Looking Back on Tiger Mom
This week’s reading was mysterious and wonderful. Amy Chua had me captivated in the breathtaking story of her amazing family – and her Chinese parenting style. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) took a lot of courage to write, but even more courage to actually live out. After starting the book, I could not put it down and read it in its entirety in a little over a day. The book made me wonder if all Chinese families are like this, thus focusing my attention to the upcoming Advance in Hong Kong. But the book also made me think a lot about my own parenting style that my wife and I practiced when raising our own two children (both now in their 30’s).
Chinese parents expect – and demand – that their children be successful academically, extracurricularly, and in every other conceivable way. Traditionally, Chinese parents do whatever it takes to see to it that their children turn out perfectly. But is perfect a realistic goal? Is what we say – and what we do not say – to our children the primary influence that shapes them, or are there other influencers as well? From a Western perspective, the Chinese way of parenting seems harsh at the least, abusive at the worst. From a Chinese perspective, Western-style parenting is far to too lax and does not develop children to their fullest potential. So which style is better? There are good arguments on both sides. Eventually, however, because of her unique situation – and unique children, Amy Chua ends up practicing some of both styles and arrives at a compromised position with her own children. Frankly, I was happy about this, and I believe that if that had not happened, the book would have ended much, much differently. By the way, I would recommend this book to any new parents who want to think deeply about how to raise their children in a multi-cultural society.
So, am I who I am today because of my parents or in spite of my parents? And that question also goes for my children – because of or in spite of? Or are these irrelevant questions? Or can they both be true – because of and in spite of?
My children were born in 1982 and 1984. When my son was born, I was working at a Christian camp as a curriculum and program director. When my daughter was born, I was working two jobs just to make ends meet. For most of their early years, I was in full-time ministry, mostly working with youth. My children became a part of my youth groups and my youth groups became part of my children. My kids had lots of influencers. Then, I went to graduate school. While in school, I had three part-time jobs; I also spent a lot of time in the library – lots of time. Thankfully, during all of this time, my wife was a stay-at-home mom. This wasn’t because we planned it this way; it was merely the way it happened. I worked outside the home; my wife worked inside the home. She raised our children, filling them with love, acceptance, a sense of belonging, and lots of fun. We were poor. As I look back at it now, I do not know how we made it, but we did. We then moved to Egypt where I taught English to 74 fifth graders. And my kids went to an Egyptian school for a while. But for several reasons, they ended up leaving the school before the end of the year, so we started our own school, The Nile River School. My wife was the teacher; I was the principal. My kids were the only two students. We had a great curriculum and lots of extracurricular activities. We even went on fieldtrips to Cyprus and to Jordon. My kids had a very wonderful experience, a wonderful education. It marked them for life. It marked all of us for life.
After returning from the Middle East, I got back into ministry Stateside. My wife continued to be a stay-at-home mom until the kids were in third and fifth grades. She started working then as an educational assistant at their school, but she was always home when the children were home. I continued to work at least two jobs. So who raised the kids? We both did. However, the primary influence came consistently from my wife. She was everything to her kids and her kids were everything to her. Without that, what would have happened to them? Who would they be today? I will never know. But this I do know; both of my children are wonderful adults. They are opposite from one another as night and day. My son is one of the finest men I know. He and I are close. We laugh together – and we cry together. My daughter is one of the most competent people I have ever met. We are not as close, but I love her deeply and that love grows more with each passing year. She calls my wife almost every day to talk about nothing and everything; so does my son. In our story I was the provider more than anything else. But my wife was the nurturer, the disciplinarian, the best friend, the coach, the referee, the tear dryer, the cheerleader, and the ever-present MOM. To this day, I am convinced that my children are the wonderful humans they are mostly because of her. I am eternally grateful, as are my children. I am extremely blessed, as are my kids.
No parent is perfect. No child is perfect. I don’t know what style of parenting is best. But I do know that mothers are usually the most important person in a child’s life. That was definitely true for my children. I cannot say that my wife was or is a Tiger Mom, but I do know that she was the best mom I have ever seen in action. I am forever grateful. Thanks Tiger Lady!
9 responses to “Looking Back on Tiger Mom”
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Bill, Beautiful posting as always! I too think Chua is a courageous woman to publish her amazing parenting story. You ask a great question: “So, am I who I am today because of my parents or in spite of my parents? And that question also goes for my children – because of or in spite of? Or are these irrelevant questions?” As you said, both questions can be true – “because of and in spite of.” I can say I am who I am today because of my parents who believed in my education in spite of the culture does support girls education.
Thank you for sharing your amazing family story! You have a beautiful family. Glory to our God for all His blessings in your life.
