Maybe I should have been. Surprising words to hear from someone like me. By my own estimation I was probably one of those lenient, compromising mothers Amy Chau writes about in her splendid memoir, Battle of Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Memoirs, at least the very good ones, reveal as much as they inform. The exceptional ones make you laugh, not only at the author, because she is laughing at herself, but also at the one reading the book, yourself. Somewhere in the vulnerable stories being told (even when you might be cringing) there is room to see your own story more clearly and hopefully more graciously.
Early in the book the author reveals one of her greatest fears: “family decline.” She understands the why and the how. She describes and understands the hard-working nature of her parents, their self-sacrifice. Her parenting style was something she inherited; she set out to parent her children as her parents had parented her. It was what she knew. In this regard Amy Chua and I are alike. The differences between us begin in the same place we are alike. It pops up in retelling her daughters what she heard from her parents, basics such as, “‘Be modest, be humble, be simple,’ my mother used to chide. ‘The last shall be first.’ What she really meant of course was, ‘Make sure you come in first so that you have something to be humble about.’” Chua understands the link between her parents and herself, an awareness that I have acquired every so slowly over the years. It is an awareness rooted in her identity and her responsibility to perpetuate that identity in her children. “My goal as a parent is to prepare you for the future—-not to make you like me.”
The element of self-sacrifice is evident. Her dedication to learn and prepare almost as much as her daughters is astounding or weird, as both her law students and daughters sometimes asserted. Responding to the question of who are you doing this for? Chua responds, “My answer, I’m pretty sure, is that everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.” It just makes sense doesn’t it? How are Western parents any different? While we think of extreme (and she uses that word several times in the book) there is more to the why things are done for the children, namely, “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.” The self-sacrifice given is to be returned.
What is so refreshing and even challenging in this book is Chua’s vulnerability. She is honest in her self-appraisal, both personally and culturally. There is frankness in her approach that paves the way for humor and growth. Ah, growth. The cultural clash was experienced and challenged most specifically by her younger daughter Lulu. It is in the cultural clash, with potentially dangerous outcomes that I began to reflect on other “take aways” from our reading, particularly concerning the Church.
“The thing about Lulu and me is that we’re at once incompatible and really close.” I love the Church, but there are times, when we are incompatible.
“And that’s how I outsmarted myself, changing our lives forever.” Sometimes change within begins unknowingly.
“You have to stop being so stubborn, Amy. You’re too strict with Lulu—-too extreme. You’re going to regret it.” What are we too extreme about? What do we regret? What might we regret? If we could just begin to bring these out into the open…
“She talks back to you and throws things. You bribe her with presents. What kind of ‘Chinese mother’ are you?” A recent survey concerning church youth programs included a question asking about whether church should be fun. How are we overtly bribing our youth to stay in church or how might we be trying to bribe people to come to church by developing programs that are intended to provide what people need? Or even how do we structure our services so that people will come?
“Families often have symbols: a lake in the country, Grandpa’s medal, the Sabbath dinner. In our household, the violin had become a symbol.” What is the symbol within the Church today? Thinking about family systems theory we might want to single out the identified patient (perhaps those that are leaving the church) and seek to take an individual approach to focus our attention, when what we might need to do is to look at the “family” itself, including generations to recognize traits and behaviors, connections and influences that linger within and upon the whole, rather than the part.
“Most of all the violin had symbolized control. Over generational decline. Over birth order. Over one’s destiny.” As Chua acknowledges ultimately about control. What is it about in the Church? What is “our” symbol?
“I couldn’t lose Lulu. Nothing was more important. So I did the most Western thing imaginable: I gave her the choice. I told her that she could quit the violin if she wanted and do what she liked instead, which at the time was to play tennis.” This is particularly challenging for the Church at present. What is choice and can the Church relinquish control? What does relinquishing control even look like? How does our fear influence our reluctance?
“I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: (1) higher dreams for their children, and (2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take.” On all accounts this is the most intriguing “take away” from the book. The two must go hand in hand. I recognize that my parents had dreams for me as their child. Yet my dreams did not fit with the social reality they had experienced, therefore these dreams were guarded and framed within the prevailing norm — be a teacher. They did have a high regard for how much I could take and I think in some ways the “harshness” as I experienced it within the sentiment of not being good enough was intended to prepare me for the reality that life would throw at me. Ultimately the key may be that (1) and (2) must co-exist, both must be present. Why did Amy Chau’s relationship with her daughters survive? She changed; although we might think getting a dog would be insignificant, it demonstrated change (and yes, desperation) in her.
When I think of this quote in light of the Church I wonder if this is a possibility for us. What if we were to lead with this posture, not from a standpoint of manipulation or control making it about ourselves, but recognized that God has dreams for God’s own sons and daughters, for creation itself. What if we were to lead others so they might find God’s dreams within their own dreams (passions and concerns)? What if we expected more of those in our church pews than they themselves recognize? What if we could call those out by affirming, by providing safety and acceptance? What if we brought these higher dreams together with a higher regard in how much they could do?
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 48, 162-163.
 Chua, 148.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 116.
 Ibid, 73.
 Ibid. 170.
 Ibid., 207.
 Ibid. 212.
 Ibid., 8.