If you haven’t been under a rock over the last few months then you have heard something about the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I saw the author, Amy Chua, on Nightline a while back and thought–oh my this mom is nuts….such high expectations, crazy! Then I began to hear that she said the book was all just in fun. I didn’t know what to think. Well, my wonderful neighbor loaned me her copy of the book last week. I finished it Monday night. Everyone was in bed early (my handsome fella included) and I curled up on the sofa, in our quiet home reading for over an hour to finish up the book. It was a fast read, just as my neighbor had said.
I found myself agreeing with the author on several occasions. Early in the book she says “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preference.” (p.29) Now I think there can be some fun in the early stages of learning a new skill but Chua is on to something….once you begin to “know” what you are doing and can get lost in it without thinking about how to actually do it—-that is when the fun really begins. I see my child #1 right at this point with piano. She is just now turning a corner to play some fun and real songs. She has such natural talent. Her ear is wonderful and her timing is great. Yet, she hates to practice; I did too and I remember my Mom saying—you will regret it—and I do.
Later Chua writes “…one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you though you couldn’t” (p.62) Child #1 at our house really would love to walk away from the piano right now. But in our house music is our second language and we want to share that with our kids. We are working to keep her from giving up. I think I need to be creative in how we do this. I wonder if going to play at a nursing home might be a good idea? It would allow her to have an audience to prepare for. I think it would help her see that her gift can bring joy to others. I love to dream with her about being the leader of a praise band one day, rockin’ out on the keyboard and then switching over to guitar later in the set. I can so see her doing that—IF she keeps up with her music.
I found as I read it that I had some of the “Tiger Mom” in me. I have high expectations, I expect my girls to show honor and respect to adults in their lives, I don’t want them to give up…just because it is easier to give up then to persevere. I also realized that I have some Western Mom in me too—I do want my girls to feel good about the things they do, I want them to have some choices in their lives, and I don’t want spend my time managing every detail of their lives for 18 years.
The cover of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother says:
This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.
This was supposed to be a story on how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.
What I think Chua discovered in the book is a similar concept that Brad and I heard as we took a parenting class before our first child was born. The concept was one of the funnel. You start at the small end of the funnel in parenting- this is the discipline phase with lots of boundaries; it is obedience training (ages 0-4). Then you go further up the funnel to the training phase (ages 5-9) so they begin to practice the things you have been teaching. As the funnel begins to widen you enter the coaching phase (ages 10-18). Here your child is given small, graduated freedoms and responsibilities. You coach from the sidelines–they are playing the game but you are still calling the shots and training them how to play their very best. Then you get to enter the friendship phase and the funnel is wide open and your child is now a young adult. (For more on this “funnel” concept I found this site when I googled it just now: Passionate Purposeful Parenting)
I think so many times we have the funnel open wide in the early years and then try to narrow the funnel and create boundaries when they get older —this is when rebellion rears it’s head. I think that Amy Chua has discovered this in the realm of her daughters’ training. When they were little, she made the decisions for them about what they would do and not do. How they would spend their time and where it would be spent. As her daughters grew up the funnel needed to be opened further yet she was trying to keep her daughter in the small part of the funnel.
According to what I read from Amy Chua in her book, Chinese parents tend to start at the narrow end of the funnel but, from Chua’s depiction, don’t move up the funnel in a timely manner.
Being a parent is not an easy task. I knew this going into it but as everyone says….you just really don’t know until you experience it. I think I have some of the Tiger and some of the Western in me. I guess this makes me Out-to-Sea somewhere in the Pacific!