Children of Laid-Back Parents: What Factors in Your Childhood Made You Successful?

The infamous Amy Chua has done a great job of explaining how some Chinese mothers use authoritarian control to make their children “successful.”

However, there are a lot of successful people like me out there who had parents who were nothing like those Chinese mothers. How the heck did we make it so far without getting pushed hard by our parents?

I’d love to hear from lots of you out there. We need very good stories to combat the impact Chua’s making. Her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the #4 top selling book on Amazon.com. Good grief…

So, I’ll offer my story here as the first comment. I hope this will spur many others to offer their stories as well!

By the way, before I start, I should say a word about “success.” For the purpose of this discussion, let’s stick with the mainstream definition of success that Chua uses in her book – i.e. getting a good education and having a career of generally recognized importance and/or fortune. Yes, I agree that this is an overly narrow view of success, but I want to show that we can accept Chua’s definition of success, but still do well.

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4 Responses to Children of Laid-Back Parents: What Factors in Your Childhood Made You Successful?

  1. Mike Lanza says:

    My success: I have multiple degrees from Stanford University: a BA and MA in Economics, an MBA, and an MA in Education. In my career, I’m a tech entrepreneur, having started and run five software and Internet companies. My last three companies were moderately successful, and I sold my last two to publicly traded companies. Today, I’m writing this blog (!) and a book, both about children’s play and neighborhoods.

    My parents’ involvement in my education: They never, ever helped me with homework. In fact, they never knew what assignments I had, when I had tests, and they never knew the results of any of my work, either. I just showed them a report card every semester. The only extracurricular activities they encouraged me to participate in were playing trumpet for a year and playing organized baseball from age 8 to 13. By the way, they were not that highly educated. My mom was an average high school student and didn’t go to college, and my dad did get a BS in Pharmacy from a mediocre University, carrying a C+ average.

    What factors in my childhood made me successful:
    1) My dad made me work at his store growing up from the age of 9. There, I learned a lot about business and I learned how to work at a job.
    2) I had a happy childhood and had a *ton* of fun playing.
    3) My 9th grade English teacher made us write a personal journal three times a week. In doing this, I was transformed from a mediocre writer to a very good writer.
    4) I was only a mediocre athlete. If I was good enough to be a starter on my middle school or high school football or basketball teams, I wouldn’t have cared much about academics.
    5) Math class in elementary school went really slowwww and boring. This was a blessing in disguise for me. It gave me a lot of extra time to discover multiple ways to think through problems on my own, so I gained very deep understanding of math. If my school were more challenging, I would have been pushed to higher and higher math quicker, but I wouldn’t have gained as deep an understanding.
    6) I took a journalism class in high school and ended up being the editor of my high school paper. Thus, I became a leader at my high school, which was a great experience.
    7) When I was in 9th grade, I decided to try to do very well in school. My parents had *zero* to do with this decision. Before that decision, I was a B student. After that decision, I got two more Bs in high school, the rest As.

  2. mark_powell says:

    And it’s ironic that Amazon itself was started by Jeff Bezos, who went to a Montessori school as a young child. Montessori schools couldn’t be further away from Amy Chua’s brand of behaviorism! Hers is somewhat extreme, but it’s the same controlling behaviorism that is behind all traditional schooling that most of us suffered through as children, no matter what our parents were like.

  3. map says:

    My success: I have a law degree from the University of Michigan and have been a successful teacher, tutor, oral historian, and game designer. I scored in the 99th percentile on every graduate school standardized test I’ve ever taken.

    My parents’ involvement in my education: They checked in to see if I was too stressed, but they never put pressure on me to get A’s, even when I dipped down into C’s in 9th grade English. They figured I’d right myself because they knew I found intrinsic value in learning. They always told me they were proud of me when I did well.

    What factors in my childhood made me successful:
    1) My parents ALWAYS showed me that it was better to be myself than to try to conform to someone else’s expectations of me.

    2) I played constantly with whatever I had in my immediate environment, even if it was just a couple of coins or a super ball.

    3) I was given the freedom to make my own mistakes–and to learn from them.

    4) My parents encouraged my temporary passions, even if they were clearly not going to last me a lifetime, so I learned the boundaries of my identity–my passions, discipline, ambition, abilities, connections to other people, etc.

    5) My parents talked to me like an adult, with respect and genuine interest in my point of view.

    6) My sister was born when I was nine, and my parents let me play a big role in raising her.

    7) I lived in a rural area where I saw more moose than Maseratis.

    8) We lived on a farm on which I always had chores.

    9) I learned to love words when I almost simultaneously was exposed to Bob Dylan and e.e. cummings (around 11 years old).

    There are more reasons, but that’s probably enough to help the anti-Battle Hymn cause. Keep up the good work on behalf of kids, Mike!

  4. Valerie says:

    Oh, thank goodness – let’s get a groundswell of counter examples! I’m unschooling my kids and let them have a lot of say in their learning, and they amaze me with their interests, creativity, imagination, and natural love of learning. But they are not driven in the ways the Chinese mom describe. But I don’t want them to be. I want them to be kind, giving, connected, interested, etc. Thanks for this opportunity to read about other success stories.