A few weeks back, I read "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom" by Amy Chua. Powerful stuff, if you haven't heard of the sh#!-storm it generated. She's pretty blunt in what she says, but mostly, I think it feels like a gigantic-round-house-kick to the testicles for AMERICANS, because she's directly comparing traditional Chinese parenting styles with our modern, Western ways.
Have any of you read it? I'm curious to know your thoughts.
I really didn't hate it. Maybe because I didn't see it as an attack. Back when G, my oldest, was less than a year old, I VIVIDLY remember having to defend my choice to feed her yogurt, and ever since then, I have really stopped trying to justify every choice I make as a parent. Because guess what--I WAS WINGING IT. Oprah probably inspired 75% of my parenting choices, and she has a ba-jillion dollars and NO KIDS (not a wise or economical choice).
I have yet to meet a mom that doesn't fixate on something. Newborn sleep patterns. Breast-feeding. Tummy time. Homemade baby food. Sign language. Swimming lessons. Dance class. Private school. Homeschool. Manners. Homework. Friends. We ALL have preferences for the way we parent our kids and the decisions we make on their behalf.
I think the issue, for a lot of us Americans, is that we like to attach our children's *happiness* to the choices that we make. Which is valid, to some extent, but if I were to parent my kid's based on what brings them the greatest joy in life? They would go brain dead in front of the Wii and grow up believing they could actually become a lego, Jedi knight. This would, in turn, bring them GREAT distress (and potentially jail time) as adults. Because happiness is a really faulty criteria in parenting.
Take, for instance, my 8-year-old daughter, who generally dislikes all things sports-related. This attitude alone pretty much guarantees that she will play a sport, mostly of her choosing, until my reign-of-terror ends upon her graduation from high school. I do this for two reasons: I never played ANY sports as a child and I find that a huge limitation; and I refuse to let her skip something so important simply because she hates physical exertion/being hot (dead. serious.). Our compromise? She swims, thus taking temperature out of the equation.
Amy Chua believes in straight-A's and exceptional musical abilities. Her kids had ZERO life outside of homework and piano/violin practice. They weren't allowed to have play dates, they had to practice their instruments for hours a day, EVEN ON VACATION. That folks, is hard core, and a *tad* extreme for me, seeing as I likey a few glasses of wine on vacation. But guess what? Her kids were straight-A students and Carnegie Hall-performing musicians before they graduated from high school. She didn't expect less, and guess what? They delivered.
Crap bag. I don't even expect that Big J will be able to put his pants on properly tomorrow. That doesn't say much about what I desire for my children, or how I'm going to push to get them there. Chances are good, I will re-dress him myself to save time; this isn't loving or enriching, it's efficient. And he will live in my basement as a 40-year-old and resent the fact that I still buy his clothes and *possibly* brush his teeth. NOT efficient.
Listen. I'm NOT a fan of her tactics, but I am amazed by the vision and goals she had for her kids, and her consistency in getting there. I'm not even saying that I want my kids to be concert pianists or genetic physicists--but I am seriously reconsidering my goals for my kids and eliminating the word *happy* from them. Happy is hamsters and ice cream and sleepovers. Happy is what comes after teenage hormones and finals and painful-friendship-cliques. When they come into their own and learn to give a giant finger to the people who tell them they can't feed yogurt to their baby. Happy is not showering for two days AND walking into your kid's school in your *fancy* pajamas AND not caring that people think you might be homeless.
Happy is NOT giving them their hearts desires today, only to grow an enormous entitlement complex. Or letting them get by with just enough effort in their school work, so that they are out-performed in the real world. Or trying 25 different activities and always moving on to the next best thing, so that they are left with a spirit of discontentment when life gets too *routine* as an adult.
I cannot make my kids *happy*. At times, yes, but not as an overall life-goal. No, it is my job to give them the skills of a strong work ethic, perseverance, time management and responsibility. To expect GREAT effort, so that they do GREAT work. And at this stage in the game, teaching those things means choosing a path for them--whether it be an academic focus, a creative outlet, a musical instrument, a sport--and picking a goal, and holding them to some sort of standard. Lessons in attitude, and humility and forgiveness and kindness, and living the gospel will come via the choices we make--and ultimately their success, or failure (because there is MUCH to be learned in that, as well).
Also (and lastly), I think it's a big mistake to believe that we can guarantee our kid's happiness based on our own *love* for them. My love FAILS. It is sinful and selfish and crabby A LOT of the time. It is unconditional and never ending, but boy is it far from perfect. My love for them also means saying no; it means discipline; it means crying it out as a baby and eating broccoli as an 8-year-old. It means NOT buying them beer when they are 17. When it is strong and well-meaning, it will be, at times, perceived as cruel and punishing and totally lame.
I don't do everything right for my children. Far (far) from it. But I do enjoy collecting bits of inspiration and ideas in my creative life, and I see parenting as much the same. And there is a lot to be said for the Tiger Mom and her persistence in raising strong and successful kids. And what I am taking away is a plan to work toward some actual, TANGIBLE goals for my kids. Versus signing them up for a bunch of crap 2-weeks after the deadline, or working on a book report the night before it's due.
Just curious--do any of you have a plan for your kid's time and focus? Activities you'll pursue and your rationale for choosing them? I'd love to hear feedback, because I am a *collector* of ideas and it truly takes an entire, virtual village to raise kids these days.