Make Believe Choices

The developers of the new game, Chinese Parents, are planning for an English version of the game. The Chinese computer game in which pretend parents raise a digital child has been described as giving players the opportunity to use their “tiger mother” skills. This reflects the perception of Chinese parenting as highly authoritarian – or parents know best. It will be interesting to see how American parents relate to the goals and choices in raising children the game encompasses.

Chinese parents are encouraged to cram their kids with many test papers and extra lessons while at the same time making sure their virtual kids have time for sports and games in order to live balanced lives. Reports of students jumping off buildings due to too much academic pressure can be detected as an influence in the parent choices offered.

American parents share a concern for their children’s academic achievement and there has also been significant expression of concern about undue stress children are experiencing as a result. However, American parents have never been accused of “tiger mother” parenting. The more widespread criticism has been made of the supposed helicopter style of parents here.

In this context, helicopter parenting is meant to suggest hovering. It is not so much the use of coercion, threats, or bribes to enforce parental wishes but rather encircling a child with numerous additions to school work and parental supervision. Parents have also been accused of helping children with their homework – or rather actually doing the work for them.

Yet instead of feeling the power of the tiger mother, many parents describe feeling powerless in the face of their children’s behavior. The so-called hovering is the parental attempt to have children carry out their wishes rather than an expression of confidence that their word is a child’s command. The nature of the parent/child relationship is shaped differently from the Chinese version early on.

Amy Chua, who gave us the picture of the tiger mother, described American parents as too worried about their children’s self-esteem, about how they will feel if they fail. Yet it may be the parents’ feelings that loom larger than the children’s. Parents do not like it when children are angry at them and worry about loss of love from their children. Any attempt to use tiger mother methods fills them with guilt, whereas the tiger mother herself would be unmoved by a child’s response.

The Chinese Parents game seems not to address the issue of mothers working outside the home. In this country, the impact on child-rearing as well as child-care has been enormous. The absence of universal, affordable child care remains the most significant unresolved issue related to the change in women’s role.

Although there is now more widespread acceptance of the fact that many mothers are now in the workplace, our society as a whole has not yet realistically confronted the implications of a woman’s changed role. Instead, there is widespread resistance to the idea of mothers no longer as the primary caretakers of their children. This resistance has prevented any movement towards significant supports for parents including family leave benefits as well as subsidized child-care centers.

What once was considered a choice has become an economic reality for many families, yet women themselves struggle with feelings of guilt about not being there for their children. They still see child care as primarily their responsibility and the reality is that in many instances they are left with the need to patch together the hours of care needed for their children while they are at work. The so-called hovering is often the attempt by parents to compensate for their physical absence.

Reality bites in a real world lacking the options that might exist in a parenting game.