I was so excited that the book I had on reserve, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was finally available for me to borrow from the library. On my flights to Albuquerque to visit a high school friend this past week, I could not put it down and read the book cover to cover in 2.5 hours. I am not usually a fast reader, but Amy Chua’s style of writing made it quick to page through and before I knew it, I was done.
The book is a memoir of Amy’s experience raising her two Jewish Chinese-American daughters the Chinese way. What is the Chinese way? No sleepovers, no playdates, no talking back, no grades less than an A, extracurricular activities limited to piano, violin and homework. Yes, the “ground rules” appear quite strict when compared to Western parenting (as she calls it). The book details her countless hours overseeing her daughters’ piano and violin lessons, full out yelling matches with her youngest daughter, and a deep desire for her kids to be the best players of their instrument and the top students in their class at all cost (monetarily, psychologically, emotionally).
As a child of a father with rather high-expectations, this story struck a chord with me. Although I was allowed to attend sleepovers, I was expected to similarly practice piano, ukulele and soccer. Thank goodness my dad didn’t oversee my practices like Amy Chua did with her daughters. Once we reached middle school and high school, we were expected to help with the nightly dishes and weren’t allowed to watch tv at all on weekdays. Even having the tv on to “watch the news” ellicited a “why is the tv on?” response from my dad. This time was for studying and doing homework, and for my parents, academics was of utmost importance.
The Report Card. To this day, those two words bring back a flood of memories. Some proud; a symbol of achievement, persistence and intellect. And others filled with shame, embarrassment and disappointment; usually because I knew I was capable of much more. I understood the hope that my parents had that I would succeed in everything I did. What I didn’t understand, and what this book enlightened me on, was their expectations of me to succeed. A “B” wasn’t a bad grade, shouldn’t they be happy that I didn’t get a “C”? Yet my dad would say (even through graduate school), “A’s never hurt.” What he was really saying (and what Amy also writes) was, “I know you are capable of better than this.” And truthfully, I knew it too. The only difference between an A and a B was a lack of effort on my part.
As Amy writes, “as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.”
Whether it was in school or on the soccer field, my parents wanted to see the best possible performance from me. And to do this required practice, focus and determination. Why the desire to be the best? I often wonder that too. My dad has expressed that he pushed us so hard and expected so much out of us because he wanted us to have good careers, and eventually be self-sufficient; providing for our families much the same way they did for us. In comparing how Western parents “try to respect their children’s individuality…supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement,” Amy writes that the asian way of parenting protects their children by “preparing them for their future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”
Of course all this leads to one question for Curt and me: How will we raise Laird?
It’s actually a little amusing that two people raised in two completely different ways arrived at nearly the same point. Curt was raised on a farm in the-middle-of-nowhere, Iowa. His mother was a SAHM, his father a humble corn and bean farmer. Amy Chua would definitely characterize them as Western parents, never pushing him to be the best, just encouraging him to do his best. I was raised in urban Honolulu, both my parents worked full-time, and I was expected to do well in academics and sports. Anything less than an A resulted in harsh words and disapproving looks. Yet, here we both are, almost 15 years later, in the same profession. To be honest, I’ll admit that I suffer with more anxiety than Curt does. And I’m not sure if this should be attributed to differences in sex, parenting style, genetics or all three combined.
The answer to my question about Laird, probably a combination of both styles of parenting. And ultimately it depends on Laird and what he responds best to. The style of parenting that worked for my older sister and me, didn’t have the same effect with my younger sister. Amy describes the same with her younger daughter.
I do not consider myself naturally smarter than anyone else, in fact, I think Curt is a lot smarter than I am. Especially in professional school, I studied a lot and pushed myself because I had come to expect the best from myself. I couldn’t accept a “B” because I knew I could do better. I will expect a lot from Laird because I know with practice he can achieve anything he wants to. Yet, at the same time, knowing the toll that it can take on individuality, I want him to do well at the things he enjoys best. This is all “in theory,” no one really knows what path God leads you on. Ultimately, it’s up to Him.