Unlike some of my homeschooling colleagues, I found inspiration in reading articles about “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” the new book by Amy Chua. The author describes the so-called “Chinese” way of raising children–one that focuses exclusively on academic perfection–contrasting it as being much different than the “indulgent” ways of her more Western counterparts.
The Tiger Mother expends great effort and emotion in obliging her child to adhere to a strict regimen intended to result in a narrowly defined success. She prohibits indulgences like play dates and sleep overs, and compels her offspring to play the violin or piano, and only the violin or piano. She truly forces that kid to “succeed”–with edicts, threats, screaming, punishment, name-calling and degradation; any tactic that may produce the desired perfection. In a New York Times interview, Ms. Chua justifies this, asserting that other “people are not that honest about their own parenting.” The author challenges us to, “take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.”
In reading several articles about Chua’s book, I realized that I, too, am a “Tiger Mother.” My daughters have been strictly homeschooled from birth, according to lofty goals their mother set before they were even conceived.
Like children of Tiger Mothers everywhere, my girls were also expected to make all “A’s”. I pushed them, sometimes very hard–out the door in good weather. In the closed environment of a 1/4-acre garden, they had to work at making “A’s” in such rigorous subjects as Playing In The Bushes, Pill Bug Science, Scooter Rodeo, Faerie Resort Construction, Ripe Fig Discernment and, during rainy weather, Downspout Physics.
In their indoor studies, my children were expected to excel in Kitchen Chemistry, Muffin Math, Scooter Rodeo and Guinea Pig Psychology. Furthermore, the girls had to master Empathy, Cultural Enjoyment, Making & Keeping Friends, Starting & Quitting, and Self-Examination.
Also like the children of other Tiger Mothers, my daughters took violin and piano lessons. But one of them took voice lessons, too. Each of them chose their music experiences on their own volition, when they felt the time was right–and each of them quit when they felt the time was right, too. One still sings on her own, in her own way, a very different way than she learned from her teacher. The other sometimes regrets that she gave up piano lessons, and the one who took violin may one day regret giving it up, too. However, because they did take lessons, their brains built the neural pathways for participation in music, so, each is physically prepared for the time she may decide to pick up any instrument that inspires her.
Mine is not the typical Tiger Mother’s agenda, but, still I am a Tiger Mother… sort of. I, too, raised my children to succeed, to excel in life, to be exceptional, for their own good. Where I differ from the usual Tiger Mother is in my definition of these qualities. I define success for my children as being confident, capable, happy and kind, as having the ability to self-examine, the courage to change and grow, the motivation to connect with other people and engage in this big wide world, and the wisdom to know when it is time to cut their losses.
My daughters may or may not ever become accomplished classical musicians or candidates for Ph.D.s, but they have already largely succeeded in the ways that I wanted success for them, much as Ralph Waldo Emerson defined success, which includes laughing “often and much,” winning respect, weathering betrayal, appreciating beauty, finding “the best in others”, leaving “the world a bit better” and knowing “even one life has breathed easier because you have lived”.
According to one of the articles about Tiger Mothers, “the Chinese model doesn’t dwell on happiness, nor does it deal well with failure.” However, this Tiger Mother believes that heavy academic stress is counterproductive, that, when the individual’s life is in line with who they really are, when a child is exposed–with appropriate guidance–to the wide world around them, then educational and career success will naturally arise.
As my daughters move along the cusp between childhood and adulthood, I sometimes look back at how I raised them. Of course, I recognize mistakes, have a few regrets, and would do things differently now if I could rewind. But on the whole, I am very pleased with the result of my Tiger Mothering. Though I cannot tell where their unique and highly personalized education will take them, I can see that, according to this Tiger Mother’s definition, they have met success.
(C) 2011. Shay Seaborne. All Rights Reserved.