This week’s reading was mysterious and wonderful. Amy Chua had me captivated in the breathtaking story of her amazing family – and her Chinese parenting style. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) took a lot of courage to write, but even more courage to actually live out. After starting the book, I could not put it down and read it in its entirety in a little over a day. The book made me wonder if all Chinese families are like this, thus focusing my attention to the upcoming Advance in Hong Kong. But the book also made me think a lot about my own parenting style that my wife and I practiced when raising our own two children (both now in their 30’s).
Chinese parents expect – and demand – that their children be successful academically, extracurricularly, and in every other conceivable way. Traditionally, Chinese parents do whatever it takes to see to it that their children turn out perfectly. But is perfect a realistic goal? Is what we say – and what we do not say – to our children the primary influence that shapes them, or are there other influencers as well? From a Western perspective, the Chinese way of parenting seems harsh at the least, abusive at the worst. From a Chinese perspective, Western-style parenting is far to too lax and does not develop children to their fullest potential. So which style is better? There are good arguments on both sides. Eventually, however, because of her unique situation – and unique children, Amy Chua ends up practicing some of both styles and arrives at a compromised position with her own children. Frankly, I was happy about this, and I believe that if that had not happened, the book would have ended much, much differently. By the way, I would recommend this book to any new parents who want to think deeply about how to raise their children in a multi-cultural society.
So, am I who I am today because of my parents or in spite of my parents? And that question also goes for my children – because of or in spite of? Or are these irrelevant questions? Or can they both be true – because of and in spite of?
My children were born in 1982 and 1984. When my son was born, I was working at a Christian camp as a curriculum and program director. When my daughter was born, I was working two jobs just to make ends meet. For most of their early years, I was in full-time ministry, mostly working with youth. My children became a part of my youth groups and my youth groups became part of my children. My kids had lots of influencers. Then, I went to graduate school. While in school, I had three part-time jobs; I also spent a lot of time in the library – lots of time. Thankfully, during all of this time, my wife was a stay-at-home mom. This wasn’t because we planned it this way; it was merely the way it happened. I worked outside the home; my wife worked inside the home. She raised our children, filling them with love, acceptance, a sense of belonging, and lots of fun. We were poor. As I look back at it now, I do not know how we made it, but we did. We then moved to Egypt where I taught English to 74 fifth graders. And my kids went to an Egyptian school for a while. But for several reasons, they ended up leaving the school before the end of the year, so we started our own school, The Nile River School. My wife was the teacher; I was the principal. My kids were the only two students. We had a great curriculum and lots of extracurricular activities. We even went on fieldtrips to Cyprus and to Jordon. My kids had a very wonderful experience, a wonderful education. It marked them for life. It marked all of us for life.
After returning from the Middle East, I got back into ministry Stateside. My wife continued to be a stay-at-home mom until the kids were in third and fifth grades. She started working then as an educational assistant at their school, but she was always home when the children were home. I continued to work at least two jobs. So who raised the kids? We both did. However, the primary influence came consistently from my wife. She was everything to her kids and her kids were everything to her. Without that, what would have happened to them? Who would they be today? I will never know. But this I do know; both of my children are wonderful adults. They are opposite from one another as night and day. My son is one of the finest men I know. He and I are close. We laugh together – and we cry together. My daughter is one of the most competent people I have ever met. We are not as close, but I love her deeply and that love grows more with each passing year. She calls my wife almost every day to talk about nothing and everything; so does my son. In our story I was the provider more than anything else. But my wife was the nurturer, the disciplinarian, the best friend, the coach, the referee, the tear dryer, the cheerleader, and the ever-present MOM. To this day, I am convinced that my children are the wonderful humans they are mostly because of her. I am eternally grateful, as are my children. I am extremely blessed, as are my kids.
No parent is perfect. No child is perfect. I don’t know what style of parenting is best. But I do know that mothers are usually the most important person in a child’s life. That was definitely true for my children. I cannot say that my wife was or is a Tiger Mom, but I do know that she was the best mom I have ever seen in action. I am forever grateful. Thanks Tiger Lady!