Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tiger mom? I'm more of a bear.

This morning I was at work in a patient's room during a bone marrow and the TV happened to be on. Specifically, The Today Show, and I'm not going to lie here. That show drives me nuts. It's like all of the anchors or reporters or whatever are caricatures of themselves.

They were interviewing a woman about a book she had written regarding 'the Chinese way to raise successful children'. I listened to the interview, and frankly, it made me feel like I was doing a sub-par job raising my children. Worse than sub-par. Somehow I was taking the easy way out of parenting, letting them watch TV and play video games and have playdates and not forcing them to practice the violin for hours every day.

I'm not kidding about that violin part. The woman actually forced her daughter to practice the violin for a few hours every day. In order to do that in this house there would have to be some bondage required.

Basically, the woman said this: (I could do some basic research here and find a name and an actual title of the book for you, but I'm not going to spoon feed you here, people. You all know how to google.) Eastern parents would be horrified by how we raise our children here in the west. We let them have sleep overs and play video games and don't push them to live up to their full potential. She said her (and their) method of parenting is basically that children are capable of doing a lot more than we, or they, think they can. It's our job to push them to live up to those expectations.

When I first started listening, I was horrified. I felt bad for her daughters (she has two). But then self-doubt started gripping me, and I thought about my two children. I thought about the Wii we had just bought for Christmas, the piano that I promised to teach Alison (she's only had about 3 lessons so far), the fact that the first thing they do when we get home from school every day is watch TV and eat a snack. I thought about the potential that Alison has shown, and how maybe I'm not equipped to parent her in a way that will make her live up to it. And then there's Oliver, who at four we just basically let have fun. I haven't MADE him learn his letters yet, or write his name. If he expresses an interest, I encourage and try to teach, but otherwise we let him be a four year old boy.

There are so many ways for us to feel bad about parenting. I think for just about everyone, it's probably the area where you feel the least confidant, where it's easiest to start to feel like you're not doing enough. I stopped reading parenting magazines because instead of feeling informed after reading them I just freaked out that I wasn't doing everything they suggested.

The more I thought about what the woman was saying, the more I realized that she and I had different goals for our children. She used the word successful a whole lot. Her focus was raising 'successful' children. She herself was a law professor at Yale and has written two books. She's married to a fellow Yale law professor. Of course I want my children to be successful, but that doesn't necessarily mean they need to have high-powered jobs and make lots of money and become piano prodigies when they are ten. What I want most for my kids is for them to be happy. To grow into adults who know themselves and are confident. Who care for other people. Who know that their parents, no matter how old they are, will always be there for them, cheering them on 100%. If being a high-powered lawyer is going to make them happy, then go for it. If being a stay-at-home mom or garbage collector is going to help them achieve happiness, then that's what they should do.

It makes me so mad that women like this get to go on TV and preach their rhetoric and make the rest of feel like we aren't doing enough. I'm not a leniant parent. I have rules, and I enforce them. Yes, my kids come home and watch TV. They get no more than half an hour, it's PBS, and the snack has to be a piece of fruit. I expect Alison to have her homework done before supper. I expect her to work hard at school, just like I will expect Oliver to work hard. I have taught Oliver how to write his name, whether he does it when I ask is another question. He knows his ABCs, colors, shapes, and can count. I didn't sit down with him and force him into it, but I looked for opportunities to teach him things when I knew he'd be receptive to it. Yes, we play Wii, but always as a family, and we have pretty strict rules for how long the kids get to play (after they go to bed, though, Si and I can play Mario Kart for as long as we want-the bonus to being a grown-up). How many times do you hear a parent brag about all the good they do for their kids? Most of the time we make self-deprecating remarks about our kids or how we are raising them. I'm not saying that there aren't parents out there who are taking the easy way out, but I think for the most part we're all just trying to do the best we can, and what we need from other people is encouragement.

I'm already keenly aware of any mistakes I make, it's the good things I tend to gloss over until I sit down and really think about it.

Tonight, instead of thinking of all of the mistakes you made all day, why don't you sit back and bask in all of the good things you did for your children. You'll go to bed much happier.


OK, here's a link to an NPR article: http://www.npr.org/2011/01/11/132833376/tiger-mothers-raising-children-the-chinese-way

The title of the book is "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

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