Monday, January 31, 2011

The Lullabye of the New Age Hippie Mother

So by now, everyone has read Amy Chua's excerpt from her book, or at least a commentary on, or many comments about The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. This blog isn't really a "MommyBlog" in the vein of most. This is just a family site to share our kids, but sometimes, I find I need to say more. I don't really want to give this book yet more coverage, but I am not one to keep quiet - and it's not like anyone reading is going to go out and buy the book...

Though, as I understand, the book is about the whole arc of discovering parenting and not really as bad as the Wall St Journal excerpt made it seem, the premise, that a "successful" child = one who is top in their class and tops at music (preferably the violin or piano - I guess guitar or drums are not acceptable) is what disturbs me even more than the parenting style. See, many of us are outraged at what appears to border on child abuse. But then, many mainstream articles have suggested maybe we're outraged because she was right. Maybe, we western (US) parents really are just too lazy to put the effort into raising our kids, are too scared to push them to get straight As, too hesitant to deny frivolous things like playdates, sports, crafts and fun.

But again, why is the measure of success getting all As? Leaving aside the issue that only one person can be top of the class, so if we all expected our kids to be perfect, many of us would be disappointed and have kids who view themselves as failures.

Yes, I want my kids to do well in school. I want them to excel at the things they try. But more importantly, I want them to love learning. I want them to work hard at it because the challenge is fun and exciting. I want my kid to continue to come home saying "Mommy! I know things!" because she learned new stuff in school that day as opposed to "Mommy! I need to get 100%!" or pulling out her hair in stress saying "I need to do better than Jane/Tommy/every-other-kid."

I want them to be just as happy picking up the drums as a violin (ok, maybe not the there a quiet musical instrument?) or kicking a soccer ball or twirling like a ballerina or whatever excites them. I want them to be willing to try any activity they think is fun (legal and appropriate of course). Gymnastics? Ballet? Swimming? Diving? Soccer? T-ball? Football? Creative writing? Crafts? Painting? Building? Yes!

Maybe they'll choose one and become the best. Or maybe they'll be second best. Or maybe they'll just do it and have fun and move on to the next thing.

Some might think this will make them non-commital in life, never settling on one thing. But I don't think so. That's pretty much what I did, and at various points in my life, excelled at whatever activity I put my heart into. No, I never became an Olympic diver nor am I likely to win a Nobel Prize, but to date, I've had a pretty dang good life and am pretty happy with all I've done.

Am I willing to push my kids? Yes. I hope, however, that we have the intuition to recognize when they need to be pushed, and when they just need support. If any of my teachers/coaches/parents had called me "garbage" (as Chua does) or threatened to destroy all my toys, or forced me to practice with no water/bathroom breaks, I'd have learned to hate the activity (and to be honest, Angelina can go about 10x longer without a bathroom break than I can).

Negative reinforcement doesn't work. For me. And I don't think it'll work for my kids. Indeed, I have found it takes far more energy to pay attention to them, to learn to understand what it is will motivate them. Much easier to scream and yell and demand, but far more negative emotional energy than any of us wants to live with and it doesn't really work.

I'm pretty sure my kids will be successful in life, because the foundation is one of happiness and love of learning. And most importantly, a love of life and people.


Marcy said...

I so love this post. =) Thanks for writing & sharing it!

Monica said...

I have been ruminating that Chua article ever since I saw your FB link. I felt like she stated many "truths" about children- society's tendancy to assume weakness rather than strength, dependence rather than capacity, and especially that "Things are more enjoyable once we reach a certain level of proficiency (reading, piano, you name it)". However, she then takes all of these legitiamte ideas, and TOTALLY SCREWS UP the mothering bit. Believing you have a strong, capable, intelligent child and supporting them does not look like the verbally abusive OCD household she raised her daughters in.


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