Parenting, Values, and Choices
Amy Chua has a bit of Jennifer Hatmaker’s (www.jenhatmaker.com) humor – sarcastic, extremist, and self-deprecating. All the while, she, like Jennifer, hits on some major soft spots in Western parenting, values, and choices. In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua expresses her desire to raise her two daughters in the Chinese way. Playing off of her Zodiac sign of a Tiger (even though she doesn’t believe in it), she sets out to show how a Chinese mother raises better kids, but finds instead “a bitter clash of cultures and a fleeting taste of glory.” (subtitle) Chua employs every bit of her Tiger-ness through her fearless, powerful, authoritative and magnetic way, even “blinding herself to danger…but draw[ing] on experience, gaining new energies and great strength.” In the end, I’m not sure she would parent any differently; however, there is a bit of humility as she lives between the two cultures of American Western desire for choice and the Chinese way of obedience and honor.
When I mentioned to my middle step-daughter (32) of two toddlers (3 and 4) that I was reading Chua’s book, she laughed and said, “Oh, she was all the rage about three years ago.” Apparently, I missed it, since my daughter (now 21) at the time was just finishing up her teenage years. Perhaps I would have benefitted from it. Then again, I’m not so sure. The cultural differences seem so extreme with regard to types of discipline, choice vs. no-choice, parent allegiance vs. self-differentiation, self-esteem focus vs. assuming strength in a child. Chua speaks of being hated through most of her parenting, and wearing it as a badge of honor. Most Western parents brag about being such a “good friend” to their child. Where’s the answer?
As we study various cultures – African to Asian – different from my own Western understanding, I often find that I want to choose an either/or answer. Yet, in reading Chua’s book, I’m reminded of the value of both/and. That doesn’t mean that cultures need to blend and all become one. Looking at the diversity of how God made this world, I assume God loves differences. Rather, I see the value of holding the two parenting styles, accounting for what works in different children and different cultures, in a creative tension of discernment and humility.
Is that not the same in denominations? Could it be possible that a Methodist might offer something valuable to a Pentecostal, as well as the other way around? By holding up what I consider sacred (i.e. Infant Baptism) to another doctrinal understanding, I have the opportunity to see the value of adult baptism by immersion. Instead of pointing a finger of ridicule and critical judgment that serves only to demean, I can learn from the differences. In Chua’s assertion, she helps me discern what values I consider important, even in my dissenting opinion.
I’m reminded that we need to first start with what we have in common. For Chua, she like most parents loves her children. Additionally, she wants them to be contributing members of society, again another value of most Western parents. Even coming from a Dragon Lady grandmother (extremely strong woman), Chua still seeks after the mantra of her parents: “Be modest. Be humble. Be simple.” Most parents desire to pass on values to their children that serve them well.
However, after that starting point of commonality, acknowledgment of the differences is just as valuable, especially in trying to understand the context whereby someone is making a decision. For instance, I worked under two pastors (both Westerners) who would characterize their values as the same. For instance, they would list the same ten values; however, after prioritizing them, those values were the inverse of the others. As a result, the two pastors constantly fought, even though “we’re the same.” The disconnect of recognizing their different approaches proved to drive a wedge between them as they lacked the understanding of how to bridge the discord.
Understanding how we are different, as well as similar, gives us a greater capacity to engage others – from the Chinese Tiger Mother to the Yoga – Latte-drinking mom. The same will be true when we travel to Hong Kong where we will encounter a very different culture. Something I hope will challenge me even more.
With a final and lingering thought, I’m wondering whether there is a right and wrong way to parent. That leads to other questions, is there is right way to do culture and a wrong way? What about churches? Leadership? Certainly, there are standards, certain practices that cultivate a healthier child, a flourishing culture, authentic churches, and competent leaders. So how do I discern in the midst of various perspectives? With appreciation for similarities and differences, living in the both/and, engaging what’s uncomfortable, I’m left with a question that Chua asks of Western parents, “Who are you really doing this for?” I know there are answers (and certainly lots of books) for these questions I ask; however, I think the first place begins with – do I know the “who” behind why I do what I do? Is God at the center of whatever parenting decision, cultural engagement, church interaction, or leadership commitment I make? That’s where I want to begin with my values and choices.
 Ibid, 148.
 Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 223.
