Amy Chua has a bit of Jennifer Hatmaker’s (www.jenhatmaker.com) humor – sarcastic, extremist, and self-deprecating. All the while, she, like Jennifer, hits on some major soft spots in Western parenting, values, and choices. In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua expresses her desire to raise her two daughters in the Chinese way. Playing off of her Zodiac sign of a Tiger (even though she doesn’t believe in it), she sets out to show how a Chinese mother raises better kids, but finds instead “a bitter clash of cultures and a fleeting taste of glory.” (subtitle) Chua employs every bit of her Tiger-ness through her fearless, powerful, authoritative and magnetic way, even “blinding herself to danger…but draw[ing] on experience, gaining new energies and great strength.” In the end, I’m not sure she would parent any differently; however, there is a bit of humility as she lives between the two cultures of American Western desire for choice and the Chinese way of obedience and honor.
When I mentioned to my middle step-daughter (32) of two toddlers (3 and 4) that I was reading Chua’s book, she laughed and said, “Oh, she was all the rage about three years ago.” Apparently, I missed it, since my daughter (now 21) at the time was just finishing up her teenage years. Perhaps I would have benefitted from it. Then again, I’m not so sure. The cultural differences seem so extreme with regard to types of discipline, choice vs. no-choice, parent allegiance vs. self-differentiation, self-esteem focus vs. assuming strength in a child. Chua speaks of being hated through most of her parenting, and wearing it as a badge of honor. Most Western parents brag about being such a “good friend” to their child. Where’s the answer?
As we study various cultures – African to Asian – different from my own Western understanding, I often find that I want to choose an either/or answer. Yet, in reading Chua’s book, I’m reminded of the value of both/and. That doesn’t mean that cultures need to blend and all become one. Looking at the diversity of how God made this world, I assume God loves differences. Rather, I see the value of holding the two parenting styles, accounting for what works in different children and different cultures, in a creative tension of discernment and humility.
Is that not the same in denominations? Could it be possible that a Methodist might offer something valuable to a Pentecostal, as well as the other way around? By holding up what I consider sacred (i.e. Infant Baptism) to another doctrinal understanding, I have the opportunity to see the value of adult baptism by immersion. Instead of pointing a finger of ridicule and critical judgment that serves only to demean, I can learn from the differences. In Chua’s assertion, she helps me discern what values I consider important, even in my dissenting opinion.
I’m reminded that we need to first start with what we have in common. For Chua, she like most parents loves her children. Additionally, she wants them to be contributing members of society, again another value of most Western parents. Even coming from a Dragon Lady grandmother (extremely strong woman), Chua still seeks after the mantra of her parents: “Be modest. Be humble. Be simple.” Most parents desire to pass on values to their children that serve them well.
However, after that starting point of commonality, acknowledgment of the differences is just as valuable, especially in trying to understand the context whereby someone is making a decision. For instance, I worked under two pastors (both Westerners) who would characterize their values as the same. For instance, they would list the same ten values; however, after prioritizing them, those values were the inverse of the others. As a result, the two pastors constantly fought, even though “we’re the same.” The disconnect of recognizing their different approaches proved to drive a wedge between them as they lacked the understanding of how to bridge the discord.
Understanding how we are different, as well as similar, gives us a greater capacity to engage others – from the Chinese Tiger Mother to the Yoga – Latte-drinking mom. The same will be true when we travel to Hong Kong where we will encounter a very different culture. Something I hope will challenge me even more.
With a final and lingering thought, I’m wondering whether there is a right and wrong way to parent. That leads to other questions, is there is right way to do culture and a wrong way? What about churches? Leadership? Certainly, there are standards, certain practices that cultivate a healthier child, a flourishing culture, authentic churches, and competent leaders. So how do I discern in the midst of various perspectives? With appreciation for similarities and differences, living in the both/and, engaging what’s uncomfortable, I’m left with a question that Chua asks of Western parents, “Who are you really doing this for?” I know there are answers (and certainly lots of books) for these questions I ask; however, I think the first place begins with – do I know the “who” behind why I do what I do? Is God at the center of whatever parenting decision, cultural engagement, church interaction, or leadership commitment I make? That’s where I want to begin with my values and choices.
 Ibid, 148.
 Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), 223.