I know, I know, we are all sick to death of the media frenzy that is the Tiger Mother, but for me the conversations have brought up some interesting topics that have been ricocheting around my brain. I know I am not alone, which is why this conversation has struck such a nerve.
In single mom land, we are constantly trying to find balance in our parenting, always trying to make up for what feels like a perpetual disability. It’s a battle between mommy mean vs. daddy fun. Mommy lays down the rules and enforces them. Daddy swings baby by the toes when he walks in from work, just in time to give them a hair raising adrenaline rush right before bedtime. When you are on your own, “mean mommy” generally rules the roost. We forget that we are meant to throw those little guys down on the bed once in a while and beat the snot out of them (in a gentle, ticklish sort of way, of course). This, by the way, I discovered is a great way of diffusing grief anger in kids, and for that matter, in moms as well. I highly recommend gently “beating” your kids now and then, you know, like eggs.
One thing I am really crap at though, is enforcing things like practicing piano lessons, reviewing every single page of homework that goes out of this house, limiting screen time, and enforcing rules around overuse of cell phones. My kids get away with a lot. WAY more than if their father were around. At least that is what I tell myself. And perhaps that is the rub. I wish I were better at these things, because he would have insisted on it. He would have been the “I’m not putting up with a crap performance” parent, just like Amy Chua was. Which is funny, given that he was also the fun parent. I suppose it’s also possible that nothing would be very much different than it is now, and I would always be the “enforcer.” He would have had all the fun. Anyway, its a moot point.
What I really want to understand is what is it that keeps me from being a Tiger Mother? Could there be some virtue in it? Mostly, I don’t have that kind of energy. I am a go with the flow sort of person, and being a Tiger Mom is definitely working against the flow. Also, I don’t think I can be that mean. I could never tell a four-year old that her hand-made card wasn’t good enough and that she should do it again, even if that’s been exactly what I’ve thought. I have made “constructive” suggestions like “here are some nice colours. Why don’t you add some colour to the three squiggles there. I’m sure grandma will like it whole lot better with some colour.” Very diplomatic, right? No hurt feelings, no raised voices, no tears. And maybe, just maybe I managed to keep alive a tiny spark of interest in handicrafts in my children.
And yet, I see Amy’s point. We need to challenge our kids, and if I’ve beat myself up over any one of my parenting skills, I’d have to say that challenging my kids is top of the list. I am continually lamenting (to myself) that they are becoming lazy, as I pick them up at the drop of a hat when its raining and the bus hasn’t arrived yet, or drop something off at school that they have called me in a panic about. Kind mom vs. kick your butt mom. I want to be “kick your butt” mom. I want to be that mom whose kids say when they are all grown up “my mom made me take piano lessons and I hated her for making me practice, but I’m glad she did it.”
When I was in middle school, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to the Toronto French School, a private French immersion school of great renown, where I would have come out fully bilingual. But in 7th grade, what kid wants to be forced to go to a French immersion school? Later I told her, “I wish you hadn’t asked me, and just forced it upon me. What did I know?”
That lesson has stuck with me, but the curse of the permissive-parenting age in which we raise kids combined with single-mom battle fatigue combines into a lackadaisical nonchalance towards parenting. Oh sure, I have a chart taped to my fridge where the kids alternate between clearing out the dishwasher or cleaning up dinner and sometimes one of them will throw a load of laundry on or walk the puppy, but even just getting those things done, I feel like a drill sergeant.
With the onset of Tiger Mom mania, I do find myself altering my parenting style just ever so slightly. I do expect hard work and decent marks. I do expect the kitchen cleaned when I ask and I am proud to say I stuck by my guns when one kid signed up for ski bus and was so riddled with anxiety, he didn’t want to go. I made him go anyway and he had a great time.
Maybe I have a little Tiger Mother in me after all. Maybe we all do. It seems like it’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way for a bit.