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January 17, 2011

Did “Tiger Mother” Go Too Far?

One mother’s view on towing the line with her children

Last week I listened to an interview with Amy Chua, author of a new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua’s parents were Chinese immigrants, and by her own admission, they raised her according to the strict, highly regimented “Chinese way.” Chua has come under fire for raising her own two daughters similarly. Throughout their childhoods, they have spent countless hours each day practicing piano or violin. They’ve been prohibited from watching television and attending sleepovers. Chua also admits to using tactics such as berating them and doling out harsh punishments as a way of motivating them to do their best. Once she even denounced her daughter’s handmade birthday card, saying, “I reject this.” Chua believes that parents need to tow the line, sometimes in drastic, memorable ways, to fight off children’s natural bent toward complacency. Her critics say she takes this too far.

Surprisingly, Chua admitted at times she has gone too far. She said her book was intended to be less of a how-to and more of a reflection on what she has learned trying to parent her children like she was. Some of it has worked; some of it hasn’t, she said.

I cringed when she unapologetically admitted to refusing her daughter’s handmade card. With four plastic storage totes filled with each of my sons’ school artwork, I can’t imagine criticizing a single one of these custom treasures. In knee-jerk judgment I wondered, what kind of parent would do that?

A minute later I wondered what parenting missteps I’ve made that would cause others to cringe and judge me. Like Chua, I love my children with a fierce, tiger-mother kind of love and want nothing more than to see them reach their God-given potential in life. And like her, the parenting decisions I’ve made have been well-intended, if not sometimes misguided.

Chua’s book and the reactions to it (including mine) have not been, shall we say, grace-filled. This gives me pause. If I have learned anything as a parent, it’s that I need grace, and lots of it. Raising kids is hard work, and most parents I know have mental and emotional battle scars to prove it. So today I am reminded to extend grace instead of judgment. Parents or not, it’s what we call the “Christian way.”

What are your thoughts to Chua’s style of parenting? How can we learn to be better parents through this discussion?

Related Tags: Parenting


It's not the Christian way. What about loving your neighbor as yourself and the beauty of friendship? I realized what was missing from Chua's philosophy during a sleepover party this weekend.

I agree that it would seem as if she has gone to an extreme in her parenting, but is it any worse (or better) than the parents who don't parent their children at all? I am sure that I am making mistakes in my parenting, but I hope that it 1)fits with my convictions about God and life; 2) manages to raise my children so that they know they are loved by me, my husband, and God and 3) leaves a legacy that lives on through my kids and their kids and on down the line.

Another good question here is what does it mean to be "successful"? Does Chua's approach lead to "successful" children and adults? I have certainly known and observed many children raised this way who are, indeed, miles ahead of their peers in terms of academic success, musical accomplishment, and so on. We should certainly give some credit where it is due in terms of "accomplishing" this type of success.
But of course there are other definitions of success -- and I also wonder if raising a "successful" child is really our ultimate goal. People can be very successful in terms of outward accomplishments while still feeling empty inside, wondering if they are ever good enough.
I do believe Chua is right that many parents in our culture do coddle their kids too much. She's also correct in observing that parents may over-compliment their children. Nothing illustrates this more than some of the HORRIBLE singers that try out on American Idol and, somehow (thanks to mom) have gotten the impression that they are phenomenally talented.
But again, I think the main question here is how we define our goal for our kids. Chua said repeatedly in her Diane Rehm show interview that she wants her children to be happy and fulfilled -- and I believe she was completely sincere. But part of feeling happy is feeling a security that comes from grace; we (and our kids) need to know that we are loved deeply even when we fail, mess up, and are far-less-than perfect.

It's human nature to jump quickly to judge her for the way she treated her kids. However, we ALL bring some of our parents to the table when we parent and it is foolish to think otherwise. If we were treated harshly, we try NOt to be like they were. If we thought we had "perfect" parents, we beat ourselves up trying to be perfect too. If we grew up in homes where a parent was in the ministry, egads! Issues galore! We have to be honest with ourselves and recognize that parenting is hard, and no matter how educated we are, or how much therapy we've had, or how many books & seminars we attend, in moments of crisis, we are going to react with a lot of our upbringing in the forefront of or decision making. At least, that's been my experience in parenting with my husband. I'm not an expert and make mistakes all the time. But one thing I've learned in my 20 years of doing this, I've learned to stop judging myself against what works or doesn't work as I observe others parent. What works for my family probably doesn't work for most, but it works for us, and that is what matters for us; it brings harmony and unity. That's my definition of success; do my kids want to hang out with us and bring their friends over here to hang out? Yes! Do they want to do things together? Yes! Are they old enough to go somewhere else, yes. But they choose being here with us. That' how I define success. Not by whether or not they have great grades, or a perfect room. Togetherness !

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