Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tiger Mother and Success

Amy Chua and Daughters
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua has gotten a lot of attention.  The author has said things like "the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child." Chua said that it was her custom to call her daughters "garbage" when they displeased her.  She complained that Western mothers were pushovers and she encourages long hours of work on homework and piano to achieve A's and the high level of success expected of her children.  And, no sleepovers.

Since Building Braveheart's subtitle is "The Key to Your Child's Success," I thought it would be good to clarify what I mean by success.  My definition of success is much more about developing great character, especially following God and doing a good job with the gifts each child is given.  To follow Him and to do a good job with what you are given requires trying, the habit of a braveheart.  This is opposite a child who has lost heart and given up, which can happen with too much pressure to succeed in the ways Amy Chua promotes.  When a person tries, in faith, he grows and develops and becomes the best he can.  Pleasing God is the ultimate standard of success.

Even success by Amy Chua's standards is best achieved by a focus on pleasing God, having great character which is possible for everyone, and being a good steward of what you are given, also possible for everyone.  If you try and do your best with what you are given, you can't do more. The person focused on pleasing God has a freedom to go further and engage in ways that those focused on Chua's standards often can't do because fears distract them, similar to a basketball player who makes mistakes because he focuses on the score more than listening to his coach.  At its best, Chua's success is achieved by using fear and domination in the lives of her children.  But, what happens when that pressure is removed?

Success should not be measured by being better than someone else in sport, money, or grades.  Those are essentially by-products of doing the best with what God has given.  Even if a person never succeeds in sport or grades, but follows God and does his best with what he is given, he is a success, a good steward of his or her time, resources, and place.

One of my favorite columnists, John Rosemond ( says what follows about "CTM" (Chinese Tiger Mother):

"This all seems like unmitigated, indefensible emotional blackmail to me, but then I am a Westerner and therefore an unmitigated parenting wuss.  I do not understand what it takes for a child to achieve success in life.  Is this cultural chauvinism or what?  Chua describes her parenting style as if she is being totally unselfish, but I suggest that she is all about her."

"This CTM stuff is more about Chua's ego than it is her kids' success."

"She lives through her children.  She even freely admits that she and her American husband do not agree on how to raise the kids, but when he objects, she simply argues him into submission.  The Chinese Tiger Mother is also a Tiger Wife."

"At the Crux of my disagreement with Chua is her definition of success."

Rosemond concludes, "She's fixated on grades and other material accomplishments (one of her daughters played Carnegie Hall in 2007).  I want a child to pretty much--with some coaching and correcting of course--find her own way in life.  I'm all for the child learning through trial-and-error what path is right for her.  Chua is about choosing the child's path and keeping her on it no matter what.  I think character is more important than material success.  Chua believes that character is forged in the struggle for material success.  We agree on nothing."

Success is about character.  A child with character who has courage faces the world and tries.  This child discovers that he can, he explores, and he is drawn further. This braveheart is able to love, for which he was created. The child with heart becomes the best he can be because he is willing to try new things, meet new people, stretch his legs and stand for something beyond herself.  He becomes a success, not because of a domineering mother but because of character, especially the courage to try and keep going.

P.S.  You might enjoy the New York Times column, "Amy Chua Is a Wimp," that says it is easier to focus on piano than to master the social skills of a sleepover, skills that serve well in future achievement:

1 comment:

  1. I had my students read this during the week and we're discussing it tomorrow. Should be exciting.