Monday, March 4, 2013

Tiger Mothers: to be or not to be

There has been a lot of talk about Tiger Mothers over the past few years. Here is the article that started the firestorm:

I read this article, pretty intrigued. I fit into many parts of this definition of a tiger mother. My kids don't play video games at all. We don't watch TV except for family movie nights. My kids can play whenever their stuff is done, but we don't have sleepovers (that is for safety reasons, not too-much-fun-is-bad-for-you reasons). I don't do friend birthday parties because I just can't make myself do it. My kids have to practice music every day, but they don't have to get all As. They have to do their own laundry, even the six-year-old.

Am I a Tiger Mother?

Some people have reacted to this article, this idea of being a Tiger Mother, by going in the extreme opposite direction. They don't push or prod their kids in any direction in fear of going too far. Of ruining childhood. Of sucking all of the fun from their children's lives and ruining their relationships with them.

The other day, I made a list of the things I want my kids to have (or be on their way to obtaining) before they leave my home. These are very broad things, but they are things I want them to learn in order for them to be as self-reliant and self-sufficient as possible. I want my kids to be independent. I want them to feel confident in their abilities to take care of themselves. I want them to feel confident that they can fail and be okay, because with hard work and effort, they will pull themselves up and find another way to succeed.

That's what I want.

Here's my list:

*Have a real testimony that they are children of a God that loves them

*Have an absolute love of books

*Have a craving for knowledge and learning

*Be proficient on some musical instrument

*Be on the way to proficiency in a foreign language

*Be comfortable with numbers and math—be fluent in math

*Be able to write clearly and succinctly

*Be able to have conversations with people of all ages and backgrounds

*Be able to do their own laundry, cook a variety of meals, manage their own money, keep their rooms clean

*Treat those around them with courtesy and respect (i.e. manners, holding open doors for people, making an effort not to disturb those around them, to act and live with dignity)

I don't have these goals so my kids can look accomplished. It isn't so they can impress those around them. It isn't so they can eventually be rich and famous. And it has nothing to do with test scores or grades.

It's so I can take things away from my kids, things that so many other kids have in abundance—technology, entertainment, distractions, fun, fun, fun—and fill up the hole I've left behind with beautiful things that will fill their souls with true, lasting joy.

Think about the great joy that comes when you love to read, when you can lose yourself in a book. Think about the great joy that comes from learning something new and sharing it with others. Think about the great joy that comes when you can be alone in a room, playing an instrument beautifully, just for your own pure enjoyment, or the enjoyment of your family. Think of the satisfaction that comes when you can go to another place and speak an entirely different language with a very different set of people. Think of the empathy, the curiosity, the interest that can come from that. Think of the confidence our kids could have if numbers ran through their heads with relative ease. Think of the relationships they could foster if they could write down their feelings, explain their understanding of a situation, or try to persuade someone to see something from their perspective. Think of a world where kids were not texting all day long, but talking with one another. Face to face. Person to person. Think of a world where kids were truly prepared to leave home at eighteen. They had a small set of skills to depend on, but even more they had a real sense that they could learn to do most things with perseverance. Think of a world where children had a sense of respect for everyone, especially those older than them, especially the elderly, and where they treated everyone with dignity. Think of the dignity they would then feel and show for themselves.

Do all of these things require Tiger Mothering?

I don't think so, at least not entirely. I think the key to teaching our kids these things, even pushing our kids in this direction, is to explain why we're doing it. To get our kids behind the project. To tell them WHY, and to tell them every day until no one wants to hear it any more. "You will thank me later in life for making you practice every day, because you will have this gift that can bless yourself and others forever. Music brings peace and calm in a world full of turmoil and confusion—you will want that peace, I promise you."

The other day, and I will tell this story in another post, I was explaining to my kids why I wanted them to learn a language. I was mostly explaining this to Calvin and Mary because I am homeschooling them right now, so getting them to learn a language is relatively under my control.

I was surprised when Shaemus asked what language he was going to learn. I blinked at him a bit—I hadn't thought of worrying about him yet—he's only six and I don't have him home all day. I mumbled out some options; he chose Chinese. I thought that might be the end of it—I was worried about buying a German curriculum for Mary and a Arabic curriculum for Calvin and getting Lucy registered for Spanish at her middle school next year.

"When are you going to buy me a Chinese book?" Shaemus said.

"When is my Chinese book coming?" he said a few days later.

"When am I going to learn Chinese?" he said only this morning.

After talking with him a little bit about this, I realized that he had bought into my explanations. He wanted to learn a language because he wanted those things I promised him if he did so. So maybe, maybe, as long as I keep explaining, keep reinforcing why these things are important, maybe he will keep asking these questions. Maybe he will be motivated to learn on his own.

Somehow, someway, we have to teach our kids the importance of doing things in life. If we keep trying and don't give up, maybe we don't have to be Tiger Mothers. Our kids will be their own Tiger Mothers. They will be motivated, driven, to learn these things for their own benefit.

They will see how—far off down the road—they will be oh-so-glad they did it, and they won't need to look back to us to thank us for forcing them to do anything, because they will have done it all themselves (with our support and love!).

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