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In Japan and Korea, Asian-style Parenting Means Mom Stays Home

A child's academic achievement is the mother's responsibility

This is a reprint of a guest blog Carol Fishman Cohen wrote for Working Mother.

In the wave of reaction to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the focus has been primarily on the kids and whether the Chinese parenting methods described could be considered child abuse. What has not been discussed is that Asian-style intensive parenting falls squarely in the mother’s lap. It is not the father, or both parents, but the mother who is 100% responsible for the child’s academic success.

By extension, if the child does not “succeed” by getting the highest grades, and getting into a top university, then it is the mother’s fault. An extreme version of the Asian parenting game plays out in Japan and South Korea where mothers are under tremendous pressure from their own husbands, in-laws and parents to remain out of the workforce to focus all of their efforts on enabling their children’s academic achievements. Anything less would be a betrayal of the child and of the entire extended family.

How do I know this? In 2008, I was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Japan to keynote an international symposium called “Creating a Second Chance for Women,” examining the topic of women returning to work after a career break. As part of the trip, the embassies in Japan and Korea had me speak for two weeks before audiences of at-home moms, and before interested employers, academics and media representatives. As exciting as it was to make these presentations, I was unprepared for what happened off stage. Time and again, after I spoke, I was pulled aside by women who confided they wanted desperately to be working, but the demands of intensive Asian parenting methods to maximize their child’s academic performance were keeping them at home. The pressure started almost as soon as a child was born: “My daughter was my walking report card in diapers,” whispered a Japanese mom.

To read the complete blog on Working Mother, click here.

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