17 responses to “Parenting, Values, and Choices”
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Mary, really good questions. I especially resonate with “Who are you really doing this for?” I have a 19, 14, and just turning 11 year old girls and I think I forget (a LOT of the time) that I am not raising them for myself, I’m raising them because God entrusted them to me… to make them into thoughtful, helpful, Jesus-loving ADULTS. I many times get my eyes off of that goal and get swept up in the frustration that comes from their actions that, if I’m honest, is really about me. NOT them. There are three pieces of God’s big puzzle that have their names on them and it has been given to Tina and I to deliver those pieces, intact, to the frame.
It’s not about me
And what gifts they are to you and your wife. As well, I’m sure they are blessed (even with that awful mullet picture) to have you both as their parents.
They think my mullet is “boss”
Thanks Mary! I stopped and have been thinking after reading your statement, “Understanding how we are different, as well as similar, gives us a greater capacity to engage others…” I totally agree with this but see it as such a challenge. Understanding how we are different/similar starts with understanding ourselves and that seems to be really difficult for most people and often takes deep reflection and the guidance of others. This is where ignorance and apathy become such dangerous weapons in a community. I’m not sure how to encourage this kind of reflection within my community but I know it’s something I must start doing better myself.
I used to believe that people did this kind of reflection naturally. But I’m beginning to see how it has to be more of a practice. Somehow once described to me the definition of a saint – it’s not someone who doesn’t do anything wrong, it’s the person who notices God sooner than the last time in whatever circumstance. Perhaps that’s the reflection piece we can all begin with.
Both/and all the way! “As we study various cultures – African to Asian – different from my own Western understanding, I often find that I want to choose an either/or answer. Yet, in reading Chua’s book, I’m reminded of the value of both/and.” I think the principles of good parenting are cross-cultural. The cultural context must be the greatest consideration when deciding and style. I like how Dave put it in his concluding paragraph, “One values intimacy, the other values honor.” intimacy and honor are the same elephant of respect that every culture needs. I was surprised to see how controversial this book was and how our American pop culture took such great offense with the either/or reaction. Great post Mary. Praying for you over the weekend.
Thanks Phil for the prayers. We all benefitted from them. I never really thought of parenting as cross cultural – but you’re right. It’s cross generational, cross technological, cross intellectual, cross purposeful. It keeps us on our knees, certainly.
Phil… Holy smoke man! “Cross ciltural parenting”. There’s a book in there
Great post, as always. I especially like how you thought through how the differences we hold can be seen as an opportunity for growth. It doesn’t have to be either/or but it can be both/and… The tension in having very different views doesn’t have to be a source of conflict but an opportunity to learn from the positive characteristics of the other, all the while, not necessarily conforming to their approach or belief. I appreciate your example of this “By holding up what I consider sacred (i.e. Infant Baptism) to another doctrinal understanding, I have the opportunity to see the value of adult baptism by immersion. Instead of pointing a finger of ridicule and critical judgment that serves only to demean, I can learn from the differences. ” Thanks Mary for keeping your eye on compassion.
I appreciate your insight, Dave – I guess I’m trying to find ways to look at those places of potential conflict as invitations by God to practice what it means to discern, love, and act wisely.
Great post I ended with a similar conclusion to the book, asking what Chua’s views of success are. I believe that all parents need to ask themselves what they consider successful parenting to be. When we can articulate our goals, then our actions align. Chua’s actions were a result of her definition of success. Her values were clearly evident.
I agree about the values – and now, I need to ask God to help me evaluate my values. Because while they may be important to me, they may not be all that important to God.
God bless you Mary,
I think you see things in a great way. Understanding differsity and incorporating them is not a bad idea. And its hard to decide sometimes what either/or you must choose. In the same the breath we are the sum total of all we have been through and experienced. And i have no problem with incorporating all i have learned and experienced in the way that I parent. I dont think we turned out bad so our parents did a good job. And i think its really important that we stick to what we believe and know and tried as we parent. God bless you Mary you are in my prayers!!!!!!!!!
Thanks Travis for the prayers.
Holding onto what it true creates a steadfastness for our kids. And how we hold onto it – with humility and love – speaks as much to our kids. I see that in your description of your father. I imagine you are passing that onto your daughter as well.
Yes i am Mary glad to hear from you today! blessings
“they would list the same ten values; however, after prioritizing them, those values were the inverse of the others.”
I loved the example of the pastors having the same values, but different priorities. If we could better wrap our mind around the fact that this is reality and that it is ok, we would perhaps not be so ridiculed by the world for being “divided”. Thanks for you great post.
I used to think that all the denominations in the Protestant world were rather silly. But I’m finding that there is quite a lot to be gained in allowing for the differences, as long as we continue to “show we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” 🙂 (Just had to sing it out loud to remember it)