There is no one way.

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.

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8 thoughts on “There is no one way.

  1. Dear Zainab,
    there is “No one way” – I totally agree.
    I completely agree with you on everything you have written except for the notion that, kids from richer socio-economic backgrounds will fare better than the others. (They will have a strong support system which makes sure that they fare better).
    Exposure surely adds to ones personality and understanding but how much will the kid draw from it is the question. Not all geniuses are from that strata. How much ever we moms struggle to put them in the “right circle” it depends on the kids temperament as well.
    When I had put Chinmay in the school which is considered expensive compared to many other schools, the question I had to often face was “didn’t Vishveshwarayya study under the street lamp, what about Henry Ford? did he had all the expensive toys to play with?” I feel it should be there in the kid as well.

  2. well said, z. you’re a mom after my own heart… i’m sure every parent struggles with the issue of how much is too much or too little. guess we can all take heart in knowing we aren’t alone in this struggle for balance. no harm in purring along, as long as we can flash those claws every once in a while. 🙂

  3. Zainab,
    I am always shocked to discover that we somehow live parallel lives.
    (Not long ago I discovered that you were dealing with your child’s discovery of “bad words” just when I was too!)
    And today I see that you’re pondering the TIGER MOM debate AND making connections to the book, OUTLIERS!! ME TOO!!

    I cannot agree with you more.
    And do remind myself from time to time to take the middle path as the Buddha so wisely taught.

    Thank you for this great read!
    t

    • Wow. And just when I was wondering whether this post was rambling on 🙂 And what an added bonus that we can reach out and be part of each other’s lives – all thanks to our common concerns and dreams for our children. It doesn’t get better than this 🙂

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