Culture At Large

Why Christians shouldn't play the Tiger Mother game

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

It’s hard to respond to Amy Chua’s much-discussed "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" without some kind of knee-jerk reaction.

For one thing, the excerpt that was published in the Wall Street Journalrecently was titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” I think the paper knew that they were going to stir up controversy here. In the excerpt, Chua is claiming to be better than everyone else at something and claiming her kids are better than other people's kids. Not only that, but she’s claiming to be better at PARENTING, a task that everyone has strong opinions on and something most parents dedicate a considerable amount of their time and energy to.

I hesitated to say anything publicly about it because talking about parenting opens you up to the same kind of heated criticism Chua has found herself facing. Of course, as a non-parent, I haven’t made any parenting mistakes, so I’m safer than most. Despite this, er, “qualification,” I discussed the Chua controversy with my parents, Laura and Robert Keeley, who are not only successful (in my opinion anyway) parents of four, but they have written on the topic of faith formation, which I think is a useful alternative perspective to Chua’s embedded assumptions.

I’m not immune to resentment here, either. I’m no award-winning violinist and I got good grades, if not by Chua’s definition. Yet I think I still turned out pretty OK. But when I thought about the article some more and talked to my parents, we agreed that the best perspective is not to play Chua’s game. When you start trying to figure out whose parenting style is the best or produces the best children, you’re already engaging in a kind or prideful activity that undermines community.

Nonetheless, in a flurry of discussion and criticism about what makes a good parent, it’s worth thinking about how Christian values might change our idea of what a good parent is, even if we have some things in common with other views. In our discussion, my dad noted that Chua’s idea of an ideal outcome is different from ours and he directed me to this recent article about parenting success.

“The question, though, is really about what is most important," he said. "Clearly, from a Christian perspective the outcome we are looking for is that our kids know and love the Lord. Full stop.” This goal doesn’t find a way into Chua’s model at all. In parenting, like most things, if you start centered on God it has a way of transforming everything.

In the model Chua presents, virtues like the fruit of the spirit and a loving relationship with God don’t compute. You can’t spend hours drilling gentleness into a kid or demand a child invite Jesus into her heart before she gets a bathroom break. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate skills in music or math - we do - but they aren’t what’s the most important.

It’s also a lot harder to know if you’re doing the right thing with these less measurable outcomes. I don’t think you ever get to declare victory once and for all and hang up a gold medal. But if nobody wins first place that means parents don’t have to compete with each other and we can all contribute to the goal of raising children who love God. There can only be one spelling champion at a time, but you can have a whole church full of kids who are learning about who God is and learning how to act like people living in grace.

More commentary on Tiger Mothers and Christian parents can be found on the her.meneutics blog.

Photo courtesy of Dominic Harness.

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