Saturday, May 14, 2011
Are you a tiger mom?
The controversy over the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua sparked my interest from the get-go. My mom and I were throwing around the term tiger mom in our conversation and discussing the pros and cons of the author's parenting philosophy before I even read the book. When my friend Ying, who incidentally is Chinese and disagrees with much of the book, offered to loan it to me, I jumped at the chance. Once I started reading, I could not put it down. I LOVED the book. After hearing the controversy, I expected to hate the book, or at least smugly sit in condescension over the author's obvious barbaric views. So imagine my surprise when I absolutely LOVED the book from start to finish.
If you know me, you may not pay any attention when I tell you I loved a particular book because I'm always reading and I love lots of books. So let me put this in perspective for you. There are whole chapters of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that I've read 3-4 times because I just HAD to share- with my husband, my mom, the kids, anyone who would listen. Also, I began the book on Tuesday and finished it on Wednesday (with very few opportunities to read between 7 am and 9 pm). I remember looking at my watch as I was reading late into the night and thinking, "Oh no, 6 more hours until Calvin will want to be nursed." And then, "Yikes, only 5 more hours until time to nurse Calvin." It was that good.
The issue/controversy in a nutshell:
Chinese parenting is superior to American-style parenting in preparing children for successful, productive lives. Delayed gratification is at the heart of Amy Chua's parenting philosophy- train your children to work hard now so that they will be happier as adults. Happiness is not bound up in doing as you please or having lots of leisure time, but in achieving your best and honoring your family. Her philosophy requires sacrifice on the part of both mother and children which will pay off down the road when the "virtuous circle" kicks in and the children begin to experience the fruits of their labor.
Where I agree AND disagree with this philosophy:
Just like Tiger Mom, I find myself going against the grain of American culture much of the time. My husband and I agree with the concept of delayed gratification. We also believe in helping our children to develop skills and a work ethic that will serve them well the rest of their lives. We do not allow our children to watch tv or movies during the school week. Our kids do not have much time for playdates (except for the spontaneous variety with our neighbor across the street). Our kids seem very busy much of the time with homeschool, Bible study, swimming, church, and piano or violin. I "schedule" much of our summer time in productive activities. I choose my kids' sport. We give them a limited choice of musical instruments (piano or violin). They can't choose neither (initially). Our kids often feel different and sometimes even deprived because of all this, so I found myself nodding in agreement to much of the author's thoughts on parenting.
However, the author is not a Christian, so our ultimate goals for our children are different. My husband and I define "success" differently than she does, but we largely agree with what's required to arrive there. As believers, we want our children to give their all, not because we want them to "win" or make it into Harvard, but because God says to do everything heartily as unto Him. (Colossians 3:23) As believers, we want to train our children up in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), not because it's a successful parenting technique, but because God tells us to and we want our children to glorify Him.
What resonates the most with me about this book, and probably the reason for much of the controversy surrounding it, is the contrast between the Chinese way of thinking of self as an extension of family or community versus the Western way of rugged individualism. I remember in a college humanities class being startled by the difference in emphases of Asian art and Western art during the Renaissance period. The Eastern paintings would have one or more tiny people, almost incidental in the foreground or background of a large and imposing landscape. The focus of the painting was never on the individual, but rather on the part the individual played in the whole. In contrast, portraiture became one of the most popular forms of painting during the Renaissance in Europe. I think these examples from art nicely summarize the competing philosophies of East versus West.
Interestingly, as followers of Christ we should be more Eastern-minded when it comes to how we view ourselves. We are to see ourselves, not as rugged individuals forging our own way in the world, owing nothing to anyone and living for our own happiness, but as members of the body of Christ, the church. (1 Corinthians 12) Our respect and honor for our family should also reflect that seen more often in Asian families, but not for the same reasons. Believers are to honor their parents, not because of cultural norms or pressures, but out of obedience to the commands of God (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2).
How we view our children, either as an extension of the family or as individuals, will shape how we parent them. I just finished reading Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider, which I also loved by the way, and in it she asks parents to write a purpose statement for their family and then to make the home a reflection of that purpose statement. Going through this process helped me to see that we really do have purpose as a family, not just as individuals. This purpose is an umbrella that should govern how we do school, sports, activities, music, ministry, everything as a family. Our purpose statement would differ from Tiger Mom's, but what we have in common is a plan for each of our children to fulfill his or her purpose in and for our family and community of faith. A plan that requires work and leaves little time for slacking off. Her goal is Harvard, ours is heaven : ).
Our Father Abraham by Marvin R. Wilson discusses briefly the tendency that Western believers today overemphasize their individual faith and personal salvation, at the expense of de-emphasizing their place in the family and church universal or local. (This explains why so few church members are involved in any type of ministry within their church.) If we rightly see ourselves as existing for the glory of God and serving Him from within the context of our families and churches, then we'll adjust our goals accordingly. Making money, for example, will become merely a means to providing for our families and giving to others in need (1 Timothy 5:8, Ephesians 4:28). Providing for our parents may be seen as a duty both to Christian children and Asian children for different reasons. It seems strange to me, but interesting, that the Chinese way of life often seems more Biblical (incidentally not on purpose) than the typical American way of this generation. How can this be? Radical: Taking Back your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt is another book I've read recently that examines the clash between American culture and our Christian faith. Maybe he's hit the nail on the head. American culture today (although it certainly didn't start this way) is opposed to the family-driven, others-centered faith taught in the Scriptures. Our cultural norms are a stumbling block to living out our faith in obedience. This is true not just on an individual level, but when it comes to our families, too.
Amy Chua didn't address most of these issues that I just discussed, but I can't help but think these are the real culprits- the issues behind the issues, so to speak. There I go again, reading between the lines! Anyway, I loved the book and highly recommend it. Don't expect to agree with everything in it, I didn't, but it's a stimulating and entertaining read. Now please excuse me while I go round up my children and make them be productive for an hour before bed. For the record, after reading much of the book to my kids they claim I'm no Tiger Mom, and not even in the realm of Tiger Mom. Strangely, that hurt, just a little. My husband says I may not be a Tiger Mom, just a tiger. That felt a little better.
- I'm an on-the-run mom to 6 kids who studied and taught exercise science in a previous life. I love all things running, nutrition, and health-related. I usually run at zero dark thirty in the morning and am often quite hungry before, during, and after my run, but I live a rich, full, blessed life with my children, family, and friends. My faith in God is my anchor, and looking to Him and His promises allows me to live fully even when life circumstances are difficult. While running gives me an appetite, my desire is to hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for physical food.