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

The Tiger Mother

Written by: on May 26, 2015

While reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I really felt it related to my African cultural context. I grew up in an authoritarian social structure where age and gender-related expectations and values that have been taught are strictly enforced. Similar to Chinese Culture, children in my culture have little or no say in the day-to-day family life, for adults define parameters of conduct and behavioral norms. Unlike Chinese culture, most parents where I grew up give precedence to household chores over studies, so it is a struggle for children to balance household chores and studies. In African culture, similar to Chinese, children are taught to respect and defer to authority figures. Failure to comply is not limited to the punishment of the household but sometimes includes the community at large. Thus, though it is the responsibility of parents to raise their children, the community or the dominant culture play a major role in shaping the children life.

Coming from this background and currently living as an immigrant in the United States, I find Chua’s work a thought provoking and insightful case study in Chinese culture. I truly admire the author for her bravery to passionately impart her family story. Being a first-generation Chinese-American she knows both cultures and presents a sharp comparison of Chinese parenting versus the Western style of parenting. It is interesting that she chose to raise her two daughters in a strict Chinese immigrant culture as oppose to the Western style of parenting. Unlike many immigrants’ kids I know who reject their parent’s culture, Chua chose to revere her Chinese heritage and set up strict rules for her girls to follow. She said, “she never allowed her daughters to: 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, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.”(pp, 3-4). Chua’s parenting methods were apparently culturally acceptable and believed to be producing academically and in piano/violin successful kids. Fortunately, it is not a parenting manual for others. Her family story is a great reminder that parenting varies from culture to culture and at the core of every parting there is the desire to pass down cultural values that shaped their identities. Every parent wishes the best for their children and Chua’s story eloquently demonstrates what a carrying mother can do.

Another lesson from the author is that with the intention to prove the superiority of Chinese parenting over the Western style she heavily criticizes and makes sweeping generalizations. In my opinion, I think judging others using our cultural values will inhibit us from recognizing and appreciating the good in other cultures. I believe we can certainly learn from each other’s ways of parenting. The same lesson can be drawn for leading ministry in cultures different than ours. Instead of simply focusing on the shortcomings, we can choose to focus what we can learn from each other for our ministry context. One of the reason why cross-cultural relationships, whether it is in the family or ministry, often get stuck is when partners undermine their unique differences and fail to recognize other’s ways of leading or parenting as legitimate. This is not easy, as it challenges us to seek to understand things from the point of view of others. It is a humbling process, where listing and discerning are important spiritual traits to find common ground within cross-cultural families and ministry partners.




About the Author

Telile Fikru Badecha

10 responses to “The Tiger Mother”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    Telile, thanks for sharing your views on this book and for making a connection to cross-cultural ministry. You said: “One of the reason why cross-cultural relationships, whether it is in the family or ministry, often get stuck is when partners undermine their unique differences and fail to recognize other’s ways of leading or parenting as legitimate.” I certainly agree with this and wonder what you do in order to learn from others who are different from you?

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Deve, thanks for your thoughts and question. One thing that I would do to learn from others cultures is set aside my cultural values and simply listen to others stories and ways of leading ministry. Then I will be able to discern the lesson I need to draw from my particular ministry context.

  2. Telile,

    What a joy to read your post. You bring out many good insights from this text. I especially liked your comparing and contrasting of Chinese and Ethiopian cultures. That was helpful and insightful. I agree with you that it took courage for Chua to write this book — lots of courage.

    Personally, I thought this was one of the best books we have been assigned to read in the LGP program. It is a great case study on cross-cultural understanding. I think that every new parent should be required to read this book. I was fascinated by its contents, especially by the surprise ending. I loved these two children, their uniquenesses and their determination. What an amazing family. I was glad to see compromise at the end of the story and I believe the ending might have been tragic without that choice.

    Thanks again for your post.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thanks Bill! I would agree with you that the compromise at the end of the story highlights Chua’s willingness to choose change.

  3. Telile, Wonderful takeaways that you observed in reading this week’s book by Amy Chua. Always wonderful to hear your perspective when it comes to books that deal with cultural differences. You are so true that if we judge other people according to our own cultural values they will always come up short because they are not part of our culture and they do not have our cultural values. Unfortunately that is what a lot of people did in America when they read this book. Because they only saw from their cultural perspective of being American and how awful a mother Amy was too her two daughters. Yet Amy also provides some of the feedback she received from Chinese parents who felt that Amy allowed to much disrespect from our second daughter. Again, the Chinese parents who viewed the book were coming from the same cultural mindset as Amy was. Really, for a Chinese mother to own a dog? Hummmm? Seems that Amy Chua is trying to live in both cultures at the same time, thus making, what we in the cultural business, a third culture. This third culture is an amalgamation of parts of two different cultures coming to form a brave and different new culture all together.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thanks Mitch! Amy certainly benefited from the best of both Chinese and Western worlds. Even though she was determined to parent her daughters in Chinese values of excellence, she was willingness to consider other alternatives, especially when she was humbled by her Lulu. The lesson for us in leadership is that ministry is not about us, but it is about the people we serve. It is important that we evaluate our approaches and make changes as needed.

  4. John Woodward says:

    Telile, I do appreciate getting a different take on the book from a “third” culture (your African culture). You always bring such interesting insights from your experiences, which I so appreciate! I think we both had the same take away from the book. I like how you put it: “In my opinion, I think judging others using our cultural values will inhibit us from recognizing and appreciating the good in other cultures.” I found the book at first shocking and troubling, but then I came to understand how easy it is to make judgments– and most of our judgments are “because my experiences are different” – not because there is any “more right” way of doing things. I love being in new cultures and learning new cultural ways. When I come at culture without judgment, I find it easier to learn and understanding. But how do we get people to not jump to judgment? I think that is really the big issue! Thanks again for your wonderful insights!

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      John, thanks for sharing encouraging thoughts. As humans, we are naturally inclined to see our cultures as better than others. The truth is there is good and bad in every culture. Thus, we jump to judgment about others culture, we miss the opportunity to learn and understand. Like you say not to jump to judgment is a big issue but it is a spiritual discipline for us as believers to practice. Thanks again.

  5. Miriam Mendez says:

    Telile, I appreciate how you lifted up the cultural differences and invited and/or challenged us to listen and discern and learn from others. It is easy to judge others and how they go about things—in this case–parenting. Is my way better or worse? Is their way better or worse? It’s not about better or worse, it simply is different and I believe we can learn from one another. Thanks Telile for your insights.

    • Telile Fikru Badecha says:

      Thank you Miriam! I agree with you. Parenting varies from culture to culture and I too believe that we certainly can learn from each other.

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