Tiger Moms are all the rage. In case you haven’t heard of them yet, here is the low-down. A Chinese-American mother of two wrote a memoir about her ‘tough parenting’ techniques which shocked and awed a whole lot of people, who are either horrified by her extreme measures (she made her six-year old practise the violin for six-hour stretches – without a toilet break) or have embraced her with a passion – American children apparently need tough love; now that the economy is in a recession.
And the Pussycat mom? Well, she is at the opposite end of the spectrum. She has a healthy sense of her child’s self-esteem (What do you want for dinner? I always let him decide) and believes her child is one of a kind and hence not comparable to anyone else. This mother accepts her child for what he is, warts and all; and believes in nurturing him so that he may find himself.
Unlike the Tiger mom, who sees herself reflected in her children and in all that they achieve – or don’t.
So what do we choose to be? And how will these choices affect our children?
Parenting evolves in its own specific context, of course. China today wants to ease off and get their children to think innovatively and creatively. Americans want to go back to the stricter, good old days. What do we Indians want in the days of student suicides, death-by-ragging and the Rouvanjits of our world?
The intention to get your kids to work hard so that they may later get to choose from amongst the best opportunities, is supposedly what drives Tiger moms. And there is no arguing with that. It’s a question of moving up the scale. From filling one’s belly; to earning top dollar; to finding joy and fulfillment in your work as an adult. But is this the only way?
What is enough homework after spending 9 hours at school (including a 2 hour commute) – 1 hour? 2 hours? Or no hours?
An old African proverb says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ because children ideally need a balance of all things – even in something like parenting. And hence it’s easy to see why in nuclear families today, it’s all too easy to get obsessed with one’s kids and tilt this balance precariously. What is the point of a little genius who will crumble when he can’t be number one – and no one can be number one always.
I can see my personal parenting style evolve with time. At first I was all laissez-faire. A proud Pussycat. No pushing, let the child enjoy his early years fully, enroll him in a school where there isn’t too much pressure (if any). But when Ishaan began to fall back in class in both reading and math, I was forced to do some quick re-thinking.
Fortunately I came upon another super book – Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which tracked the performance of school kids at graduation in the US, and found an interesting reason for differences in the performance of kids from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and those from affluent ones. In addition to the usual whipping boys (poorer schools had poorly trained teachers, inadequate facilities, suffered from high-drop out rates etc), he blamed the long summer vacation – that we enjoy as well in India – for the gap between these two groups.
The poorer kids would return from the two month summer vacation (which tended to be largely free of any kind of work, given that the parents could not afford extra classes etc); where as the richer kids would come back after a vacation full of extra-curricular activities (sports, music, art or even academic) which would place them a little higher on the learning curve. What started of as a small difference between the two sets of kids, over the years cannonballed into a substantial one, and was a convincing cause as to why children from well-off homes normally ended up as higher achievers. Long holidays spent (only) frolicking around was obviously not the way to go.
I woke up. And homework began to raise his humble head. And thanks to regular work at home (small time slots of 15 – 30 minutes), I have noticed small, but positive changes in my little boy. Not only is his reading better, but his confidence has improved and he throws the Math work-sheets back at me twice as fast (and arrogantly) as he used to. He still has a lot of scope for improvement, but we are getting there, one step at a time.
As for my own upbringing, high expectations were the order of the day – when my appendix operation happened two weeks before the final exams for my degree, I casually tossed out the idea that maybe I could do them a few months later. After all I was getting operated on. My father shot me down and I finished the year on a good note after all (and the studying was difficult as it always was – no more, no less).
So will high expectations push our children to new heights or will it crush them? Will hard-work make them rebel or teach them discipline?
In the end, we can take heart from the teachings of that great man, Gautama Buddha, who wisely advocated the ‘middle-path’ in all things in life.
We can be both. A fierce tiger or a loving pussycat. We just need to trust ourselves to know when.