As a new parent I have used up countless hours thinking about the way in which my husband and I will raise our children so that they may experience the best out of life, be happy, be fulfilled and be all round decent people. As parents we have this awesome and terrifying job of helping to mould, educate and influence our tiny wards. Sometimes my heart palpitates erratically just thinking about this weighty responsibility. I have nightmares about emotionally scarring my children with comments or actions. Just think about the things your parents said or did that stay with you till this day.
I was fascinated when the adapted piece from Amy Chua’s book “The Battle Hymn of A Tiger Mother” came out in The Wall Street Journal. Of course it created an instant cacophony of controversy. I had to read it and find out firsthand what all the fuss was about. It’s how shall I put this? An interesting read to say the least: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
In this excerpt, Chua attempts to explain why (in her mind) Chinese mothers are far better than others. She segregates mothers into two groups. The “Chinese” group and the “Western” mothers. I wholly identify myself as a western mother as this is the way I was brought up and intend to bring up my own children. So of course I was shocked, outraged and in disbelief at some of the things she subjects (torments) her daughters with. I mean, no playdates, no sleepovers, no plays, no TV (let’s not even get into the realm of no toilet breaks, no food or calling her daughter garbage) to name a few. Basically it seems like fun is prohibited in her household. I do however have to hand her a minor point. She made me think. Are we a little too soft these days? Have we gone overboard? With the emphasis being placed almost exclusively on how the child will react and feel all the time. I know my parents didn’t subscribe to this super sensitive, fuzzy teddy bear kind of parenting approach. And I think myself and my sibs all turned out fine. I hate to oversimplify a clichéd stereotype here but in general Chinese children DO tend to excel and have the higher grades and better work ethic. Does this mean there is some credence to support a diluted version of this extreme type of parenting?
It’s definitely a dissimilar approach and one that has never entered my brain. I practice attachment parenting. Which is the complete antithesis of Chua’s professed Tiger Mom method. Not that I’m saying I could ever be a tiger mother. It’s not in me. I’m a touchy-feely, weepy, huggy, I love you kind of mama. But Chua explains that Chinese parents understand that children by nature aren’t motivated to work. She says and I’m paraphrasing “..to get good at anything you must work”. This I completely agree with. Work is paramount. Time and effort are essential. So while I think the woman is a bit of a loony tune I did garner one important kernel from this article and it is to have the grit to help my children excel by sticking with them (and perhaps make them repeat things to help them learn)and to aid their attempts to become skillful and proficient at things (again through practice and repetition). But not in a psychotic, no toilet breaks kind of way. I can say now that I’m going to prepare for a few conflicts. But unlike Chua I will be assisting my children with palpable love and joy and patience (sprinkled with a bit of firmness whenever the situation may dictate).
Splitting my time between two distinct countries has me at a fantastic advantage. Half the time I am living in the land of the Tiger Mother and the other half I spend in the Philippines where the emphasis is placed more on familial happiness and togetherness and individual character rather than academic excellence (just my personal opinion). I get the best of both worlds. I’m exposed to different parenting methods and absorbing and filing away all the techniques that I see work or that I like.
I have a funny (extremely) watered down correlation between tiger and western mothers. In Hong Kong I have my “western” playgroup, which is unstructured, and fun and the moms are discussing cute things the babies did or dishing advice on how to get baby to sleep through the night, or how to keep sane through the joys of motherhood, etc much like my playgroups in the Philippines. Recently I was invited to join a predominantly “Chinese” playgroup. The differences were immediately conspicuous. I was swamped with emails and excel spreadsheets about classes, activities, schedules, play group leaders (there was even talk of a mandarin teacher being hired to lead the group). Bear in mind that the oldest child in this group is under 2 years of age. As I was reading these emails I started to feel a bit inadequate as the only planned activities that have ever taken place at any of the playdates I’ve ever hosted/attended have been the babies gurgling at each other and catching up with my mummy friends. Then I laughed and realized it’s terrific for both baby and myself to be a part of both types of groups. I believe a healthy balance between learning and having fun is a requirement. It can’t be all fun and no learning or vice versa.
I’m happy to have a couple of Tiger Moms (the modern , rational versions, not the antiquated stereotypes that Amy Chua was espousing) as my friends as they teach me a little bit about their approach to parenting. Likewise I’m grateful to have my “western” mothers who also inspire and share parenting tidbits.
I think when it comes down to it you have to remember the end goal. You want your kid to have a better life than you did. The objective I believe is to have a child who turns out to be good, happy, and content with life. But it’s not an ends justifies the means situation. You want your child to enjoy the journey. To do that I think that you as a parent need to put in a lot of hard work (and not be resentful about it or feel that your child is indebted to you) and so does the child. However there should be an equal amount of fun and love that goes into the childhood experience too. I don’t think life should constantly be viewed as this contest where your kid is either besting or underperforming compared to the next child. As my mother always likes to say “Everything in moderation”. This statement applies to every facet of life and if you live by these words then I do believe everything will turn out great.