I wrote this piece for our monthly newspaper, The Voice. It was picked up, however, by the National Episcopal Journal. Our paper is folded into that journal so our parishioners will see the article twice: once locally and once nationally. The national one has a picture of the family, but there is no specific link to the article. You can learn more about the newspaper by going to www.episcopaljournal.org
The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has garnered so much press over the last few months. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, and even the Economist have had something to say about this memoir. In case you missed the fervor a Chinese-American mother writes a book about how she raises "real" children--not soft, pampered Western children. For example, the girls are never allowed to go on sleepovers, usually have to practice the piano for three or more hours a day, and are rarely praised. In fact, one time the mother decided to rip-up the girls' birthday cards that they made for her because she felt they didn't put enough thought and time into the making of the cards. After all, she reminds them, that she spends lots of money and time on their birthday parties.
As you can imagine, this book touched a real nerve in American culture, especially with the granola eating, childwearing, and attachment parenting set. Do we, modern American parents cater too much to our children's needs? Do they need more discipline and less explanation? Do they need higher standards and less emphasis on self-esteem? Do they need more manners and less technology? Probably. But, I think that's not the point. I think the chattering classes have quite a bit of privilege when it comes to this debate. The privilege comes from being able to debate how we are going to raise our children. Many of us have the time and resources to argue about whether our children should be forced to play the piano or have the luxury of choosing their own instrument. I think as Christians, we should reframe this debate.
I believe it is not the choices about musical instruments and sleepovers that define us. Rather, I believe the gift we can give our children is twofold: we must help them discover their gifts and, ultimately, their vocation. You might counter that that is awfully abstract, but I think it's not. The less we schedule our children, the more time they have to discover what it is they feel called to be--not just do. We can pack their day with activities, but allowing them free time to play, or walk, or just hang out in their rooms, may create the space they need to discover who they are and who they are called to be. As Christians, we might try to show them a variety of ways of being faithful and living into God's world by all kinds of callings. Coming to church is one of those unique places where our kids get to be with other adults outside of school. They get this incredible opportunity to see a diverse group of adults living into their vocations where they are not entirely segregated by age.
And, yes, finding a vocation does involve discipline--gentle discipline. It also involves a cultivation of virtue--patience, generosity, listening, sharing, and love. I'm certainly not against having more obedience in my children's lives--in fact, if anyone knows how to get a 3 year old girl to comply to a request the first time, please let me know. But, as I fight those real battles with my children, I hope we Christians might sing a different tune. I hope our discipline and structure is grounded not in a battle hymn, but rather in our hymn of praise "The Gloria." Because I do believe that if my children come to understand to whom they truly belong, lots of other pieces will slowly come into place. Raising children is a long-term exercise in humility and generosity, and thank goodness, we in the church community don't have to go at it alone.