Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tiger Mom... Not so GR-R-REAT!

It seems everyone has already written about Amy Chua and her book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", so I'm a little late hopping on the bandwagon. Maybe it was my parents' laissez faire approach to my upbringing that kept me from being the first to analyze this... I'm sorry father for I have shamed you by not being the first and best blogger to cover this story.

While I agree with Amy Chua that some Americans may over-indulge our children, I think there are miles and miles of middle ground between what she sees as our stereotypical parenting and the Tiger Mom approach. I have some big Problems with only accepting first place for your child in all things. First of all, there can be only one (sorry, couldn't resist). Obviously, we should teach our children to strive for the top spot in all they do, but you have to accept a child's best effort and recognize their devotion to different challenges and activities will vary. I also believe that being proud of your child for placing less than first is absolutely crucial to teaching fair play and good sportsmanship. Can you imagine the way a child would act in a competition after taking third place if they know their parents are going to be scornful of their performance? 

Chua pokes fun at the way Americans praise our children for the smallest things like "drawing a squiggle or waving a stick." In my view, praising small victories is a big deal. I'll never stop doting on my daughter with over-excitement for those things she accomplishes, be they small feats or momentous triumphs. Of course, I'll have to crank it up for the real victories, but helping to construct that early self-confidence encourages strength... not weakness. Having your parent/mentor displeased unless you take the top prize is like something straight out of a kung-fu movie; I just don't buy the assertion that holding the bar so unrealistically high will result in well-adjusted adults. I'd wager these expectations result in arrogance and crushing bouts of depression when, at the end of the day, you are just not as proficient at something as the next kid. My parents pushed me hard and I always felt pressure to bring home only "A's", but I think it was more self-applied pressure than fear of disappointing them and they always encouraged me to focus on studies and activities that I enjoyed.  "What Chinese parents understand," says Chua, "is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." I could not disagree more. To me the key is to encourage the idea that learning (and practicing) is fun. Maybe Chua's approach is great for generating athletes and musical prodigies, but does it help children to achieve their dreams of becoming artists, actors, scientists, philosophers, politicians, writers, counselors, teachers, et cetera? This observation may seem cheeky coming from a stay home dad blogger and directed toward a critically acclaimed author, but my point of view and how I define success is apparently very different from the Tiger Mom's. 

I do agree with the idea of praising hard-work more than inherent intelligence. If you teach your children hard work is praise-worthy, they will continue with that habit and learn to encourage themselves and recognize the rewards of hard work. Teaching your children they just have a natural ability can breed complacency and arrogance. Take me for example; I've always dealt humbly with my "giftedness" and hereditary mental superiority, which is why I have no humility when it comes to critiquing a best-selling author's take on parenting. (Hopefully, everyone recognized that as a joke… I actually think I’m kind of a simpleton when it comes to the range of human IQ).  

I am also a little skeptical that this woman is really going to allow her daughters to go in the direction they wish with their matriculation and careers without interference; only time will tell. I would say let’s wait for an interview with these girls in 10-15 years, but one of the problems with this parenting philosophy is they will still be seeking her constant approval and may never tell us how they really feel while she is alive and perhaps not even when she is gone. In fact, I'd be willing to bet this whole "tiger mom" bit is just a scared little girl's attempt to garner attention and praise from a father who was too harsh and obviously has his own ideas of what constitutes a "good" parent. Parents of differing schools of thought have raised children who are just as talented and smart as Chua's daughters. I have to wonder though if she would receive the same praise from her father had she not chosen his way of thinking and it stands to reason she may look through the same lens at her own children when it comes to parenting.

I won't let that happen with my daughter; not on my watch. The idea that each of us is a "special flower" (as Amy disparages) is not a fairy tale or something to be taken lightly, it's a philosophy of life I truly believe in and will share with my child all the years I am here. Stephen Hawking is never going to be a champion in tennis and Hellen Keller was never the best cello player, but they certainly excelled in areas of their choosing and ended up contributing a hell of a lot to this pale blue dot. I wonder where and how the handicapped fit into the tiger mom's parenting views?

To me the whole Tiger Mom outlook is a militant way of approaching parenthood. The military hierarchy and totalitarian approach have their merits depending on your goals, but there are many ways this approach falls short. If you are bent on world dominance... raise yourself an army. If you are looking for enlightenment, happiness and hope to instill compassion for others... raise a child with that in mind. J Bean can conquer the world if she decides to do so, I'll make sure she has the foundation from which to spring in any direction but, hopefully, I won't drive her crazy while laying those cornerstones.

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