After all the press I've heard about Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I figured I should go ahead and read it for myself. Her book is about her desire to raise her two daughters "the Chinese way" which is more strict than the "Western" or "American" way. She feels that the "Western" way of parenting is too lax and permissive. For example, here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin
She makes her daughters practice their instruments 3-5 hours a day, while she stands behind them criticizing them for tiny errors. She is unfailingly honest and completely obsessive about her parenting style. This honesty saves the book from being horrific, as she is openly honest about what she is doing.
It is an odd book, and I'm not recommending her parenting techniques at all. BUT, and this is a big BUT....I think she does have a point about the permissiveness of Western parenting. The "everyone wins" mentality, where every kid is a soccer star and gets an award for just being on the team isn't really working. We are producing entitled, lazy college students who think they deserve an "A" for just showing up to class, and have their parents complain if they don't get what they want. I work at a college (and have for many years) and the "Millennial" generation who have been raised this way along with being "taught to the test" are nearly incapable of thinking for themselves or accepting that they can't do whatever they want when they graduate. Of course, the current job climate will stop them in their tracks, especially the ones who come out thinking they "deserve" that high-paying entry level job. They want to bypass the "getting their foot in the door" type of jobs, thinking it a waste of their time. Their attitudes are appalling.
If we could just fall somewhere in between these two extremes, I think we'd be doing well. Parents who have students in music or sports are not unlike Ms. Chua, with the endless practices and games or performances. A generation ago, Little League started at age 9. These days, parents feel that if their child hasn't started a sport by age 5 ot 6 then they just can't compete. Starting a sport at age 9 with no former training is just asking for humiliation. Late bloomers need not apply.
On the other hand, and I'll play the devil's advocate here, if you want your child to be a "master" at something, then you SHOULD start them early, or have them practice for hours and hours. Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, describes the :"10,000 hours" phenomenon. He says that anyone who has put in 10,000 hours will have an edge or mastery over a subject, be it sports, the computer, academics or music. So discipline has its advantages. But balance is key.
One of my worries is that my daughter (age 7 1/2) was more interested in the computer and TV and would not choose to read. My son at her age was reading voraciously. I couldn't get books out of his hands, he read in the car, at the table, in bed at night. My daughter resisted my attempts to ply her with books. She is a math girl, and loves games, search and find books, puzzles, and sports. This wasn't enough for me. Being the good English major that I am, I was collecting a library for her while she was still in the womb. I felt that there weren't enough good role models for girls on TV or the movies (and I'm right!). The girls were either too mean, too sexy or too dumb. For me, the girls I've admired have always been in books. Jo March, from Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Caddie Woodlawn, and Laura from the Little House on the Prairie books, now THOSE were good role models. Even new heroines like Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter books were admirable. Smart, resourceful, a bit rebellious, yet kind and strong were how I'd describe these girls. I wanted my daughter to know about them.
Something I've learned with my daughter (who is quite stubborn), is not to force the issue. If she sensed I wanted her to do something, she would do the opposite. (Amy Chua had the good daughter 1st, followed by the rebellious one 2nd, whom she tried to break). So I found myself biting my tongue a lot and letting her read things that interested her, even if they weren't the books I had in mind for her. She would sit down at the grocery store with a teeny bop magazine. I said nothing. She'd want her bedtime reading to be a search and find book, I said nothing. Her father read her mysteries over and over, Geronimo Stilton being a favorite. Mysteries, like math, are like puzzles. She enjoyed them. I let her pick out her own books out of the library. I tried non-fiction, stories of female heroes, like Amelia Earhart, or Marian Anderson. She liked these. I read her the American Girl doll books about the different eras in history. She liked these. She couldn't believe what it meant to be a girl before the women's movement changed everything. Mom, that's not fair! she would cry incredulously. Then she would want to know more.
Lately, I've caught her with the light on after we've tucked her in, reading a book. I caught her the other day, sitting on the couch reading. I went to to a book sale and let her pick out whatever she wanted. She seems to have turned a corner. I try not to draw too much attention to it, but I am secretly thrilled.
Not every child is the same. I must remember that. I must have patience.