child who is reading, unless there’s somewhere he has to go…video game, okay!

I’m sure you’re a great mom, Lin! For the record, my younger brother was always making “helpful” comments about how to raise my children, until he had a daughter of his own. He doesn’t give me parenting advice any more!

writerwoman61´s last blog post…‘Salt’y Tears…The Jolie Bids Adieu…

Absence Alternatives January 21, 2011 at 10:03 am

My elder brother does have two sons of his own and they looked at my children and what they could get away with with wonder and puzzlement, and, I am pretty sure, also annoyance because apparently it was not that easy to “babysit” American children since they did not listen to/obey directions at all! This created a problem when your father threatened you with Fist of Death should anything happen to your American cousins…

Renee Fisher January 21, 2011 at 6:28 am

BLW is wise, indeed. I was fraught with second-guessing myself about mostly every I did in the child-rearing arena. Then, throw into that a big, fat divorce. But through it all, I always followed an open door policy. I always listened to them and I always told them they could share anything with me and I wouldn’t get angry. My number one priority was open communication, under any circumstances. My three kids are happy, productive, extremely responsible people, and are all in loving realtionships. I couldn’t be prouder of them. There are many paths to the same goal.
Renee Fisher´s last blog post…8 months 176 bologna and cheese sandwiches

Absence Alternatives January 21, 2011 at 9:57 am

I hope I will be able to look back and say the same one day. I know all parents hope for the same.

The issue I am dealing with, and something I need to consciously work on, is to find a path and stick with it. Wish me luck!

BigLittleWolf January 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Wow, and wow. This made for fascinating reading, and I can’t imagine the stress you’re under as you deal with everyday parenting issues which are tough enough when you’re operating under one cultural framework.

I would re-read that great quote you mentioned – that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. Isn’t that what being CEO of our family units is like? Or partners in our marriage? Or teammates, or however you might want to look at it – hierarchically or in a more flattened “organizational” structure?

My ex and I were from two different cultures, and not as far apart as I thought, yet we had different approaches to discipline. He would certainly have leaned more toward the “Chinese” method, but without hitting. His way – immediately – or the highway. Obedience.

Not only was that not my way, but I had the kids most of the time even before divorce. He didn’t have to live with the consequences of his approach; I did.

Ultimately, we find something that suits us – and I agree – we have to own it. I doubt we’re ever fully confident in how we raise kids, but I’ve been lenient in some ways compared to other parents, and much more strict in others. I took my cues from my kids (they were so different – like yours). I had few rules, but they were absolute. And they have been followed.

I hope you can release a bit of the guilt, if not the babysitter. And go with your gut.
BigLittleWolf´s last blog post…What Makes a Man Tick

Absence Alternatives January 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Thank you so much for giving so much thought every time when responding.

I am in the same situation you were when it comes to, let’s just call it, division (or lack thereof) of labor. I have been blamed for every misconduct by my child because I am the more lenient one. “He didn’t have to live with the consequences of his approach; I did.” THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Velva January 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Besides, a few basic rules of child rearing (e.g. you should not eat your children) the rest is up for grabs. There is no perfect, right or wrong parenting style. You do the best that you can, based on what you know, cross your fingers and hope for the best. 🙂

For the ones, who shake their head in disapproval… tell them to kiss your ass.

Absence Alternatives January 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm

If she were NOT Chinese, I’d probably have flown off the handle. But because she is, and she is operating from a different cultural context, and I am when I am with people who operate that way, I could not. Advice is freely dispensed and one is supposed to take it graciously. Or silently. Thank goodness I have my blog!

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