Thank you for your kind comments. I do have a beautiful family. I am ever grateful for my wife and for the relationships she has with our children. She is now reading the book, and I look forward to her take on it. I told her that she will love it; we will have to wait and see if that is true. One thing I know for sure is that she was (is) an amazing mom. By the way, you are a parent to your children all their lives; that responsibility stays with you your entire life, even when your kids are old themselves. It is a great and awesome task since we never stop influencing our children — and they never stop influencing us.
Brilliant job Bill. I did not read the whole book as I am busy finalizing a lot of things with work, parking and preparing for my trip to Uganda on Monday. I really liked the portion I read and I look forward to finishing the book. Your post is great and certainly excited me all the more about the book.
Thanks again for sharing about your life and parenting journey. It is encouraging to know for you and your wife’s story that there is not one perfect way of parenting and that “No parent is perfect. No child is perfect.”
Again thank you
Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, do finish the book; it is a great read. It is one of the few books in our program that I read cover to cover in such a short time. I couldn’t put it down. I really wanted to know what happened! I am going to buy a copy of this book for my daughter for Christmas or for her birthday. She and her husband do not yet have children, but when they do, I would like her to have Chua’s input as she prepares for parenthood.
Have a good trip to Uganda. Let’s get together on your return. I will be taking a road-trip with John to South Dakota at the end of this week. Hopefully, we will have some good stories to tell after our journeys. Be safe, my friend.
You add a great personal touch to our reading this week. Our personal paths seem to run parallel so often. My wife and I shared a similar child rearing experience with me gone much of the time with work. Carol was always there for our two boys, also now in their thirties. Especially at the parent teacher conferences – more than once she had to stand on high ground in support of the boys. I was there; I never missed a performance event of any kind including many science fairs and especially sporting event in never missing once in 12 years for both boys. Neither of us were tigers – but we spent many hours at the dinette table drilling math facts, state capitals, phonics drills and cursive practice. They both learned a music instrument (of their choice) but they never achieved the perfection as “Battle Hymn;” I am sure this is because we did not drill practice.
I did not read this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed as did others and read every paragraph, from a child-rearing perspective. For me, the greater significance is in its portrayal of culture and how our cultural heritage is the most instrumental element in defining our environment. It also highlights and confronts the difficulties for families living in multicultural community.
Our children are blessed to have the mothers they have. We too had lots of drilling times with our kids and they also each learned an instrument, but neither of them have kept up their musical careers.
My wife is reading the book now; I look forward to her perspective on the book. She considers herself to be more of an “otter-mom” than a tiger-mom. I think that is a brilliant insight. She has lots of fun with our kids; what a gift to them.
Yes, I agree with you; this was a brilliant book on cross-cultural perspective. I loved that part of the story. I might use this book sometime in one of my classes as a textbook. I would be very interested in my students’ take on this reading. I am sure there would be mixed feelings. Whatever the case may be, it would be a good way to learn about how different cultures view parenting.
Brilliant post. I loved how you started out, because it really are inviting us (or at least me) to recognize the personal integrity and ‘courage’ of the author, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) took a lot of courage to write, but even more courage to actually live out.”
But like any good post, there is more! You shared with us your story and I just about started talking to my computer screen! You were in Christian Camping?!!! Steve (husband) and I started out in Christian Camping. Our camp had an extremely low glass ceiling and we essentially burned out but “oh my gosh!” what a small world! (smile!).
Really that “small worldness” is part of the book and part of our stories, even amid diverse cultures we share things in common, we are influenced by our family cultures and our experiences. What endures and develops resilience is ultimately how we grow as parents. Evident in Amy Chua and in you. The commitment to relationship endures, is nurtured and fostered.
Thanks Bill… best regards…
Oh, my the way … your photo was brilliant! The cub looks reallly pleased with mom! :/
Bill, everyone has remarked on how brilliant your post is, and I will echo that! Remarkable insights. I’ll agree with you – I loved this book. It was a beautiful narrative, and it was REAL. Chua was vulnerable, and while humility may not be part of her repertoire, she was honest in her struggles, in her successes, and in her opinions!
Brilliant question you asked — am I who I am today because of my parents or in spite of my parents? What a great question! The more I sit here thinking about it, if I were to answer honestly, I could go either way. There are many times I look back on my childhood and wonder how I even have any sense of normalcy, but then I also know that my parents, for better or worse, are now my biggest cheerleaders. I wouldn’t exactly call them part of my inner circle, but I am thankful for them and the freedom they gave me to learn, explore and grow.
Brilliant post, Bill. Loved it.