Filtered through discussion on talk radio, and a few clips from daytime talk television is not the best way to evaluate something. So when I heard about Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and its discussion of child rearing techniques employed by Chinese immigrant parents as opposed to those who are native to the United States, I decided to obtain a copy of the book and read it for myself. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
Part of the interest stems from the fact that I was raised by parents who, by today’s standards would probably be considered unreasonably strict. There were times when I considered them that way. There were many things that I was not allowed to do, given the reason that, in their judgement, they did not think those things would be beneficial for me, or that they would have a corrupting influence. Pleading never really changed the outcome of the decision. My father was always careful to point out that I wasn’t really missing anything, and that I had a lot of choices that were wholesome and beneficial which, if I would choose to become involved in, would cause me not to miss what I thought I was missing. It was a very subtle, and effective way of redirecting my interests. And it worked.
Though my parents didn’t insist on a particular activity for me, like piano or violin, they did strongly encourage involvement in some kind of enrichment outside of school activities. They were patient enough to let me try a couple of things before settling on something. I never caught my Dad’s interest in hunting, and by age 12, after a couple of hunting trips which I thought I would either freeze to death or die of boredom, he let me drop it. My mother’s hopes that I would find an interest in some kind of entertainment, like dancing or singing, also never materialized. What did catch my interest was involvement in the community 4-H club in my home town. I raised and exhibited poultry, winning a whole wall full of blue ribbons and learning how to put work into accomplishment. One of the club volunteers happened to be one of the state’s foremost public speaking instructors, and for four years, once a month, I spent an hour and a half learning and practicing that skill.
Church participation and involvement were also never optional. Even though my parents didn’t attend regularly, going to Sunday School each week had been a requirement in our household from such an early time in my life that I never really realized there was any other option. I am most grateful to my parents for instilling this discipline into my life, more than any other single thing they ever did. And far from making me resentful, rebellious and inclined to leave the church when the decision was ultimately left up to me, the opposite occurred. Part of what I learned from the church was that parents who do not exasperate their children earn their respect, and when you respect your parents, you respect everything they have tried to pour into your life. My definition of exasperating children involves inconsistency in discipline, permissiveness and the use of prosperity to win their respect rather than real love. I watched my parents struggle with their own spiritual issues honestly, and eventually come back to the church that they had left in their young adulthood. That sealed my faith as much as anything else in my life.
So I’ll read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother with great interest. Part two will come when I’ve finished the book. If you are looking for an argument that favors the Dr. Spock method of child rearing, and argues against what Amy Chua has discovered, you probably won’t find it here.