Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I think every mother who is blogging out there has written her review on this fascinating and polarizing book.  I'm about ten chapters in, and it's churning all sorts of thoughts and ideas and opinions, reforming some, cementing others.  I have quick flashes of determined piano practice and accelerated math skills, and then I swing to individual exploration and child-led learning.  I wonder what really is the key to the crisis in which our society finds itself today with a generation of self-centered and entitled people.

But there was one sentence in the book that really jumped out at me, which is a truth we don't often recognize.  It is the thinking behind the Tiger Mother's methods, but should also be the driving force behind all of our parenting.  In Western parenting, parents are so concerned with their children's self-esteem that they assume weakness and mediocrity, hence the celebration of mediocre performances (ie: you did your best).  Chinese parents, on the other hand "assume strength, not fragility."  They assume that their children are capable of the very best, and so when that result is not reached, they work with their child to achieve better results.

Do you see how the thinking is different?  While I'm not insisting on hours sitting on a piano bench, I did notice that this type of "aim higher" thinking in my own parenting.  Yesterday Colin came home a little down because he couldn't throw a baseball as far as the other kids on his team.  Now, he is the smallest person on his team, and some of the kids have much bigger physique and muscles.  I could have mothered him gently and told him not to worry, he's throwing his best now (he does play with all his heart) and that he'll get better as he grows.  Instead, my instinct was to explain to him how muscle strengthening works, and that he needs to get out in the backyard and throw 50 balls every day in order to improve his throwing arm and catching skills.  I assume strength, given some time and practice.  I don't assume natural ability, because you aren't going to find that in every area in every child.  But I do believe that most skills can be mastered with hard work and dedication.  And those are two characteristics I want to make sure are instilled in my children.

Oh yeah - and discipline.  If you are 6 years old and trained to sit at a piano for an hour (or more), and taught that you will practice a song over and over, working out the little kinks, getting each bar and note perfect, then you will no doubt learn discipline.  And I think that that is one of the major qualities missing from those who are floundering today.  Many are trying to give the least amount of work required to complete a task, or simply abandon the project if it proves too hard.  Once again, I don't believe you need natural talent to do most things: a sharp sense of discipline will help most people complete most projects.  This is one area I know I have fallen behind in teaching my children.  I'm much more of a "get the job started" kind of person than a "get the job finished."  I have many writing papers started with good intentions, many projects around the house completed to "usable" rather than "finished."  Although I do have a good sense of discipline when it comes to things outside the house, where other people are relying on me or are involved in the project, I tend to go from one thing to the next fairly quickly.  This book is a good wake-up call to reinvest in my own discipline at the same time as helping my children develop it.

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