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

Parenting for success

Written by: on May 23, 2015

Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother [1],  is a story about a Chinese mother’s journey to raise her daughters within American culture.  The book is introduced as a story about cultural differences between American and Chinese parenting styles.  However, I found the book to be lacking in reality for what most families in American face, no matter what their cultural heritage.  Chua is a professor at Yale Law School, and is married to man who is also a successful lawyer, professor, and author.  Her family doesn’t live the typical life of most people in America, and opportunity has been granted to her via status and wealth. Reading her story, there were certain elements that resonated with me as I also set very high standards for my children.  However, I failed to see any life lessons or significant cultural insight gained from reading the book.  Instead, I found it a light, quick read that made me smile as I’ve experienced some similar scenarios with my own children.

Throughout the book, Chua shared her relentless pursuit and push for success for her children.  She places extremely high expectations on her children – they must be the best.  The explanation for her actions is that her parenting style is a result of her Chinese heritage.  In comparison to what she calls Chinese parenting, she makes broad assumptions about American parenting.  Although Chua admits that American parenting styles vary and that she knows there are exceptions, she leaves the impression that American’s just allow their children to make all of their own decisions with limited oversight and that expectations are set at very low levels.  Chua lives in the Midwest, in a wealthy community.  I am an American parent with very, very high expectations for my children.  The American parent that Chua describes isn’t typical to what I see, and I am also from the Midwest.  I live in a community where education and musical achievement are both highly valued.  The difference that I see is that Chua has the wealth behind her in which to push her children farther than most parents can.  Music lessons, instruments, international travel, and time off of work to drive children to their various events takes money, and lots of it.  It also sounds as if Chua has some very influential connections, which allowed her children opportunities that others simply don’t have.

I have to wonder if Chua’s personality type has more to do with her parenting than her Chinese background.  She shares a touching story about her sister, and in doing so gives the impression that her sister has recommended she lighten up when it comes to her children.  While it sounds as if Chinese families (as a general rule) place much emphasis and focus on being very good academically and musically, I believe that there was something even more that drove Chua to parent in the way that she did.  If being Chinese was the key factor, then the account of her sister would have told a slightly different story.  It doesn’t sounds as if her sister has the same approach with her own children.  I have know several Chinese families, and I have noticed that many are very good parents and take an interest in their children’s success.  But, I haven’t seen that they consistently push their children as far as Chua.  I am an INTJ, which is a rare personality type for a female.  As such, my own parenting style is stern, and I am more intense and focused on driving my children to success.  My expectation is that my children succeed.  They are very smart and talented, and as such they require parenting above the norm.  Autonomy, achievement, critical thinking and perseverance are all qualities that I expect from my children.  At times, my children have said that I take things too far.  But, I also know that they are learning to succeed.  It makes me feel good when they express that they are thankful that I didn’t allow them to go down the wrong paths as children (says the 16 and 21 year old:)).  I admit that I love it when my children say, “thank goodness you didn’t let me act like them”, or similar.

Today, I am very proud that I have a daughter who is successfully journeying through college to become a veterinarian (biology major, chemistry minor, and equestrian minor).  I know that she will be successful.  This has been her dream since she was 9 years old.  But, I can’t take the credit for her success.  I am thankful that the Lord has given her gifts and talents, and a vision for her future.  She has worked very hard and has an intuitive drive for success that she was born with.  I couldn’t have successfully pushed her so hard if she wasn’t born with a natural capability.  God knew that we both needed each other – and it turns out that she is an INTJ also.  My son is very much like his father.  He requires a different parenting approach, but is also quite gifted.  His talent is music.  I don’t have to stand over him for hours per day, as Chua did her own children, in order to get him to practice.  He does this himself.  I’ve learned that I must trust the Lord with my children, and that my job is to help grow and polish the talents he gave them.   Trusting isn’t always easy, but He gives me the intuition and wisdom needed.  Sometimes I make mistakes, but my mistakes don’t define my children’s success.  All of this said, I believe that Chua fails to recognize the unique nature that God gives each person (including her children), regardless of their cultural background.  When I read her story, I found her own personality, children’s personalities, wealth and status, ethnic background, and own life experience to all be influencing factors that contributed to her parenting style and children’s response.

