Friday, 25 May 2012
Tiger Mothering and Me
I've just finished a book I've been meaning to read for ages, and finally got round to: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it is the controversial story of how Chua (a Yale law professor) applied Chinese Mothering principles to bringing up her daughters in the US. This involved, among other things, a strict regime of many hours of music practice a day; never being allowed to get less than a A on a test; and not being allowed playdates, sleepovers, TV or to be involved in anything as frivolous as a school play. Chua's thesis is that Western parents are too relaxed, and are therefore failing their children, whereas Asian parents push their children to succeed, often with amazing results.
Chua does admit that although her elder daughter appeared to thrive on this approach (she ends up playing piano in Carnegie Hall), her younger daughter rebelled and she has now 'taken a step back' from such ferocious Tiger Mothering. But apart from that, she is fairly unrepentant about her methods. (NB Chua says that anyone can be a 'Chinese' mother - it is the style, rather than the race, that is important.).
It's an interesting book because it got me thinking about how I bring my children up. I'm pretty relaxed; not to the extent where they can do what they like all the time, but I'm not particularly restrictive about playdates, TV or sleepovers for instance. On the other hand, there are some ground rules; they have to do homework as perfectly as they can (if it 's messy, I make them rub it out and do it again); they can't give up on an activity just because they don't feel like it that day (I've paid for these swimming lessons, so they're damn well going to do them!); they can only play games on the iPad at a specific time of day (and they haven't been allowed a Wii, a Playstation or anything like that - yet).
I'm very, very far from being a 'Chinese Mother', and I spent most of the book thinking 'how could she do that to her kids?" and wondering if it would permanently damage her relationships with her kids, particularly the younger one, in later life. But it did make me wonder - should I be pushing the boys harder?
For example, Littleboy 1's piano teacher seems to think he's quite talented - if I made him practice for hours each day, would he become really, really good? Since reading the book, I feel I've already become a little more rigorous about enforcing practice. On the other hand I'm loathe to push him at something he already enjoys, and put him off entirely.
Then there's the academics. The boys are definitely going to be behind somewhat we return to the UK, due to US schooling starting later, so we will need to do some extra work over the next year. But the question is, should we be ensuring they're 'two years ahead of their peer group in maths', as Chua suggests, in order to ensure their future success in life? Is that the only way, in this ultra-competitive world, to give them a passport into a good school/college/job? (And being even more philosophical about it, does that equal happiness anyway?).
I do agree somewhat with Chua's point that children don't really know what they want, and if you give them free rein they will just choose to watch TV and eat chocolate. You do have to 'make' them do some things. But then there's going too far. Do you really want them to be little automatons, who are only good at mathematics or music because they've spent hours preparing, rather than because of natural flair and talent? Should you not encourage their interests, rather than enforce ones that you've chosen for them?
In the end, I think I'll have to say no to tiger mothering. I think I'd rather be a domesticated cat. But maybe one who occasionally shows her claws.
Tiger Picture: Copyright Littleboy 2.