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

Voice and Choice

Written by: on May 29, 2015

I do not follow Facebook closely. I enjoy it as a connection with family and friends; it is not my preferred method of communication. On a recent post a neighbor shared a special achievement of his twelve year old son, Justin.[1] Justin has always been a good athlete and is involved in year-around sports. He plays in a twelve year old community baseball league. He is good. Recently he hit a homerun clearing a three hundred foot fence! Quite an achievement for a twelve year old especially when there is no apparent physical reason for such an achievement; he is not big for his age although it is obvious he trains and practices hard at the techniques. The father, a local pastor, had the video camera on and obviously thrilled by his son’s accomplishment posted the short video on Facebook. There were a slew of accolades from family and friends that shared the father’s delight over Justin’s achievement. However, one team mother, obviously upset by the whole affair, chided the pastor for being insensitive and offending her child who “was hurt and felt bad.” It started a firestorm … beginning with the pastor’s wife declaring “you can say anything you want about me but when you hit my husband and son, the horns come out.” After several days of sometimes vicious attacks against “those people” the whole dispute ended with several being publicly de-friended.

While this whole Facebook travesty occurred, I was reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom by Amy Chua.[2] My first impression of Chua’s book did not leave a good impression; I expect if it had not been a required read, I would never have picked it up. It all began with the author’s statement on the content and purpose of the book:

This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. It’s also about Mozart and Mendelssohn, the piano and the violin, and how we made it to Carnegie Hall. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.

She then clarifies that the whole thing did not turn out as planned, which aroused some curiosity:

But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.[3]

The phrase “clash of cultures” caught my attention and I read on. First impressions can be wrong.

I loved Chau’s Battle Hymn; it is one of the few books where I have read every word, cover to cover. Although I cannot clearly state Chau’s purpose, I do not believe it is intended to be a book on how to raise children. In fact, Chau makes the comment in response to criticism, “My book’s not about telling other parents what to do.”[4] So what is it about? It is about family, relationship, uniqueness, individuality, choice, expectation and how culture influences family living in community and society.

My own reading did not give me the sense of cultural “clash” so much as it gave a greater awareness of the significance of cultural differences and the importance of understanding cultural context. Of course, Lulu in her desire for friends and “sleepovers” created clash or confrontation. Chau does clearly and sometimes humorously reveal a stark contrast between Eastern and Western culture. It is obvious in making the contrast, she does advance Eastern culture. Consider the contrast the author sees in Eastern verses Western parenting;

  • Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something … Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
  • Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. … Westerners [don’t] have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents.
  • Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. … [in contrast] Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices,[5]

Again, I want to emphasize that in my opinion, Battle Hymn is not a textbook on child-rearing; however, the book gives great insight into what we do as parents. The point is not to see parenting in cultural context as necessarily a matter of love. Chau makes the assumption that all parents love their children. She notes, “It’s just an entirely different parenting model.”[6] One of the most revealing cultural contrasts is seem in the following quote:

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.[7]

Chau’s cultural bias is seen in this instance. For me, that is okay, it only emphasizes the significance of culture in our relationships. She also refers to these differences as “a clash of worldviews.” It is clear these concepts are important to understand not only in family relationships but also in community, society, in the classroom and in the work place.

Chau really did not change my thinking much; only inspired me. Raising children is a daunting task; sometimes frightening or intimidating while at other times it is a joyous family task, heartening, and tremendously rewarding. We raised two boys (another story in contrast to two girls) and we allowed them to choose: their sport, instrument, university and wives. Now, they are rearing their own kids (how different with grand kids!). How significant is this? When our older son chose Miami of Florida, wow! What a day. The beauty of the campus, the palm trees (specifically significant from Ohio), the lakes and spaciousness of the campus was overwhelming. When our younger son began to look for his undergraduate school, he visited many campuses in the South including Miami. One cloudy overcast day in April with cold, snow (in April), wintry barren trees, he stood in the “valley” on Anderson University in Indiana and looked around. He said, “You know, I think I have found my Miami of the North!” And so he did; a parents (western) dream come true. Chau does in the end question, “Choice…I wonder if that’s what it all comes down to…?”[8]

As I relate the Facebook incident to Battle Hymn, I am made aware of how different and difficult raising children can be. I am certain there is no one “right way.” I am also sure we never really get it completely right and when we do get it right I am not sure we know we got it right. One thing I am quite sure, both of the Facebook moms that fought over their baseball boys ought to read this book.

[1] NOTE: Name is changed by the story is true.

[2] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Kindle ed. (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2011)

[3] Ibid., 1.

