Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chinese parenting vs. American parenting vs. Christian parenting

This Amy Chua article in the Wall Street Journal (it's an excerpt from an essay she wrote) has generated over 8,000 comments on the site, as well as thousands of blog and article responses. It's probably one of the most emailed and linked-to articles of all time.

Chua makes the claim that Chinese mothers are superior because they don't coddle the self-esteem of their children-- they push their children beyond their limits and have succeed-or-else expectations. She purports that this explains why Chinese children excel above American children. (nutshell) There have been plenty of responses/criticisms (here's The Economist) so I won't rehash them here.

But it reminds me of a point Patrick Lai makes in Tentmaking. The vast majority of our norms in parenting are cultural and not Scriptural. Lai dealt with this because his wife is of a different culture. "Where in the Bible does it say your kids have to go to bed promptly at 8pm every night?" He tells the story of a church that wouldn't recommend a particular couple for work overseas because "they let their children run wild." Upon investigating, Lai found that the children were often allowed to stay up late-- this was common in the nation where the couple was from but very uncommon in the conservative American culture they were now living in. Lai counseled the couple to put their kids to bed earlier simply to not offend their church members (think Romans 14 here).

Lai points out that if you're an American living in a different culture where your kids are expected entertain guests who stay way past midnight, you don't want to kick the guests out just because you think your kids need their sleep because that may ruin your witness for the gospel in that culture (and he provides examples/stories to back it up).

I mention this because my wife and I are working through John Piper's Momentary Marriage (free as PDF on his website). I found his chapter on fatherhood relatively void of any practical use. But it dawns on me that Scripture leaves a huge amount of freedom in raising kids. For example, some people argue that spanking is the way to go, others quote scripture arguing the exact opposite.

I'm not saying there aren't some biblical principles, just that there is not much we can be really dogmatic about. (I want to be dogmatic about Babywise but can't scripturally justify it.)

A relative commented that perhaps as Christians we should be just as motivated as the Chinese mother in areas of spiritual and social development-- perhaps in order that our kids really know Scripture and be at ease in sharing the Gospel. Perhaps.

But I want my children to understand that there is no separation between the "spiritual" and the "secular," that work. is. worship. (a biblical concept that many churches have failed to teach). To know the deep importance of Colossians 3:23. Where I think the Chinese mother gets it wrong is that she wants her children to excel at the violin and piano simply for themselves-- to become great so that they will be praised by men and be inspired to become better (ie: to win more praise?). I want my son to be diligent in whatever he sets his mind to, not for myself and not for himself, but because God expects that from us. Because in doing so he can worship God with whatever he's doing. (Not to earn God's favor, but to worship). I don't want his self-esteem to come from his accomplishment but rather from who He is in Christ.

That requires modeling such beliefs/actions in my own life but I think it also opens the door for a wide variety of means of incorporating that into the parenting process.

I think the reaction to Chua's article (she claims to have received death threats) illustrates how difficult parenting is and how insecure (and therefore overly defensive) all of us are in our parenting. And I confess that it's really hard for me to love people who do things dramatically different than I do.

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