Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tiger Mom?

I recently finished the phenomenal book by Amy Chua titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.  ("What on earth does a 96-hour old McDonald's hamburger have to do with Amy Chua," you ask?  Give me a minute.)

Yes.  It's controversial.  Yes.  She uses vast generalizations between "Western" parenting and "Chinese" parenting.  Yes.  Her parenting style is extreme.  And yes.  She learned from her mistakes.

But ultimately?  Ultimately, she brings up some incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas on parenting.  And maybe we are a little easy on our kids.  Too easy.  I think we can learn a lot from her.

My kids were encouraged but not asked to practice their first semester of violin instruction in the fall.  I paid nearly $700 this year for them to play the violin.  And that's a lot of money in my book.  In January, I made an ultimatum.  Practice or don't play it again.   Actually, I said, "Practice 3x per week to even have a voice in the decision of whether or not you will play again."  Ten minutes per practice session I said.  I have since upped it to 20 minutes.  You'd think I was killing them.  Chua made her kids practice upwards of 6 hours per day.   In fact, she said the real practicing didn't start until an hour into it!

One thing Chua said in her book was that left to their own devices, children tend to be lazy.  I would say "most of them."  Or maybe "sometimes."  I wanted to play the flute from the time I was in 3rd grade.  When I got the chance to do so, I practiced diligently until I was first chair in the top symphony in my school.  I don't recall a single time that my mother told me to practice.  Chua says we don't truly enjoy something until we're good at it.  She would probably wrinkle her nose at my $700 for two kids to play violin for a year.  I'm considering finding the best private instructor to work with the twins over the summer to push them and teach them the real violin and then let them decide if they want to keep going with it. 


Chua also says that being the Chinese mother is hard work and that she'd often rather have gone to the spa and have her nails done after lunching with her Western friends than to sit fighting with her daughter over hand position and intonation for 4 hours on Saturday morning as she did - and that was before their private lesson and then returning home to practice again!  But being a Chinese mother means hours and hours of diligent guidance and not being your kid's favorite person. 

I sorta feel that way after our weekend of science fair projects.  We certainly didn't do the projects for the kids (anymore than Chua picked up her daughter's violin and played it for her Juilliard Youth College audition.  By the way, her daughter didn't get in and Chua kicked herself over pushing her daughter to do it).  But there was diligent guidance.  I wasn't willing to accept mediocre work.  I don't think my kids wanted to turn in mediocre work, either.  That required conversations, long hours, and at times redirecting wandering minds back to the task at hand.  Let's face it.  Saying you 'want to do' a science fair project is one thing.  Finishing the project is a whole other soap opera.

Anyway ~ I'm sparring with the Tiger Mom parenting style right now.  It compliments the perfectionist in me.  But obviously there is a cost.  I'm just hoping to find the "happy medium."
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