A recent article featuring Amy Chua's "Tiger Mother" philosophy is hitting a nerve. Chua explains that Chinese children typically excel in academics and music because they are pushed to expect nothing less than perfection. It isn't enough to "do your best". Instead, the Chinese child must be THE best. This is accomplished by continual drilling, hours of practice, and constant reminders by the parents that coming in a close second is unacceptable. Parents reinforce these expectations by shaming the child for any sub-par academic performance (such as an A-). It's OK to insult your child, to use verbal abuse, such as calling the child "garbage". It's OK to make a child feel that winning a top medal is the only goal worth reaching. The child learns that it's either/or: getting the gold or being a failure, a loser.
Seriously? When I first read this article, I thought, surely, she's being satiric here. Surely, this is a very well written joke. But there was no punchline. This is how Chua is raising her own two daughters, about which she has written extensively in her new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".
In spite of my outrage, I found a little piece of me in that philosophy. A small part. And it bugs me. I want my daughters to be smarter than the rest because it makes me feel good about myself. There. I said it. It feeds me. I haven't read Chua's book, so I don't know if she admits this to herself. But it's true. Fiona has just begun her academic career and I am hovering closely, ensuring she does everything she can to excel. I find myself continually reinforcing her achievements. She, surely, senses how important this is. To me.
During parent/teacher conferences, I swell with pride when the teacher describes Fiona's progress, and shows us the chart that proves she is excelling way (WAY!) past the other students. But I nearly choke back tears of joy when the teacher goes on to rave about what a nice child she is and how her self-confidence has grown over the course of a school year.
Although I sometimes find myself pushing (strongly encouraging?) Fiona to do her best in school, I am most proud of her when I observe her being genuinely kind to her sister or when she intervenes when one of her friends is being unfairly treated by a peer. I also value and nurture the artist in her as she creates new worlds with crayons, markers and her quirky imagination. I treasure the uninhibited movements of her limbs as she constructs original choreography, composed of bounds and twirls, accompanied solely by her own internal music.
I value her entire, beautiful being and my primary goal as a parent is to ensure she does the same.