Saturday, February 11, 2012

Battle Hymn of a Western Mother

This week I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Terrible book. Absolutely awful - Amy Chua completely generalizes "Westerners" as a group of inept, fat (she blames KFC), and lazy parents. I've never felt so attacked as a white person; I don't even like KFC! :) And I work hard to be a conscientious, consistent mother. Chua drives her kids to achieve nothing less than an A, insults/threatens them constantly, and forces them to practice every day of their lives (around six hours at times) a musical instrument of her choice.

This mother drove her kids mercilessly, and while they did achieve great academic and musical success, their relationship with their mother was non-existent. They resented and hated her. She was incapable of seeing anything good that her children did; her eyes were always focused on their flaws and what heights could be achieved next. I can imagine that their family life was miserable. But, hey! Her two kids always had straight A's in their AP/honors classes and even performed in Carnegie Hall. Though this mother went about it in an absolutely wrong way, she wanted her children to succeed and that would be forced through any method she could conceive - namely motivation out of fear, threatening, and shaming.

What really matters? I constantly have this question in the back of my mind.

Should I push my children to show them the importance of work ethic? Do I drill them constantly so they can always be ahead in their future classes? Do I shuttle them all over the city to different activities and organizations so that they can develop "confidence" and natural abilities to the extent that someday they will be known as prodigies?

There is one thing I do know. This woman saw her children as an extension of herself. And not just because they share genetic similarities. Their success outside the home was her success. This woman was desperate to prove to the world that she was a success. Is this what motivates other parents to do likewise?

I remember when I first had Elise, a certain person [at that time - things are better now] would compare her older and same-aged daughters to my daughter. Her oldest daughter would be required to show off her verbal abilities, or some distant memory of what this older daughter, when she was Elise's age, could do would be brought up, to prove superiority. Being a new mom, I felt like I had to compete. I had to shove it in others' faces that, no, my daughter was the best thing to ever come to the world. But, at the same time, I had the inner conflict of knowing that wasn't right. I know, fundamentally, that children have different gifts and capacities. We all have potential in one way or another and use these gifts to complement one another - for the benefit of mankind! Not for the benefit of my pride.

Now, I see things differently. Elise and Michael are exceptional people. When Michael started speaking in sentences at one, I realized that there wasn't anything I'd done differently. It was his inherent ability to pick up on language that set him apart from Elise. It didn't make him more special or "gifted." It did allow for less frustration for the both of us; when he wanted something, I could understand and respond to his needs. At the same time, he felt so independent that he would do things that would get him hurt or into trouble. Elise's abilities are a keen sense of observation and mental processing that are so very important - she has an ability to concentrate like no one I've met. But, as soon as I turn on a movie, her inherent gift of concentration instantly becomes a hindrance - she can't hear a word I say. :)

These two kids are extraordinary in their own right, but I don't need to prove it to anyone, but them. They don't need to achieve high grades, be successful performers or athletes, or even stand out in any particular way. I accept them for who they are and who they are is pretty incredible - even if I am the only one who knows it. I don't need to base my success as a mother on their success in the world. I want them to be good people, not overly high achievers who push themselves to the point of physical sickness because they're worried about achieving only A's on their sixth grade finals (or else they'll face the wrath of mom).

I want my kids to have a childhood. To me, and this is all an experiment, I want them to play outside, to discover worms, to dig in the dirt. I don't want their earliest memories of me to be drilling math flash cards with them for an hour every night. I think them playing at the park, swinging into the sky, wandering around, or riding around on their bikes in pure ecstasy is the kind of childhood that will foster their sense of self-confidence and enjoyment of life - not a class with twenty other kids being told how to tumble properly.

Simplicity is what I want.

I want our lives to be clear of the clutter of constant playdates and exhausting outings that proclaim to be so intellectually or socially stimulating, but just create tired kids and an annoyed me. I love empty days where we can walk along a path together and soak up all the sunshine, find crawdads on the bank of a lake, or grab long wooden sticks to go fishing in ponds. Those days where I make time to enjoy simple things with my kids are the best.

Yesterday, Elise and I painted outside together. The one-on-one aspect was so good, and I realized just how much she and I are alike. Elise was so excited about her work - her paintings were gorgeous and she wanted me to hang them up on the walls above her bunk. She felt so confident!

I keep taking steps into the dark, hoping that the light will indeed confirm that my choices are right, but I feel so good about this simplistic idea of parenting. When, at the end of my life, I want to look back and enjoy the sweet memories of my kids and I just having plain fun together. Those memories don't include trips to "Fun Zones," my ignoring them at playdates with other kids (b/c really, those are more like playdates for me - and I love them, I just don't want them to eat up all my time), elaborate birthday parties, or exhaustive holiday activities.

Again, I just want to feel my kids snuggling up against me as we read their favorite books, embracing them in tight hugs, and feeling the tiny impress of their kisses as they tell me they love me. These things make my life so great, I know they'll be meaningful to my kids, too. Whether or not they get straight A's, become musical prodigies, or are athletic geniuses.


  1. I agree. I think everyone has a different parenting style, but I want Lucy to be happy. I don't want her childhood to be riddled with comments from me, about what she needs to change. She's 4 and should be expected to get dirty and play hard.

    I think it's natural to compare to other mother's, I still do to this day, I just am able to focus better. I was always worried that Lucy was behind.

    Beautifully written!

  2. You are so awesome! Thanks for being my friend and sharing your life with me through blog at this point, although face time would be better. You are such an incredible mom! I still try and compare I think its natural but I want my kids to experiance life and enjoy the simple pleasures of splashing in puddles dduring the storms of life, smelling the sweet nectar from the flower beds we are weeding and be excited to snatch those dust bunnies with the vaccum :) life is so good and I'm so glad I can be their momma. Ps I love your writting style. Very nice!