Hello, my name is Ashley, and I am an addicted Netflix binger. I have had this problem since Netflix originated. Over the Memorial Day weekend, my friends and family were out of town, and I was left to my television and Apple TV. Instead of working ahead in school, or readying myself for my upcoming Missions Event at work, or packing for next week’s trip to Russia, I turned on Netflix and found a wonderful new show…Parenthood. This show ran for six seasons, just recently having its series finale, but until last Friday, I had never heard of it. Being two seasons in to the drama, I can tell you the show chronicles the lives of the very large, colorful, imperfect Braverman family. Zeek Braverman is the head-strong, Vietnam-vet patriarch, and with his wife, Camille, they have four children – Adam, Sarah, Julia, and Crosby. Adam is the stereotypical oldest child, full of responsibility, and with wife Kristina, they have a daughter and a son, who eccentrically battles Asperger’s syndrome. Sarah Braverman is a single mother with two kids – the bright but rebellious Amber, and the sullen and sensitive Drew. Next in line is Julia, a type-A attorney, who is married to Mr. Mom Joel, and together they raise child-genius Sydney. Finally, Crosby is the baby of the family, struggling with commitment and coping with the newfound knowledge of his five-year old son, Jabbar. Although each sibling and family has its own share of everyday challenges to grapple with, they still manage to be there for each other in their hours of need. Within two episodes, I was in love with the Braverman family and wished I could be part of their support system.
What in the world does any of this have to do with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua? Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a story of parenthood, albeit from an alternative perspective and theory than I was watching on my television screen. Chua is a mom of two Chinese-Jewish-American daughters. The first daughter, Sophia, is the easy child, naturally falling in to Chua’s authoritative parenting style, but her second daughter, Lulu sends her for a loop. She’s a headstrong firecracker, unwilling to yield any power to her mother. I was reading this book while simultaneously watching Parenthood, and while the two, at first glance, appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, they, in fact, had much in common:
- Both are, I believe, intended to shock or exaggerate parenting and family dynamics.I imagine a Chinese parent reading Chua’s book would extrapolate a lot of head-nodding, while an American parent watching Parenthood likewise would relate to the everyday struggles of the Braverman family. In the end, I empathized with Chua and her daughters, knowing the battles and struggles they faced, just as much as I loved and longed to be a part of the Braverman family.
- No matter history, background, culture or upbringing, there is nothing equivalent to being a parent. Nothing prepares you for parenthood. The Bravermans did not have it all together, and did not even try to appear otherwise.
- We all want our kids to grow up happy, strong, and self-reliant. Chua and the Bravermans are no different. American and Chinese cultures have very different ideas about the best way to do that. In the end, the Bravermans could learn a few things from Chua, and Chua could learn a few things from the Bravermans. Shouldn’t we all be able to learn from each other?
There were also moments of reading and watching where I realized the gapping holes of distance between Chinese and American parenting skills:
- Watching Parenthood, I was shocked at the communication between parents and children. Everyone speaks at the same time. No one listens. It appears the person who speaks the loudest is the one heard in the end. Having been a youth pastor in my previous life, I can’t tell you how common that type of communication is!
- Chua theorizes that Chinese parents have higher dreams for their children and higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take. (Chua, 8) In my experience, American parents have become experts at making excuses for their children.
- Chua also says American parents are weak-willed and indulgent when it comes to practicing – whether it be homework, school, a sport or musical instrument. (27) Parents bargaining with their children in Parenthood was evident!
- Chinese parents believe they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. (53) Other than patriarch Zeek laying down the hammer from time-to-time, or Julia insisting she teach Sydney the proper way to swim, the Parenthood parents routinely submit to their children’s whims.
I will continue watching Parenthood because I am a surrogate member of the Braverman family now. But, after reading Chua’s book, I am left with personal reflection questions:
- What would my life have been like with a mother like Chua?
- Should self-esteem come before accomplishment, or accomplishment before self-esteem?
- If the latter, should it be achieved by threats and constant monitoring?
- Chua’s teenage daughters are undeniably accomplished, but at what emotional cost?
- I have to admit I was impressed by Chua’s parenting results. Is there a balance between this Chinese authoritarian parenting methods and those of the stereotypical, hands-off, Western culture?