The Tiger Mother In Us

By Helen Lee 2-03-2011

By now, you've surely heard about the infamous Wall Street Journal article entitled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," based on Amy Chua's new book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. As I read the WSJ excerpt, I cringed at Chua's methods of imposing her brand of perfect parenting on her two daughters, such as never letting her kids go on playdates, or calling them "garbage" when they displeased her. I thought I was hard on my own kids by making them practice their instruments every day, but Chua astonished me with the lengths to which she does the same, as she forces her young daughters to practice well beyond five hours on their violin and piano, threatening to throw away their favorite toys when they refuse.

It's easy to jump on the anti-Amy Chua bandwagon that has emerged, as evidenced by the nearly 7,000 comments on WSJ website, many of which lambaste her. But I wonder if we are missing the real problem in all of this. As New York Times columnist David Brooks notes, "[Chua] is the logical extension of the prevailing elite practices. She does everything over-pressuring upper-middle-class parents are doing." Whether your methods border on the madness of Chua's more draconian efforts, or whether you embrace a kinder, gentler approach, the fact remains that a vast majority of today's middle- to upper-class families define "success" in fairly limited ways, achieved in large part by heavy parental involvement to ensure that their children have every opportunity to reach those ideals.

I confess to having some Chua-likeness in me; when my eldest son was 5 years old, his piano teacher told me that her strongest students were all Chinese-American kids, and her theory was that the process of learning Mandarin, with all the memorization involved to grasp the thousands of characters, gave them a mental edge. My competitive side kicked in, and before long my son was enrolled in Chinese school. We are not Chinese, and so the effort involved in trying to help my kindergartner grasp this completely foreign language was substantial. At first, he had fun. As the years went by, it became torture. I kept pushing him onward, until finally one day, our schedule and lives at the breaking point, I sensed God challenging me on my motivations for this decision, which were not God-honoring at the core. My son was so thrilled when I realized this, as it meant he no longer had to go to Chinese school anymore!

It's so hard to carve a different path in our culture that promotes the idea that success comes from achievement, that acceptance to a great college is the ultimate goal to which we push our kids, and that it's critical to be groomed in extra-curriculars even at a young age to be positioned for future greatness down the road. How often have we heard the proclamation that every American deserves "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? As parents, it's hard not to want for our children to be happy. But painful though it is to embrace, for ourselves or for our kids, Jesus never promises his followers happiness.

"Tiger Moms" are not the only ones who believe that if we have children, they are to be our first priority, the recipient of our tireless efforts. Many parents, Christians included, believe that our kids are our future, our legacy, the proof and pudding of our careful parenting. It all sounds so noble, even spiritual -- the sacrifice and effort required to demonstrate this kind of devotion to your kids. Amy Chua doesn't mince words: "Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating, and spying on their kids

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