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Beyond "Tiger Parenting"

Carving out a distinctly Christian approach to raising our kids

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I still remember the moment on Twitter a few years ago, when a Wall Street Journal tweet caught my eye with these inflammatory words: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Within days, the phrase "Tiger Parent" had entered the modern parenting lexicon while Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Chua details the extraordinary lengths she went to push her children in order for them to achieve exceptional results. In one famous scene from the book, Chua is hovering over her daughter Louisa and demanding perfection in her piano practicing. "If the next time is not perfect," Chua warns Louisa, "I am going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"

What guides your parenting style?

It's easy to deride Chua's motivational techniques and overbearing attitude and say, "I would never do that to my kids!" But even if the methodology of most parents today differs from Chua's, their motivations might be exactly the same: a desire to see their kids excel in school, demonstrate expertise in one or preferably several extracurricular activities, and ultimately gain acceptance to college (the more prestigious, the better) in order to ensure future success and security.

Could it be a danger sign that the lives of Christian parents appear to be largely parallel to their secular counterparts? Is there a different way to parent that runs counter to the messages of our culture?

These underlying motivations are just as present in Christian circles, as evidenced by the prevalence of hectic lifestyles that often look indistinguishable from those of non-Christian families. The only difference is that Christian families include church-related commitments in their list of activities. Could it be a danger sign that the lives of Christian parents appear to be largely parallel to their secular counterparts? Is there a different way to parent that runs counter to the messages of our culture?

Chua writes, "Everything I do is 100 percent, unequivocally for my daughters." As noble and altruistic as this attitude might sound, it is actually the opposite of the perspective that Christian parents are to have toward their children. Although we have a spiritual responsibility to teach and train our children in the knowledge of the Lord, we are not to give them 100 percent of ourselves or put them at the top of our family priority list. The Bible has a strong word when we do, and that word is idolatry. But countless parents today, Christians included, raise their kids in child-centered homes in which endless resources are poured into the children's lives to ensure bright futures. Whether we are "tiger parenting" or engaging in similar extremes such as "helicopter parenting" or "overparenting," we are letting cultural mores and personal influences affect our parenting styles and decisions, perhaps in ways we do not even realize.

Helen Lee

Helen Lee is a TCW editorial advisor, an associate editor with InterVarsity Press, and the author of The Missional Mom. Helen lives in Chicagoland with her husband and three boys.

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Beyond "Tiger Parenting"