Technically speaking I hold immigrant status in the western country of my residence. However, the reality is that since all but the infant stages of my life have been lived within Canada, I understand what it is to live under some of the lofty expectations of immigrant parents in a new land. They wanted the best from us. My father, especially as an educated and hard working teacher turned Vice-Principal, understood the challenges that we naively thought we could easily conquer. I can’t speak for the others, but I remember him constantly drilling in to my lackadaisical approach to school, work and life that “good enough wasn’t good enough”. To my deafened ears (I wish I learned these things earlier) he would remind me that we live in a “white world” and therefore my efforts needed to be better, my achievements needed to shine brighter and my determination had to be stronger just to get an equivalent chance against those who looked the part. My father, he could have been a Tiger Mother.
That’s the way Amy Chua describes herself in the often comically self-effacing, sometimes sad, but mostly enlightening look at her development as a mother to her two daughters, in her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. As an American child of Chinese parents, married to a Jewish man, Chua makes this statement summarizing the book and the tension of her parenting turmoil:
“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” (p. 63)
To a Tiger Mother achievement is everything and frankly that’s where the rebellion of my youth has continued into my adulthood. Even though my early work experience validated my father’s own difficult track through the education system, I just felt that there had to be more to this. However my lack of ability to articulate or discover another way just led to frustrations that led to my dropping out of high school. It wasn’t that I couldn’t achieve, but it was more that I didn’t see the point – there had to be a better way, because how good is good enough when it always had to be better. And what happens if/when failure occurs:
“The Chinese parenting approach is weakest when it comes to failure; it just doesn’t tolerate that possibility. The Chinese model turns on achieving success. That’s how the virtuous circle of confidence, hard work, and more success is generated.” (p.146)
So now here I am, co-parenting children born in this country with my beautiful Northern Irish (yes, she’s white) wife, both of us knowing we have Tiger Mother tendencies. However, we’re learning that Jesus loves the Tiger Mother and that the concept of “good enough isn’t good enough” is still important. In a society that is geared toward mediocrity, our biggest parenting task has been encouraging (this is open for interpretation) excellence. Good enough really isn’t good enough, excellence makes a difference. However our focus has been directed towards excellence in character, in habits, in conduct, as it is reflected in the Lord Jesus Christ. If there is excellence in these areas then we’ll deal with the results, but more importantly, excellence in these areas allows the life of Christ to recognized in our children and through our children toward others. Just as Amy Chua reveals, as a recovering Tiger Mother, I still fight against my own inclinations and recognize that our parenting influence on our children is a long way from being revealed as a “because of” or “in spite of” conclusion. While trying to measure against the shifting achievement standards of our culture may be tempting, I’m going to do my best to submit my Tiger Mother tendencies (yes, the ones I’ve fought against all my life) toward the excellence found in the life that Christ offers. I could be a Tiger Mother, but I want so much more for my children:
“I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.”
-3 John 4