DMINLGP

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

Tiger Mother—Puerto Rican Style

Written by: on May 30, 2015

I don’t know whether to laugh, scream, cry or simply be in a state of shock. This was my reaction as I read and flipped through the pages of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I found myself thinking, “Wow, I thought I had it rough when my mom took away certain privileges if I misbehaved or didn’t finish my homework.”  But those “privileges” consisted of not watching my favorite television show one evening, or not having my favorite snack, or not going outside to play with my best friend. Amy Chua threatened her daughter with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years if her daughter, Lulu, did not perfect “The Little White Donkey” on the piano.[1]

Yet, I do remember a time when I threatened to take away all of my son’s privileges, for life, because he “cut” class one day and he decided he no longer wanted to continue playing the drums (after we had bought him an expensive drum set). It’s a good thing he had a compassionate dad who decided to have a conversation with him rather than lock him up for life. Yes, there were consequences for his misbehavior, but not a life sentence. Although as I read Chua’s book she does mention that playing drums can lead to drugs. Really?  I guess my son dodged that bullet since he also had the opportunity to play the piano!

Chua’s book is her journey in how she raised her daughters. Perhaps I may not be in total agreement as to the tactics she used, but it is her journey. Chua states that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: higher dreams for their children, and higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take.[2] She goes on to say that many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.[3]  However, Chua believes that all decent parents want to do what is best for their children. She states that the Chinese have a different idea and way of accomplishing that.

“Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they are capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”[4]

When I consider what Chua states regarding Western parents and Chinese parents, I see both in my upbringing and in how I raised my own children. My parents were raised in Puerto Rico and I was raised in New York by Puerto Rican parents. Their upbringing clearly had an influence on me and in turn had some influence in how I raised my children. However, when it comes to parenting, I don’t believe that one specific culture holds the secret to successful parenting. As I consider The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother it is the journey of a mother, who is Chinese, wanting the best for her daughters. As I consider my own journey, it is about a mother, who is Puerto Rican, wanting the best for her son and daughter.

I wonder if we were to move away from the stereotypes and generalizations that Chua brings out in her book, and instead move towards conversations that recognize and honor the traditions and values of specific cultures if we can then see and appreciate the value of the varying parenting styles. Perhaps I can say that I was raised by a “Tiger Mother”–Puerto Rican style–and I am a “Tiger Mother”–Puerto Rican style.

                [1]  Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2011), p. 61

                [2] Ibid., p.8.

                [3] Ibid., pgs. 62-63.

                [4] Ibid., p. 63.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

11 responses to “Tiger Mother—Puerto Rican Style”

  1. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Miriam,
    What a great take on “Battle Hymn,” thanks for such a meaningful post.

    I so agree that parenting is not not done by the numbers. You state, “I don’t believe that one specific culture holds the secret to successful parenting.” And in the true wisdom of a critically thinking student, you recognize that we ought to “move towards conversations that recognize and honor the traditions and values of specific cultures…” Yes, what a great way to escape “stereotypes and generalizations.” Chua gives us great insight into Eastern culture helping to enrich our relationship with those who we misunderstand and, perhaps, wrongly accuse. Often this “other” might be our next door neighbor or sit in the same pew. Chua does more in “Battle Hymn;” it is true the book is a captivating narrative, however, behind the scenes one sees the significance of culture in understanding who we are and how important understanding culture is in relating to those who are different than us. Personally, I am not critical of Chua and the Eastern model of child rearing; it is just that – one model.

  2. Miriam,

    Beautiful work here! I am with you; I read this book as one mom’s story of how she parented her children, not as a treatise that said this is the ONLY way to do it. We should learn from one another and I learned a lot from this book. Thinking as other cultures think is a good exercise for all of us; it helps us battle our ethnocentrism and our self-righteousness. And that is always a good thing to do.

    I cannot redo what I did as a parent. Perhaps if I have grandchildren I will do better. But I don’t know since I do not yet have grandchildren. One thing I do know and that is that I will love them deeply. And what that looks like to me will look different in a different culture. I am OK with those differences. I think the key here is that we be committed to growing and learning continually so we continue to improve in all that we do, even in our understanding of parenting.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Bill, thank you. And, like you, I too can not undo the things I’ve done–I always tell my children–you are free to go to therapy and talk about me! 🙂 But one thing we do have in common is that as parents we want and desire the best for our children. Thanks, Bill

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Miriam
    Thank you for your post. I do agree with you that it would be valuable to learn from different cultures in this whole area of parenting.
    It was saddening to learn how much negative feedback Chua received for her book from the West, and yet how much praise she received from Chinese parents. It’s interesting that some of these nations who are producing very smart children (China, South Korea, India) are the ones known for having Tiger mums. They must be doing something right.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Thank you Liz. Yes, we do need to learn from each other. Take the good and leave that which is not productive. As I said to Bill, in the end, we want the best for our children.

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Hi Miriam!!!!

    I liked your review of the book as well as some of your own insights into your own parenting. I wonder what parent has not, in exasperation, threatened to take away privileges for life, or some other unreasonable “consequence”? And the kids usually know this won’t happen, but they know you mean business. Consistency does make a difference.

    You note “She goes on to say that many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners…” I think that it is this kind of hidden thought, often not said out loud, that many people of may cultures have. If we like our culture (which I hope we do have positive cultural identities) we often think that parts of our culture is better than others, as opposed to preferred. We rarely recognize our hidden biases, whereas Chua says them out loud. But, like you, I think it would be even more fun if we might look at one another’s cultures and consider how this culture might add a different, and even productive (for lack of a better term) element to my culture. This might show honor toward one another.

    • Miriam Mendez says:

      Thanks, Julie. I could remember sentencing my children for a week and as I talked more about the situation I added another week, a month and then forever and always….that’s usually when John stepped in.
      I wonder, though, if in the Western way, our parental privileges have been gradually taken away? Or have we as parents given it away? By Chua saying it out loud she has guarded and protected her parental rights….hmmm, just wondering…

  5. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Miriam!! What a great overview of Chua’s story! I think the one thing we all have in common is we’re trying to be good parents and raise strong, smart, independent children. We just go through different avenues to get there. One could say that about so many different things in life… We all want to save souls and follow Jesus… My preaching method may just be different from your preach method, but the goal is still the same. What you so eloquently wrote was that if we put aside the “my way is better than your way”, imagine what we could learn from each other. Western and eastern parenting styles could be intertwined, with the best of both worlds! Love you to pieces, Miriam!

  6. Miriam Mendez says:

    Thanks Ashley. Yes indeed we go through different avenues to be good parents and raise strong, smart, independent children. Yet I wonder if Chau was thinking about having her children be independent? Or was she thinking more about prestige? Either way, in her own way she wanted to prepare her children for a brighter future. Isn’t that what all parents want? Love you too, Miss Ashley!

  7. Michael Badriaki says:

    Great post Miriam!

    You beautifully show how it is possible to interface with a cultural style that is different and appreciate some of the helpful aspects as well. You write, “I wonder if we were to move away from the stereotypes and generalizations that Chua brings out in her book, and instead move towards conversations that recognize and honor the traditions and values of specific cultures if we can then see and appreciate the value of the varying parenting styles.”
    That’s a big deal.

    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *