Raising Children, the Confucian Way
I was recently interviewed by a Beijing-based paper, China Daily, about the subject of early (0 – 2) child rearing in a Confucian context. It’s a pretty interesting question. Although Western and Confucian ideals about childhood are similar in some ways (strong family bonds are created and nourished), the Confucian goes much further with this and might, in fact, look in disbelief and practices that we have in the West (practices that might seem very innocuous to us). One comes to mind quickly: the fact that many Americans are eager to have a baby sleep in a crib as soon as possible.
Some of this is to give the parent a break, for sure (a well needed one too, at that!). But there’s also a strong feeling (at least in people I know, and in tapping into the “American” mindset) that in doing this you are teaching the child “life skills” early on, that the child needs to learn to “be its own person” and be alone by itself. From a Confucian perspective, inculcating this into a small child would be odd at best, given their strong orientation towards “relational identity” — the notion that we are not separate individuals, but rather have ‘group’ identities that we share with those close to us.
In the case of a child, part of its identity is its relationship to its mother and father. So to impress upon the child independent as opposed to interdependence would be seen as harmful to the development of the child’s notion of self. (Note, I do recognize the attachment parenting movement in America, which stresses always having a baby with you at all times, even in bed, in ‘co-sleeping’. But attachment parenting is controversial, for the reasons above — many thing it actually harms the child by weakening its sense of independence from others. However, there are many other early child-rearing practices that are typical of Americans/Westerners that would just as easily fall prey to this critique).
In any case, if you’re interested in taking a look, it’s a short piece, right here, in PDF format.