[4] Ibid., afterward.

[5] Ibid., 52, 62.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 50-51.

[8] Ibid., Coda.

About the Author


6 responses to “Voice and Choice”

  1. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great job on your post!! I have enjoyed reading the blog posts of parents like you, Bill and Carol who have been at it for a long while than myself. Your story is encouraging to me as young parent and like you I enjoyed reading the portion of the book I was able to cover. Since I preparing to travel to Uganda on Monday, it’s been a few hectic weeks with work, school and family, but I look forward to finishing the whole book at some point. I resonated with a lot of what Chua wrote including the quotes to relayed from her book in your post.

    I liked your statement, “Chau really did not change my thinking much; only inspired me. Raising children is a daunting task; sometimes frightening or intimidating while at other times it is a joyous family task, heartening, and tremendously rewarding.”

    I enjoy being a parent and most especially the privilege it is have the support of my fellow parent, my lovely wife. Together we are better!

    Thanks Ron

    • Ashley Goad says:

      Ron, I thoroughly enjoyed your post’s reflections. As I was coming to the end and saw Michael’s comment here, I was struck by something… Where was the father in Chua’s story? He was alluded to several times, but in the beginning, Chua directly said this was a story of the two girls. I wonder how much of a parenting influence the father had at all? Was he involved in any way? Was he sitting in the audience at the piano recitals with a video camera? Michael just mentioned how parenting is a team sport for he and Kristen. I wonder if Chua felt the same way? …. Just some of my wanderings and wonderings! 🙂

      • Julie Dodge says:

        Ashley – Chua actually at one point said that it would take a whole different book to tell the father’s story. In some ways I appreciated that he was present, but only in the background. He did speak from time to time, but in those endless practices and homework… I think he gave her space. The American way. but his story would be… fascinating.

  2. Ron…
    I am right there with you I loved Amy Chua’s book and her writing style. Sometimes I wonder how things converge and remind myself that you can’t make these things up! The other day I was at the deli counter in the grocery store. An Asian woman a little younger than myself was anxiously waiting to be “waited” on, at one point literally walking in circles. She determinedly got the help she sought and then laughed at herself and in a good-natured way turned to me to apologize (well sort of). After reading “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” I got it or rather I got her!

    Then to top it off I am the online adjunct for a summer hybrid course at GFES for Pastoral Counseling. Students are reading Edwin Friedman’s “Generation to Generation” which is oh so relevant to Chua’s book and your situation.

    Family systems theory looks at the “whole” not the one acting out or even the one in serious trouble (as in individual counseling) but at the family system – even generations because we carry that with us into the present. It is fascinating and it too was so helpful. We might thing that Lulu was that “identified patient” yet Amy realized insightfully that it was not Lulu as much as it was her and even her way of parenting in a different culture.

    Your Facebook friends would also benefit from “Generations to Generations.” (or perhaps our earlier reading by Friedman).

    Thoughtfully written post Ron! Best regards…

  3. Ron, what a true application to how we often times coddle our children to protect them from any possible hurt. The mother of the boy who was hurt and felt bad should understand that if her boy had done something wonderful like hitting a home run she would also rejoice and help the “self-esteem” of her own boy. How crazy that woman wants to shelter her son from the victories of others. Wow!!

    I also found Amy Chua’s both intriguing and I too read the entire book. Whether it was out of my curiosity or my desire to see how this Tiger mother, using the Chinese parenting style, would eventually deal with the foreseen rebellion of her younger daughter, I just kept on reading. In raising my four children I have to stand with you that regardless of how they turn out I cannot take all the blame nor can I take all the credit. As you stated “I am also sure we never really get it completely right and when we do get it right I’m not sure we know we got it right.” Parenting is one of those things that cannot be transferred from family to family, like say, gardening – “just add this amount of water, this amount of miracle growth, provide this much sunlight and ‘Walla’ you have a beautiful garden.” Though there are some general guidelines, the personality of both the parent and the child determine a lot of how we handle our parenting task. Great takeaways Ron.

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    Loved your post, Ron. I loved how you started hesitant, and then, like me, loved it. And read every word. This was a great read. And as you note, it is not so much a book about parenting as it is a memoir of one parent’s experience in her struggle to retain her Chinese cultural context in a western world. Loved your post. Oh – and I loved the Facebook example. It was such a great example of how one parent might react – that a pastor perhaps shouldn’t boast, or perhaps a father shouldn’t point out how great their son was because the other kid didn’t do as well? I don’t know that whole story, but I think it is a great example of some western thinking.

    Thanks Ron!

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