This article in the Wall Street Journal recently caused quite a stir when the author, Amy Chua, argued that Chinese mothers are superior to Western mothers because they drive their kids to excel at what they do instead of inflating their egos and setting them up for disaster in the real world. The backlash to the article primarily stems from the idea that it is better to berate your children and even call them garbage if it will drive them to excel. What was striking to me about the article was the way both the Chinese and Western methods of raising children, as they are described in the article, failed to acknowledge our relationship to God and our neighbor.
Whether a parent builds up a kid’s self-esteem or belittles the child to make them succeed, ultimately these are both false senses of worth. Our worth is not based on our effort or our success but only in Christ, and so when we inflate our children’s egos or belittle them we are really teaching them that their worth is found somewhere other than in Christ, which will only lead them into greater suffering. Both methods also misunderstand our obligation toward neighbor, since they both seem to assume that the ultimate goal of raising a child is to make them a happy, productive, successful, individual, as opposed to a person who is a part of a larger community. In a lecture by Tim Keller that I once heard he gave three criteria for determining what your occupation should be: what are your skills, what do you like doing, and how can you help your community? Most of us in American culture consider the first two questions but are unconcerned with the third. We view our lives as our “story,” our adventure, and we can raise our children to think that their goal is to find their place in the world, to see how they can be successful. But as Christians, we know that our lives are not about ourselve s. And that means that we should be raising children who do not desire to be successful or wealthy or powerful or to have an exciting and adventurous life, but to glorify God and love their neighbor.