Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“A bitter clash of cultures…” between “Tiger Mother” and “mama grizzly”?

Written by: on May 28, 2015

M T GAmy chua who was born in the Year of the Tiger according to her cultural tradition in China, is the author of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. Chua is also a Professor of Law at Yale Law School and written books on culture, globalization, power and empire. Her book on parenting, intra-cultural dynamics and raising children the “Chinese mother” way is thought provoking and can be controversial for some. Chua writes:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, play any instrument other than the piano or violin[1]

I can relate to Chua’s thought pattern since my childhood was marked by the high esteem of being good mannered, the familiarity with being disciplined as a high virtue and the strong value of education as one of the major undertakings necessary for the growth and livelihood a person. I would soon learn many other ideas about life from my driven parents, sibling and village. When reading Chua’s book, I found the anthropomorphic elements of Chua’s book reminiscent of certain aspects of Ugandan culture. For example, the fact that Chua was “born in the Year of the Tiger” and her daughter Sophia “born in the Year of the Monkey, and Monkey people are curious, intellectual, and generally can accomplish any given task”; parallels with various clans in Uganda and their identification “animal clans”. While reflecting on the cultural similarities between china and Uganda, I also recalled the former US candidate for Vice President Sarah Palin’s promotion of “mama grizzly” but I quickly established from reading on that Chua and Palin’s cultural back drops on motherhood where worlds apart and that if they met, they would most likely clash than experience a ‘mother crush’ in the informal sense.

What also struck me was that in Chua’s culture where “the Tiger is the living symbol of strength and power generally inspires fear and respect” intrinsically values a strength perspective.  She notes “I don’t want to boast or anything, but Tiger people are noble, fearless, powerful, authoritative, and magnetic.”[2] For Palin, being a “mama grizzly” was another way to way to rally the votes of mothers to propel her to another level of political power. There is something about power, toughness and the search for success, even in parenting.  I was also reading about another prominent person who is also an American presidential candidate for 2016.  Dr. Ben Carson. He too shares about the role his mother’s tough love played in his superstar success as a doctor, who also became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital at age 33, and became famous for his ground-breaking work separating conjoined twins. Carson writes, “I don’t recall the first time my mother asked me, “Do you have a brain?” I heard it voiced or inferred so many times growing  up that it’s impossible to remember all the occasions, let alone arrange them chronologically”[3]

Chua refers to moments of tough love in her parenting style and now her children are well on their way to being straight ‘A’ students, successful pianists and violinists. Which one of these examples is worthy emulating? Is it, “The Tiger mother” who is also an Ivy League law professor? Palin a former governor and contender for the US vice presidency? Or Dr. Carson’s mother, who motivated her children with the stanzas of “But boys, you are both smart. You need to use the brains God gave you and learn to think beyond the can!”[4]







[1] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011) 1

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3], Ben, Carson, Lewis Gregg, and Shaw Deborah. You Have a Brain (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 11.

[4] Ibid., 13.

About the Author

Michael Badriaki

6 responses to ““A bitter clash of cultures…” between “Tiger Mother” and “mama grizzly”?”

  1. rhbaker275 says:

    I liked your cultural comparisons, the tiger, the grizzly, and the brain surgeon. It does highlight the impact that culture has on parenting and specifically on motherhood. Of course, being born and raised in the mid-west, I am thoroughly anchored in freedom and choice. Perhaps none of your models fit a freedom and choice perspective, or, perhaps they all fit. Whatever the perspective it requires a wholeness – by this I mean cultural self-understanding and contextual relationship to all aspects of living in family, community, neighborhood, society, country, and global. “Battle Hymn” concerns parenting but in our world we cannot escape parenting in the global context.

  2. Michael…
    Wow… I think you deserve extra credit for recalling Sarah Palin use of “grizzly mother.” (Brilliant :). I think I said this on a couple other posts, but the “layers” of meaning in this book are so intriguing as is her confidence. She references in the “Afterword” that there have been challenges and the book has been controversial, but she is vulnerable in a way that leads us (or me at least) to think about other things. I think you are onto something in your own comparisons and contrasts … is it about “us” – the parents or is it about our children and the belief – deeply held about their identity and possibility. What that paves the way toward might be what made it possible for Amy Chua to ultimately adapt and change (and grow). I know it’s not that simple, but that orientation challenged me in a fresh way.

    Thanks Michael! Blessings…. (safe travels as you go to Uganda).

  3. Michael, great takeaways on Amy Chua’s book this week. Your cultural comparisons are great. I don’t know so much that we need to separate the different styles of mothering that have produced successful children. I think of John Wesley’s mother Jonathan Edward’s mother and countless other mothers who have produced great leaders, theologians, missionaries, scientist, doctors and DMin students such as yourself. As I said in my post perhaps the American culture could use a little more Tiger mother in its cultural mix. I do not believe that any cultural extreme is what’s needed but perhaps a diligence of gathering the best from all the cultures. I believe this is what Amy eventually arrived at with her second daughter Lulu. Her driven-ness was tamed in her ability to let her daughter make her own choices regarding the sport of tennis. This was a move to a midway point between the Chinese way of parenting and the American way of parenting. There are pluses and minuses on both sides.

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Michael. You made me smile, and think. That’s good writing, in my opinion. I think one of my other learnings from this book was the value of engaging with another culture and considering what they do that is helpful, and seeing how that might be used in my own life. There is a Ted Talk by a man named Lee Mun Wah who talks about out cultural identities, and excludings, and muses that if we actually incorporate the practices (not all but some) into our own, that this honors the other. It also shows openness and thoughtfulness.

  5. Ashley Goad says:

    So Michael… We were born in the Year of the Goat! What does that say about us? 🙂 I love your comparisons and contrasts here, and as I’ve read through many of our cohort-mates’ pieces, I think we are all seeing on thing in common: we all want to love our children to the best of our ability. What we differ upon is the “how” to love. Isn’t that so much of the common ground that we seek to find in many aspects of our lives – cross-cultural partnerships, friendships, etc? What can we learn from each other and how can that make us better parents, friends, disciples, etc.?

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