The Most Important Parenting Book of the Decade

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherAmy Chua’s little memoire on parenting, BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, is both fascinating and controversial. I read the Time magazine article and immediately downloaded the book to the Kindle app on my iPhone. I then read the entire book in two evenings with rapt enthusiasm.

The fact that it is so well written, interesting, and easy to digest means it will be widely read. Most parenting books have a limited appeal, which stunts their impact. This book, however, will undoubtedly have a much bigger audience and a correspondingly larger influence.

The fact that it is so provocatively written ensures it will incite debate. The sides of the debate as defined by Ms. Chua are “Western” vs. “Chinese” ways of raising children. As in every dialectic of thesis vs. antithesis, the truth or synthesis is somewhere in the middle, as Ms. Chua partially and reluctantly concedes by the end of the book.

What may be overlooked amidst all the hype are the many important concepts about raising successful children in a modern context that Ms. Chua highlights, sometimes inadvertently.

First, is that affluence can be a handicap when it comes to raising kids. This might seem counterintuitive while reading about all luxuries that Ms. Chua and her family enjoy. However, Ms. Chua knows how intoxicating and ambition-dulling the effects of wealth can be on the children of the very successful. This book is as much an antidote to second and third generation complacency as anything else. It’s an important concept even for those without an Ivy League pedigree.

Second, is that hard work and discipline are essential to success. This is true regardless of the venue. With books like OUTLIERS and GAME ON touting the magic of ten thousand hours as the key to success, who can doubt the age-old adage that “practice makes perfect.”

Finally, is that children eventually have to take command of their own success. The goal of parenting is not to raise large children, but independent adults. This requires the gradual granting of autonomy. If autonomy isn’t carefully measured out, it will eventually be wrested away, or — even worse — never gained at all.

The biggest mistake anyone could make after reading this book is to get too fixated on the details of Ms. Chua’s child-rearing techniques. Every parent makes mistakes. It was brave of her to document her own for the world to read. In most cases, the opposite of parental love is not hate, but apathy. No one can accuse Ms. Chua of being apathetic.

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The Road Less Taken

My wife asked me to write the foreword to her first book. Here’s what I wrote.

The Road Less Taken

“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:14 (NIV)

This is the story of the road less taken.

Are you being herded along the highway of conventional wisdom, jostled by every whim and worry? Are you marching lockstep with hordes of unhappy people to destinations unknown? Are you starting to question where you are going? Why you are going there? And how come everyone seems so miserable along the way?

Then push your way to the edge of the crowd. You may have a bit of a struggle because everyone is packed in so tightly. You may step on some toes. You may get some angry looks as you squeeze by. You may even hear a few harsh words muttered in your direction. Just apologize and keep moving.

Once you break free of the masses, look down the little knoll into the meadow below. Can you see the narrow trail of pushed-down grass cutting through the field of green? Let your eyes follow it until it disappears into the golden wood. Now look at the forest. See the trees as they sway gently in the breeze. Notice the glint of sunshine in the distance, perhaps from a hidden lake, and the little wisp of smoke rising as though from a single chimney.

Turn back around and look at the crowd. Most of the people are expressionless, sullenly tramping along. Some are angry, shoving and elbowing their way forward along the giant conveyor belt that reaches to the horizon. Here and there you see an occasional smile. Your previous companions have moved on and are disappearing into the distance.

Now you face a decision. Do you rejoin the crowd or follow that little grassy trail to see where it leads?

This book is a letter home from someone who took the little grassy trail.

It has been my privilege to hold the author’s hand and walk side by side with her along that trail for the past twenty-two years. Nothing you read here is hypothetical. It is all very real. She has lived out daily every single bit of advice she gives. Although it is packed with scientific studies and Scripture references, her book is as much a journal as anything else: a very personal answer to the question, how do you make it all work?

In fact, this book is just the first of a three-part series answering that very question. Each installment is written in the spirit of Titus 2:3-5, which tells older women to encourage younger women to “love their husbands, love their children, and to be workers at home.” The series gives a detailed description of what each of these three imperatives looks like in a modern context. This first book deals with successful husband-wife relationships. The second book addresses meaningful parent-child relationships. And the third gives practical advice on managing a home.

When you read these books, you will be challenged to step outside your comfort zone. You will be asked to be more than what you are, maybe more than what you think you can be. As you follow some of the advice, you may find yourself frustrated, skeptical, and possibly a little afraid. From time to time, you may even look back over your shoulder, across the meadow, at the slowly marching crowd and wonder if you made the right decision.

Fear not. What awaits you at the end of the trail is well worth it. I’ve been there. I know.

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