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A couple of weeks ago, an article from the Wall Street Journal provoked an interesting discussion on one of my message boards. The article, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, inspired some, angered others, and several wondered if it wasn’t supposed to be a little satirical. After pondering all the responses, my own responses, and thinking about it in light of scripture, I wondered if Scripture was the basis of what methods were and were not appropriate for child rearing rather than anecdotes and tradition. After all, just because you gain the end result you want, doesn’t mean that you’ve been truly successful. Your methods can do much damage even if the motivation behind them are valid and just.
I do think the author makes very excellent points about how we’ve made a god of “self-esteem” and “childhood,” but I don’t think the answer is to become bullies that belittle and berate a child for being less than the absolute best AROUND (rather than the best they can be). Something my mother has never understood was how one day my best could be a four (on a scale of 1-5) and the next a five. See, if you can achieve five, today, why couldn’t you yesterday? Well, if Michael Phelps can break the world’s record today, why didn’t he yesterday? We aren’t robots. There are a million environmental and personal factors that can influence our abilities. I don’t think those are an excuse for mediocrity, but neither do I think that if a child gives everything they’ve got and they get 98% on a test, I should treat them as if they were absolute failures. Sure, find out where the disconnect is, make sure they’ve studied well next time, but why? I think why is the key. Why am I concerned that the child gets the 100% on the test? Is it so that I can say I have a perfect scoring child? Is it because I know the child is capable of it and needs to be held to that standard? Or is it because of some combination of the above… or none of the above? Why? Isn’t that the key? Isn’t the point that our why determines the true success of the what? It seems like that’s what Paul was talking about when he wrote,
I Corinthians 13:1-9
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
You know, I read that passage, comparing it to the article, and I do not think that I could emulate that mother and apply that passage at the same time. I could not demand that my child be “the” best, because I would not have the kind of agape love for my child that I think this passage is calling for– that selfless servant love that is so precious. I would become fixated on the visible end result. The grade, the skill, the accomplishment, the preparation for life. I think those things can be achieved, but only if the goal of teaching my child what GOD requires of him in regards to loving the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and his neighbor as himself. I would likely create a child full of knowledge… and he would have nothing. That’s what Paul said. Without love, my child, no matter how much knowledge I pumped into him, would be NOTHING. That’s some pretty scary stuff there.
The author condemns the “western” idea of elevating self-esteem over the self-respect that comes with self-discipline and earned achievement. I agree with her. I think scripture does too. Scripture says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (Romans 12:3) That seems pretty clear to me. The whole idea of building up psyches and worrying about esteem tends to produce “puffed up” people who cannot handle accurate criticism. When someone says, “You are wrong. The Lord says this,” they tend to run, lash out, and instead of examining their hearts, find another group of people who will build them up as they cry, “Foul!” Yes, the church is particularly good at wounding their own. However, that doesn’t mean that when someone says something that hurts, they actually want to say it. There is the Proverb of a “faithful friend” who “wounds” rather than gives the “kisses of an enemy.”
My question is; however, just what does this mean for the Christian parent/child. We are COMMANDED not to exasperate our children. We’re also commanded to discipline them, train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to discipline them while there is hope and not desire their death (which kind of seems to assume that if we don’t, we’re asking for their death… that whole “stone the rebellious child” thing). It is serious stuff, but I read Ms. Chua’s anecdotes, and even as accustomed as I was to absolute obedience even when it seemed impossible, I would have been HIGHLY exasperated as a child. I rarely remember my parents “exasperating” me, but yes, a very similar scenario (sans the tantrum– I wouldn’t have dared) happened once when I was about ten, and let me tell you, I was exasperated. Perhaps Ms. Chua’s child wasn’t. Well, that’s excellent, but I have a difficult time imagining that many children would not be. For a Christian parent, that kind of exasperation is forbidden.
I think the point is also that we need to know our children. We need to raise them in such a way that they ARE accustomed to obedience and high standards– but to what end? To the end that says we, “Do all to the glory of God.” Does it glorify God that I do my best work? Scripture seems to say so. In Clarence Day’s paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do thy doggondest.” Scripture seems almost to demand a certain level of excellence. The parable of the talents is an excellent example.
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then h) went away. 16He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
I notice that God in the flesh, when it came to telling a story, chose to mention “according to his ability.” He didn’t demand that they all had the same abilities. He did, however, expect much of each of them. And, the first two lived up to those expectations. He was harsh with the one who squandered the opportunity. The interesting thing is, the master does call the servant “names.” If you want to get technical, he does do this. I really had to think about that, because it seems to fly in the face of so many other scriptures, and then I think I figured out the reason it wasn’t wrong. Those names were true. The servant was wicked (he let his fears overrule his responsibility) and slothful (and then took the easy way out). Notice the master doesn’t do name-calling for the purpose of berating the servant. He doesn’t shred the guy for dinner, he speaks truth and then awards what is obviously an understood punishment. After all, he is known to be a “hard man.” It made me wonder if I would have objected less to some of the things Ms. Chua said if the words had been pure truth rather than emotionally charged words designed to whip a child. Seriously, give the kid a spanking. It’s kinder. It’s over quicker and if done by a parent under self control, most kids can’t remember specific ones. They just know they got cheeky sometimes, threw a tantrum, defied mom, and got a few well aimed swats at their backside to “realign” their thought processes. I know some consider that barbaric, but I find it much more reasonable and less extreme than screaming at my kid until I am hoarse calling her things like “garbage.” To this day, the one time I remember a parent losing all control with me, the words that were used STILL cut… and they were untrue. However, they still cut. I try to forget them. Had the author used words such as, “lazy, unmotivated, disobedient” I could get behind her calmly using those terms to point out error in their child. Firmness. Strictness. But without the fruit of the Spirit (self-control), how can one possibly expect the fruit of that kind of behavior to be that which strengthens a child’s walk with the Lord?
Ok, I know, Ms. Chua may not care a whit about what Christianity says about anything. I have no idea what beliefs she holds and rejects. My point is, I AM a Christian parent and everything I read must be read with a Biblical lens. I don’t care how successful any parenting, educational, musical, practical, or any other “-al” is, if it does not line up with scripture, it’s worthless to me. Where the author has no compunctions about CALLING her child “nothing” (if you’re willing to call them garbage, you’re certainly willing to call them nothing), I am concerned with creating one who IS.
So what did I learn? I learned that I don’t expect enough from my kids. As my recent evaluations have shown, this is not a surprise to me. However, I also have learned that my kids need a lot more Jesus (even if it means a lot less math and science) if they are to be the people HE wants them to be. It’s a sobering thought. This mother’s dedication to her childrens’ welfare is admirable (even if, as some claim, it is rooted in pride and self-aggrandizement. I don’t know if that’s true, but regardless, she IS dedicated). I can always improve, all of us can, the question is where does the LORD want me to improve myself and where does He want me to stretch my children.
What other lessons should I be learning from this article? Back to the Bible. It’s the best place for those answers.