Sunday, January 23, 2011

Channeling the Tiger

So, some of you might have read or heard about this new book that is causing a bit of a stir: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In it the author, Amy Chua, posits that "Chinese mothers" (i.e. Eastern mothers) are better than "Western mothers" because their children are more successful. The idea is that the Chinese mothers push their children harder, are stricter and demand more from their children than Western mothers, who are more concerned with their children's emotional development and self-esteem. Chinese mothers are hard, Western mothers are soft.
Myself, I can see some of the logic in what Ms. Chua is saying, though I don't agree with many of her actual tactics. One thing that resonated with me was Ms. Chua's premise that Chinese mothers believe that their children are strong and smart, and this is what allows them to push them so hard - they absolutely believe that the kids can take that kind of pressure. When we coddle children, when we let them slack and do not push them to do better we are in a sense telling them "This is all we expect of you. We don't think you *can* do better." And while I don't think calling children "garbage" when their work is not perfect is a useful parenting technique, I do think that some not-so-gentle pushing is sometimes exactly what they need. Take for instance this very evening: Cathryn was working on one of those "draw me" pictures, the ones that have a drawing on a grid, along with a bigger (blank) grid on which you can copy the figure. A bit intense for a 6-year-old in my opinion, but she wanted to do it. She sat down at the table next to me, started drawing, realized her drawing wasn't like the picture and proceeded to have a meltdown, proclaiming to everyone in a 10-mile radius that she was terrible at drawing, the WORST EVER, and that she would never be any good, NEVER NEVER NEVER! Oh my. My first impulse was to grab her to me and whisper soothing words about how wonderful she was as I held her close. But then the Chinese mother in me whispered something else.
"Cathryn. Drawing well takes practice, and if you want to be good you better start now!" I made her sit back down and I told she wasn't going to leave the table until her drawing was perfect. I went and got another eraser and sat next to her as she drew the picture, grid by grid. If a square wasn't perfect I made her erase it and start over. "Again! Make it right!" My voice sounded to my own ears like some maniacal drill sargent who hadn't slept for 3 days. "Does that look like the picture? Do it again!" Over and over and over. We must have sat there for almost an hour, Cathryn crying, me yelling, the paper almost torn in several spots from all the erasing.
But you know what? She finished the damn thing. And it looked GREAT. And she was so proud! Her face was beaming as she showed it to her dad. We hung it up over the fireplace, so everyone could admire it.
And as she went to bed that night she whispered in my ear "Mommy, I'm a GOOD drawer, aren't I?" "Yes you are baby. YES YOU ARE."
Go Tigers!


Anonymous said...

I think " they " may have something...Tutu says YES.....not easy is it ???

WendyBird said...

I read an article on it and it made me feel SO much better about some of the crying and carrying on we have had over violin practice :-)

JennC said...

She's taking a lot of flak in the media, but I do think she makes a few good points, particularly about having faith in the resiliency of our children.