DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Perhaps America Needs a Little More Tiger

Written by: on May 29, 2015

I was mesmerized by this book by Amy Chua entitled The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua’s book read like a personal journal of a sadistic-control-driven-mad-woman admitting the difficulties in parenting and the self-inflicted punishment and self-imposed grueling lifestyle of of being so driven. The story intrigued me that I finished the entire book anticipating the outcome. I was exhausted by the schedule that Amy both endured, and inflicted upon her family. I wondered when this woman slept, if at all. Perhaps Asians need less sleep than the weak Americans. Note to self: Investigate the cultural differences of sleep needs. Even Amy states, “As a purely mathematical fact, people who sleep less live more.”[1] There were times that I literally laughed out loud and other times I gasped at the intense methods and means by which Amy amassed to get her children to do what she wanted them to do. And yet all this was strangely familiar.

As Michelle and I are homeschooling parents and somewhat academics ourselves, (my wife with a masters degree and two undergraduate degrees graduating with summa cum laude from both institutions and myself working on a doctorate), the book got me thinking of how we conduct our education with our four children and contrasting it with the Chinese education model. I also thought the fact that my wife and I lead Chinese students every summer for two weeks as they arrive to learn English and encounter the American culture. This is where Amy’s story was familiar. The Chinese kids we host each summer, ranging from the ages of 8 to 15, and numbering around 50, are always overwhelmed by the love that they receive from their host mother and father and family members. They admitted to us it is all so foreign to them. Not just the culture and language but the enjoyment of life itself. As they eventually become comfortable with us they share the daily grind and pressure they are under back at home to both perform well and achieve the highest honors. The very reason they are traveling to America and other western nations at such young ages is to place such experiences in their resumes. Yes, 10 and 11-year-olds have resumes and they are fairly impressive. Last summer one young 14 year old had already traveled to England, France, Australia, Ireland, and was now in the US for the second time. Each of her trips were for two weeks and without her parents.

Amy Chua argues that Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individuality, by contrast Amy states, “Chinese parenting is one of the most difficult things I can think of. You have to be hated sometimes by someone you love and who hopefully loves you, and there’s just no letting up, no point at which it suddenly becomes easy.”[2] Such a strict parenting model goes “up against an entire value system-rooted in the Enlightenment, individual autonomy, child development theory, and the Universal declaration of human rights-and there’s no one you can talk to honestly, not even people you like and deeply respect.”[3]

All of this reminded me of an article I once read about education in America from a businessman’s perspective. He openly mocked how the educational system tended to cuddle and bend towards individualism of students. “The current public education in America,” he chided, “has the philosophy that each child is like a flower that needs a individual amount of water and sunshine. Therefore, each child should be treated differently as they are individuals who need specific and specialized nurturing and instruction suited to their particular individual needs to help them bloom and blossom into their own individualistic and full potential.” After setting the stage with such “flowering words” (pun totally intended) he proceeded to provide reality to the overgrown individualistic situation. He suggested that in the “real world” individuals cannot go to their bosses in the factory or plant and declare to them, “but boss, I’m an individual flower and need to be treated as such. I am not a morning person and therefore don’t think it is best for me to arrive here with all the other workers so early in the morning.” Do that and see how your flower blossoms.

The majority of the workforce coming out of our public schools will not be treated with such placating individualistic nurturing. The sharp contrast between the current public educational dream world and the reality of future employment experience was detailed and extrapolated quite vividly by the no-nonsense business man. The reality is that conformity is not only expected, but demanded by all in the workforce. You are expected to give 100% to the company. If not you can be replaced with another “flower.” In the real world expectations are set for certain arrival times, lengths of breaks, output of production, obedience to company policy and employer’s demands. There are no “flower tenders” in today’s competitive workforce. Are we really preparing our children to face that reality through our individualistic nurturing methods or do we need a little more Tiger mother mentality in our education system?

As I read through the battle hymn of the Tiger mother I realized that though there is a cultural difference between Amy and, say Michelle, both mothers want what is best for their children. I have heard the “Tiger Mother” come out in Michelle during those grueling homeschool hours. I have since moved out into the garage and set up my standing work station out there. Peace and quite and no prowling Tigers. Yet, as I read some excerpts from the book to Michelle she was horrified at some of the tactics used by Amy. In comparison Michelle looked more like a house pussycat than a Tiger. Regardless of culture the struggle to do the best for your children is always there. “How much do you push?” is always the question. My oldest daughter is self driven. More than any other teenager I have ever met, and remember I youth pastored for 12 years in three different states. She sets her schedule, has her to do list, exercises regularly, does daily devotions, plays classical piano, was a competitive gymnast winning both state and regional championships, enrolled in advance college courses at age 15, volunteers with an inner city ministry, and plays for the children’s worship band. Many parents have asked us how many hours we “have” Briana practice daily on the piano. We laugh as we realize that we have never set an amount for her to practice. She governs herself. Now, if I could say that all my children were that way it would be wonderful, but alas the other three flowers of mine are growing in much different ways. They need the Tiger loosed on them every once in a while. And I do believe that a little tiger will do the body good. Attached is our daughter’s recent recital where she was the grand finale performing Arabesque No. 1 by Claude Debussy. Not perfection but enjoyable.


[1] Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Reprint edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), Loc. 2340.

[2] Ibid., Loc. 1832.

[3] Ibid., Loc. 1819 .