After reading the book, I came away with the feeling that Chua used her ethnicity to excuse mistakes that she made in parenting.  I was adopted from birth, and don’t know my own ethnic background.  There have been times in life where it is evident that I beat to a slightly different drum than the rest of my family.  This being said, I know that there are ethnic character traits that are common and can be seen in families.  Parenting styles tend to pass from generation to generation, so sometimes there may be a blurry line between what is considered ethnic vs. family styles of parenting.  There are things that I do with my own children that are passed forward from my family.  We call this the “Gardner” way.  My Christian heritage is also reflected in my parenting.  At the end of my life, I want my success in parenting to be measured by my own obedience to Christ and by the fact that I raised my children to know Christ and to be successful in their own, unique calling.  In the end of Chua’s book, I wonder what her definition of success for her children is today.  I didn’t see any indicator that she felt her girls were successful, but instead I heard disappointment that they had gone their own ways instead of her way.

[1] Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin Press, ©2011.


About the Author

Dawnel Volzke

Christ follower, wife, mom, teacher, student, professional...my passion is to serve Christ and my calling is to help organizations become great at fulfilling their mission.

6 responses to “Parenting for success”

  1. Travis Biglow says:

    God’s blessing Dawnel

    I too agree with you on the fact that Chua has prestige and that she is not the norm. I like the things you have said about your own children and how you interact with them. I think you are on the right path in parenting and it is so good to hear such a open understanding of how things go. I feel that its important to help are children to succeed without abusing them in some way. I was watching the food channels Barefoot Contessa and she said her mother was very educated and wanted her to stay out of the kitchen and work only on her education. But her love was in the kitchen and look at what she is doing today!!!!! Blessings Dawnel

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Thanks Travis,
      I like your example of Barefoot Contessa. God gives each of us unique talents and gifts – and it is good when parents help to grow and develop their children in those areas. Sometimes, like cooking, it is easy to see what a person loves. For my son, it is music. His path in college will be easy as he has a vision for what the Lord is calling him to do. Working in a university setting, I often see people (young and adult) struggling to find their niche or calling in life. Many times, I see that life has either been dictated for them or they haven’t had the opportunity to explore their passions. I’d love to see the Christian community become a place where people can find their calling in addition to finding Christ. Too many people haven’t received the type of parenting necessary to help them succeed, so this presents opportunity for the church to step in and fill a huge gap. After all, it takes a community to raise a child.

  2. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dawnel, “I have to wonder if Chua’s personality type has more to do with her parenting than her Chinese background.” I had the same thought! Especially with the humorous way and some of the lightness of the book. While positioned as a Chinese vs. Western parenting cultural clash, I think you could label the tension of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a “Type A” parenting vs. “Type B” parenting clash. I do think culture plays a significant role but most times the culture we find ourselves in in an advantaged and privileged culture is one we have selected … primarily because of our personality:). Nice post!
    /Users/phillipstruckmeyer/Pictures/iPhoto Library.photolibrary/Masters/2015/05/24/20150524-064749/typeapersonality.jpg

  3. Brian Yost says:

    Dawnel, Thanks for your post.
    You said, “I am thankful that the Lord has given her gifts and talents, and a vision for her future.”

    This is what Chua missed in her book and her approach to parenting. Rather than “create” our children in our image or an image we have for them, we should help them realize that they are created in God’s image and help them how to pursue his future for them.

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    “Trusting isn’t always easy, but He gives me the intuition and wisdom needed. Sometimes I make mistakes, but my mistakes don’t define my children’s success.” – isn’t that the essence of trying to be the kind of parent our children need and who God called us to be? Thanks for the simply yet profound reminder of what it means to trust God in the process of raising our children.

  5. Jon Spellman says:

    Dawnel, I kept having the nagging thought while reading this book “it sounds like some white privilege going on here!” The author has never had to scrape or scratch for anything it seems. Yale, Harvard, ho hum….. I have a few Chinese friends and I’ve never seen them be insulting.

    Just random thoughts…


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