My daughter Christine, the author of today’s guest post, is the mother of two teenagers. She’s also a member of a book club that recently read and discussed Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Since the women in Christine’s book club have children, Chua’s book provoked a lively—some may say heated—discussion. Were Amy Chua’s methods good discipline or torture? Should mothers force their children to practice the piano or violin three hours a day, every day? Should they expect straight “A”s and ban sleepovers and play dates?
On NPR’s Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan suggested that “Amy Chua may well be nuts” and compared her voice to that of Hannibal Lecter. David Brooks expressed the opposite view in the New York Times. He called Chua “a wimp.”
Christine has her own opinion.
Tiger Mothers, a guest post
I really do love my two children, and what I want most is for them to be happy. But sometimes I have pushed them to work hard, even if they didn’t want to, because I thought it would cause them more overall happiness in the end. I believe that true self esteem comes from a child trying something he thinks he can’t do, working really hard, . . . and succeeding! So in that way, some would call me a tiger mother. (Although my husband says ‘sheep mom’ would be more accurate.)
The Tiger Mother reference is to Amy Chua’s 2011 book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. I have no desire to mimic the more extreme aspects of a strict Chinese parenting style, but some of Chua’s ideas, like the “virtuous circle”, seem self-evident.
The idea behind the virtuous circle is that most things are not much fun until you’re good at them. Becoming good at something usually takes hard work, often a lot of hard work. But once you get good, it becomes more enjoyable, you start getting recognition, and that fuels the desire to put in more hard work, until happiness and success become self-propagating. This can apply to piano, baseball, or math.
Perhaps it’s because I went to school overseas through 10th grade, but some things many American parents do make no sense to me. For example, many seem willing to spend endless hours playing catch with their young children, but are reluctant to practice math or spelling. This seems upside-down, as all of these kids will need to know how to write and add, but very few will be heading to the major leagues.
My daughter is bright, but hates rote memorization, so in first grade she had trouble with math facts. She understood the concepts, and liked the patterns, “Isn’t it neat that for all the multiples of nine, the digits add up to 9?” (As in 7*9 = 63 and 6+3 = 9). But to take it to the next level, her teacher said she needed to be faster at math facts, and to do that she needed to memorize and practice with flashcards. Her teacher and I sometimes brought my daughter to the point of tears, but we persevered, and she learned her math facts. This accomplishment put her in the “fast group”, from which she never looked back. She had fun with algebra, calculus, and even theoretical linear algebra proofs. In math competitions in high school and her math class in college, the faces are heavily Asian, and my daughter is often the only blond female in the group. Did the others give up in first grade?
Most of the time, parents don’t have to make their children cry – they just need to communicate what they think is important. We have great conversations on politics, history, and religion. These discussions began in preschool, with “stories” of the Middle Ages, the founding fathers, the bible, and current events. Academics can be really fun. My son, to this day, requests that we play the word game “Contact” every time we go on a hike.
I also required my children to play sports every year, explaining that I want them to be healthy, and that high school is a great time to get in peak physical condition. Both kids fought me on this at first, but eventually derived a great deal of satisfaction from exercising hard and seeing their bodies become fast and strong. My daughter ran cross country and plays badminton (the serious indoor type). My son likes ultimate frisbee and does weights and core exercises.
As my mother says, “Instead of praising a child for being tall or smart, traits they were born with, praise them for working hard. Help them see the success that rewards perseverance.” Roar!
Are you a tiger mother or father? Have you required a lot of your children?