About the Author


Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

11 responses to “Perhaps America Needs a Little More Tiger”

  1. mm rhbaker275 says:

    I loved your post – you have really made a connection with “Battle Hymn.” Rightly so – your children and your global ministry make the cultural understanding and the parenting models relevant in your context. I made similar connections through not so much as a personal application of child-rearing; our two sons on in their thirties.

    As I look back, I will reference one of many (hundreds) of child rearing experiences. When our eldest son entered Jr High School, at our first parent-teacher conference the math teacher told us that we should not contemplate a college prep course for our son. His math aptitude and competency suggested that we plan to send him to vocational school when he entered high school. I could tell you a hundred incidents over our sons high school years that came out of this recommendation/confrontation. I’ll shorten it to say our son completed every available math/trig course in high school always ranking one or two in the class. He went on to get a math intensive structural engineering degree at University of Miami Florida. He completed the rigorous course in four years carrying as many as 18-20 course credit hours; along the way, he lettered all four years in cross country and ran both indoor and outdoor track.

    Our biggest contribution? We believed in him, encouraged him and did not hesitate to spend what was reasonable along the way. When we gave him the opportunity to attend a Sylvan Learning Center in the seventh/eighth grade, I did feel like I was paying college tuition! Today he is head of the engineering department of one of the biggest fabrication plants on the east coast. What we did was very American and it was all centered on freedom, choice and opportunity.

    • Ron, thank you so much for your comments here. Great about your son and your continued belief in his ability that he could do what other said he could not. Great outcome and great success for your son and for you.

  2. Mitch…
    So appreciate your reflection and insights, certainly there are no easy answers. I don’t know if I am right or wrong (or does it even matter?), but as I think about Chua’s book and your reflection I wonder if we also need to think about what drives us. Chua (and it sounds like you and Michelle) were not driven by fear. One critique I would have of my own parenting style is that it was sourced in fear in response to what I had experienced and what I “intuitively” understood about the world around me. Many of our systems are based in scarcity, which essentially means there is not enough for everyone.

    What I found was a greater sense of understanding of how she parented and why she did what she did. Her adaptability and response to what is ultimately most important for her – her children resulted in her changing. Much more profound than I might originally have thought.

    Again thanks for your reflection… all the best.

    • Hey Carol, so true about adaptability. We so want to chart the course but realize, for the sake of peace, and a better outcome all together we alter, to some degree, our course. Michelle always says, “parenting is not for the faint of heart.” 🙂

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Mitch
    Great post! And wow, your daughter plays piano beautifully. Sounds like you and Michelle are doing a great job at parenting 🙂
    As you say, each child is different and sometimes they just might need a little tiger let loose on them. And perhaps there is something to be learned from God’s way of parenting – a blend of expectations of obedience, love and discipline.

    • Liz, indeed a blend of expectations, obedience, love and discipline. Well said. I don’t think this is much different from leading a church and making disciples. Think of how Jesus led his disciples. “Come follow me,” “You will do greater things than this,” “come away and rest,” “I have loved you,” “I call you my friends,” “Get behind me satan,” “How long shall I have to tarry with you,” etc., etc..

  4. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Mitch! I always love reading your personal family stories. You and Michelle are my parenting heroes. You encourage your children, yet challenge them. Your dinner table conversations continually amaze me. And I can see where you two would both have a little Tiger in you!

    What a great observation about the children you host each summer. I love the openness you have cultivated within your groups and how they are able to compare and contrast their upbringing with the children here. I wonder which they would consider “better”? If they had a choice, where would they rather be raised? I think of my two boys, who were both so different, but they each craved stability and consistency. Having a Tiger mother would have done them some good! 🙂

    Oh, the lessons we can learn from each other, if we only listen and observe instead of criticize and judge.

  5. mm John Woodward says:

    Hey Mitch,
    Wonderful post! Your comment about “when does this women sleep” crossed my mind a number of times! I also appreciate your family (you have the best looking family ever), and I can’t imagine the work your wife did in home schooling your children! You are a great testimony to the fact that people can be active in ministry and still bless their children. I am sure it is because you never lost that focus!

    I am curious to know whether there was any differences in cultural ideas that you and Michelle each brought into to your upbringing of your kids! Did you face any major issues in styles of teaching or training from your different backgrounds? (Did grandparents have any opinions on what you two did?) Just curious, because what struck me so much in the book was this whole class of cultures that Chua was stuck in the middle of! Curious to know if you had any similar experiences. Great post…and great family, Mitch! Hope I get to meet them someday!

  6. Miriam Mendez says:

    Mitch, I appreciate your reflection and insights, specifically the article about education in America from a businessman’s perspective. You comment, “There are no “flower tenders” in today’s competitive workforce” is so true and therefore challenges Western society to bring in “a little more Tiger mother mentality in our education system.” Thanks Mitch!

  7. mm Deve Persad says:

    Hey Amigo, really appreciated this post. I loved the book; it was humourous and thought provoking. Your question: “Are we really preparing our children to face that reality through our individualistic nurturing methods or do we need a little more Tiger mother mentality in our education system?”

    It’s the same question that I’ve been asking and my wife and I have also talked about (she read it as well). In our situation we definitely see the need for more Tiger while still respecting individuality….so easy answers and we’ve only go two kids to work with…keep it up!

  8. Michael Badriaki says:

    Brother Mitch, you hit it out of the park. Loved watching the video and your daughter is great at the piano. You are a tiger dad and Michelle is a tiger mom.
    Appreciate you.


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