Growing up, my parents had high expectations for how my sister and I spent our time. Homework always came first, then sports and music practice, then playtime. My dad felt strongly we should always be involved in one sport and one musical activity, so we would be well rounded and “successful” kids. For many years my choices were gymnastics and piano. I was expected to practice both every day for thirty minutes after I finished my homework. At the time, I thought my mom and dad were so strict! After all, many of my friends were home playing Super Mario and watching Saved by the Bell after school.
Compared to Amy Chua, my parents were very laid back. I just finished reading Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir about the extremely high expectations a Chinese mother had for her two daughters. It’s a fascinating book that raises some important thoughts on what “successful” parenting looks like. Just read how her memoir begins.
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids…Here are some things my daughters were never allowed to do:
- attend a sleepover
- have a playdate
- be 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 #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than piano or violin
- not play the piano or violin
Sounds pretty extreme, doesn’t it? When I first read this list, I thought it sounded so controlling, even cruel. I wondered why any parent would choose to raise a child under such strict expectations. As I read further into the book, I thought about the benefits of setting such high expectations. Clearly Chua believes the benefit is to raise “successful” children. But what makes a child successful?
If a child gets straight As, is the star goalie on the competitive soccer team, and 1st chair violin in orchestra, do you consider that child successful? Chua would say “absolutely.” Most parents would say “definitely so.” But what does God say? What is his standard for success?
In Matthew 22, Jesus says, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus is telling us that the most important thing to do in life is to love God and to love others. This is God’s standard for “success.” When we follow His commands for our lives and experience His abundant grace and love, we live rich lives as children of the King. This is much harder to teach a child to do than teaching them to excel in school and sports. This level of “success” is dependent on God’s grace and seeking after Him with all our hearts. It has nothing to do with how hard we practice, how many hours we devote to it, or our level of skill. All of us are invited to seek God with our whole hearts, minds, and strength and to fall on our knees in worship, no matter our skill or ability.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have high expectations for our kids. Nor am I saying it’s bad to encourage excellence. In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Being excellent at something for God’s glory is where true joy lies, not in doing it for ourselves. We should pursue excellence for God’s glory and teach children to do the same in school, sports, and music.
However, I think we need to be very careful to not teach kids that being a good student, a good athlete, or a good musician is what makes them successful. Rather, we want them to believe that seeking to have a heart that loves God more than anything else will bring eternal joy. Maybe our main objective for our children should be teaching them to live their lives so that one day they will hear God’s voice say, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).” This is success.
Listen to Amy Chua talk about her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on NPR.