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

Tiger Mother or Mama Grizzly?

Written by: on May 21, 2015

Tiger Mother or Mama Grizzly?images

Chinese Tiger Mother or Western Mama Grizzly . . . Which metaphor resonates with you? Amy Chua in her provocative book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, creates a conversation for the culture chasm that exists between parenting in a Chinese culture as opposed to raising children in a Western culture. This chasm is probably best identified by Chua’s own words when she writes:

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.[1]

While this passage conveys a relatively neutral posture from Chua towards the Western style, much of Chua’s book has more of a distinct bite to its tone. Chua additionally writes:

First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.[2]

Chua claims that the intent of her book is not to rank one parenting style superior to another,[3] but the reader of this passionately written book definitely will get the feel that Western parents are fragile, weak willed, coddlers of their under-achieving young.  Western parents are usually more worried about building their children’s ego.  Or as Chua states it, “In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches.”[4]  I do understand Chua’s take on Western parenting when I come across blog posts that read, “When we choose to cheer for, encourage, and invest in our kids we shape the future.”[5] I found this quote from a blog post on a tweet from a leading marriage and family counselor/communicator.  I also found this quote to definitely be over the top.  But to paint that as the prevailing picture of all Westerners, is definitely too broad of a brush to paint with.

Mama-GrizzliesChua does do a nice job of identifying a significant difference in parenting philosophy between the Chinese and Western cultures, but the image that came to my mind when I thought of an American parallel image to a Chinese Tiger Mother was actually that of a Western Mama Grizzly.  While truly a different philosophy, the description and accuracy of a single image for strict parenting verses empowering parenting does not adequately or accurately address the real issues of the cultural influences and nuances of parenting in two different world’s.

Overall I felt Chua, while walking on the edge of judgementalism, was writing this book as more of a confessional as opposed to an instruction manual.  With her passion for how she raised her daughters (and how she went about many other things in her life for that matter) and the personality in which she displayed in doing so, I believe while for many she overshadowed the humor she wrote with that I took as an air of humility that made the book rather enjoyable and quite actually a great read.

As a parent, I did identify with the Western cultural pressure to handle our kids with great care as if their feelings should be of our utmost care and concern.  My personal parenting style is definitely influenced by this pressure.  Additionally, my personality inclines me to be non-confrontational in providing lots of room for my kids to choose, experience, and adjust, but I do have my boundary’s, my fight, and my bite that comes out when they are in danger of our everybody is a winner and gets a ribbon culture.  I guess that is why I like the Grizzly analogy; because while the cubs can play, they also know the way . . . of the Grizzly parent.

[1] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2011), 63, Amazon Kindle edition.

[2] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2011), 51-52, Amazon Kindle edition.

[3] Amy Chua, “Tale of a Tiger Mother” (video), January 12, 2012, accessed May 21, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGHvGw4_ExE.

[4] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2011), 52, Amazon Kindle edition.

[5] Mike Berry, “The Importance of Cheering for Our Children,” Confessions of a Parent: Hope and humor from the trenches (blog), May 18, 2015, accessed May 21, 2015, http://www.confessionsofaparent.com/the-importance-of-cheering-for-our-children/?utm_content=buffer9a05d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer.


About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

9 responses to “Tiger Mother or Mama Grizzly?”

  1. Dave Young says:

    Phil, Nice synopsis. Parenting is so personal, and there are so many nuances in anyones parenting which probably make them all unique and not easily contrasted. I appreciate how you used the caution of Chua writing in too “broad a brush”.

    I think it would be interesting to start parenting all over again with this knowledge going into it. I think I would ultimately lean more on the western style but I’m hopeful that I would build a foundation of appropriate expectations, such as parents receive honor. Expectations that allow for western freedom and creativity but still insist on compliance with the family norms. I used to think that expectations and rules should be backed off of as children proceed through their teens into young adulthood. I’m now under the mindset that some expectations and rules need to be consistently reinforced through out life. Alais I’m learning a bit too late.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Dave, I think if I could pick any superhero power it would be the power of hindsight (technically seeing into the future so we can correct the present and avoid the need for hindsight:) If that could be “bottled” we could do parent seminars all over this world in every tongue, tribe and nation and I believe God would reign! 🙂 Maybe I’ll change my dissertation and research ramp-up project today!

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Love it Phil,

    I am going to say i am down with the Western culture of parenting for the most part. I dont like to deal with my daughters feelings but i have to. She does not think like a man or me so i have to try to be understanding. I especially like this part of your blog, “but the reader of this passionately written book definitely will get the feel that Western parents are fragile, weak willed, coddlers of their under-achieving young.” I really got that kind of drift from her. And to me the picture of that tiger jumping over the piano to that child is more what Chua seemed like. That might be a little harsh but dont talk too much about our Western culture. We got some Grizzley moms in the West now lets see who wins!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Travis, I think there could be a new MMA class/division: Tiger Moms vs. Grizzly Mamas. Sign me up for the pay-per-view on that one. Forget Mayweather and Pacquiao – give me Amy Chua vs. Sarah Palin any day:)!

  4. Brian Yost says:

    Loved the post, especially the pictures. One struggle I had with Chua is that she seems to think that to be successful, you have to be extraordinary at whatever you do and that what you do better be important. Being second is not good enough, playing drums is not good enough, etc. This means that a “normal” person could not be successful. If her kids worked a 9-5 job or decided to work construction, they would probably be made to feel inferior. It seems that there is already too much of the “I’m better than you” philosophy in this world.

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Brian, That is funny. I think you are exactly right with how she feels and how she wants her daughters to feel. She did think normal 9-5 jobs are for “garbage” and she wanted her daughters to think that too. I do not think she would think that if it happened and that is what they became . . . but it didn’t and I think she thinks that is because she thought it that that and instilled that in her daughters :):):).

  5. Mary Pandiani says:

    When I saw your “Grizzly” picture – I was reminded of the mom in Baltimore who found her son after seeing him on the TV rioting. Her Mama Bear certainly came out in that incident. We have such contrasting images of parenting – for some who let their kids “be” their own person to others who are helicopter parents. Then there are those whose kids need more discipline – look at the difference between Sophia and Lulu – than others. I still believe parenting is the final step towards making us, as adults, grow up because it forces us on our knees, even now when my kids are adults (something y’all get to look forward to).

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      My knees are feeling it! I like your helicopter image. I definitely am inclined to a “let it be-er” but usually on my knees I know some lines have to be drawn and my kids are better off for it . . . prayerfully! 🙂

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