What Does it Take to Raise a Child to Excel?
. . . to push through when it is HARD? I recently read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, preceding the release of her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”
My heart actually hurt. I felt fear, grief and even horror.
Chua explains how she “mothers”, and I use the term loosely, her two daughters to be the very best of the best:
Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
That is a bit harsh
. . . but the part that made me feel fear, sadness, and horror, was the seriously damaging method she uses to drive her daughters to perfection. Her parenting regime includes assaulting her children with berating, humiliating and degrading attacks, both verbal and physical, to achieve her ends. And to what end is that?
It is all in the name of SUCCESS.
Does Chua mention that Asian young women have the highest rate of depression and suicide in the USA? Or that Asians in general have the lowest rate of treating mental illness, in part because they do not admit to depression or other emotional disturbances? No and no.*
Some parents out there will see this as justification for their unloving behavior. Some parents will take this as fuel to their fire to be as cruel as they want to be (and yes, our sin nature DOES want to be cruel, sometimes) excusing themselves that it is really for the child’s best, after all, and it does bring results.
How sad is it that these children are being driven to the point of shutting off all their emotions, closing their hearts to how these words and actions make them feel, and becoming robotic performers so that they can make their parents happy? All children want to feed their own innate need for love, so in their soul hunger these famished children grasp a poor substitute: conditional love, which is about as nourishing for the soul as eating fruit loops for breakfast.
A Better Way
I have a lot of problems with what Amy Chua promotes. But my biggest, and by far the most relevant issue, is that God does not treat us this way, nor does He tell us in His Word to treat others this way.
We are to be kind, tenderhearted, merciful, forgiving.
We are to love, to have joy, to be peaceful.
Chua’s method promises a veneer of outward success but at what cost? Loss of self. Loss of freedom, hopes, dreams, imagination and innovative thinking. Loss of children knowing they are loved because of who they are instead of the letters on their report card.
And Yet . . .
She raises questions in my mind: Is any part of it valid? Should we push our children to excellence? And if so, how can we do it without hurting them?
I desire for my children to find their purpose in life, their own special calling. I know that He made them for something. There is a reason, no, reasons, why they are here. My job is to point them to The One who can reveal these purposes to them. I can give them opportunities to develop their minds, hone skills and talents, and educate them broadly. Ultimately, though, it is between them and God as to just who they become.
We have responsibilities as parents. There is no question. Parents make choices all the time for their children. One would hope that most of these choices are in the best interests in the child. But should we require our children to only make A’s? Not allow them to watch TV and keep them away from friends so that they will not be distracted from study? How and to what do we say no?
I wouldn’t let one of my daughters, now grown, quit piano even when it was clear that she was not as capable (yet) as her older siblings, until she was at the point of being constantly frustrated, embarrassed, felt incompetent, and had stomach aches each piano lesson day. It wasn’t until her teacher actually cried with frustration during a lesson (and seeing how horrible that made my daughter feel) that I realized this was MY requirement, not God’s requirement of her. I did not want my children to be quitters.
But Then Again . . .
I also really wanted them to play the piano. About that time one of my sons said to me, “Why is it so important for us to do this? Do we HAVE to be pianists?” I made the decision then that I was simply not going to force my dreams onto them anymore. If there was interest on their part, I would do whatever I could to make it happen. But I was not going to make them do it anymore. Two of the five taking lessons at that time chose to continue. Three chose to do something else: swim team, drama, and ballet.
There is nothing wrong with making a child stick with something for a while, if you are giving them the proper help, support, and love to make it through. God does not abandon us when He lets us go through challenges. It is vital that we ask ourselves what we are trying to attain in the process, however, and also seek God’s guidance as to what is most important at the moment – the lesson to be learned, the habit instilled, or possibly the act of mercy and understanding in rescuing, because God does in fact rescue us from a situation sometimes.
It is a beautiful grace that God can take anyone, no matter where they have come from and no matter what they have experienced, and redeem their past. All things work together for good, after all, we are promised in His Word. That includes all the wounding we have received at our parents hands, and the wounding our children are certainly receiving from us. This comforts me deeply in the midst of mistakes and regrets.
But if we are striving to be like our Heavenly Father Who is full of grace, mercy, and tenderness in His dealings with us, then our choices will be communicated to our children in a far different tone than the yelling and insulting method of Chua and many other mothers across the world. Even when our Father allows us to go through difficulties and will not give us relief just yet, He walks through all of it with us, even carries us through them . . . we likewise can be this for our children.
I could go and on about the merits of playtime with friends, discussions over TV versus no TV, the development of imagination and free thinking, and believing in the uniqueness of each person . . . oh, so many bunny trails! But the heart of what struck me from all of this is just that: the heart. Ultimately, all of the success and accomplishments of this world will fade into nothing. What remains is our heart – our soul, our spirit, what we gave to God and what He did through us with what we gave Him.
Here’s the bottom line: I want my children to be the best they can be. I require things of them . . . sometimes things that they don’t like . . . and I will help them as much as I am able. But I will not, I hope, ever exasperate them. Let’s speak grace to our children in all things. If our hearts are tender and merciful, even when we need to require hard things from them, they will know that they are loved and that we truly are leading them in love.*I was further saddened when I read about the personal struggles some Asian young women face in their pursuit of success at all cost. You can read about some of those things here, here, and especially here. (If you read down to the first couple of comments on this article, there is a really impressive story from the director of engineering at Facebook, who was also raised by Chinese parents. SOOO worth reading his comments.)
Photo Credit: Anissa Thompson