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Happiness v. Expectations

January 13, 2011

I have seen several references to a forthcoming book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” which is one woman’s story of her upbringing and her method of raising her own children the “Chinese way.”  Here is the story I heard on NPR.

As the mother of a rapidly growing baby, I am constantly thinking about how to raise her ‘right’ in my mind:  Happy, intelligent, capable and kind.  In general I ascribe to a very peaceful view of parenting, which the “Chinese way” is most definitely not.  It emphasizes extreme measures of discipline in school, activities and very controlled social interactions.  The theory is that being very strict encourages excellence, and that the subsequent achievement results in praise and appreciation that will make your child feel good.

I have some familiarity with this method, which for me was the “Nothing Is Good Enough For Dad” (NIGEFD) way of parenting.  I experienced the endless cycle of frustration at having the elusive (and ultimately unreachable) goal moved farther and farther away, the closer I got to it.  When I was a sophomore in college, I mentally snapped when my father’s response to my third consecutive semester of straight A’s was “now if you changed your major to physics or something, that would really be impressive.”  !!!   DH seems to think I am too concerned with being recognized for my achievements but that is a byproduct of that NIGEFD, because it was only when I had some tangible evidence that my father paid ANY attention to my abilities and that was extremely short-lived.   Now I feel like I seek to achieve for myself and my own goals, but here is where I see the area of overlap between my parenting goals, and the “Chinese” way of parenting.

The author is right in that activities and skills are more enjoyable when you are good at them, and people/kids naturally suck at everything when they first start doing it.  It is my role as a parent to encourage my child over that initial hump of suckiness, over their inevitable protests, to a level of competence where it starts being fun.  I truly wish my mother had the energy to keep me practicing piano/violin/flute (all tried and dropped) so that I could play some musical instrument cooler than the triangle.  The compromise will be that my child(ren) will pick their own activities and practice will certainly not be three hours a day, nor enforced with threats to give their belongings to the Salvation Army (per the “Chinese” way).  I intend to be an active participant in the activities and try to make them as fun as possible.

The opposing view (often ascribed to by peaceful/attachment parents, but by others as well) is that kids will be kids and should be allowed to “try out” as many different activities that they want without sticking with any of them; success in education is irrelevant because it’s a closed system; it’s more important that they grow up well-rounded than good at any one thing.  This is a generalized, possibly extreme view but I have seen it in action and you know what it leads to?  Aimless, average, unhappy young adults.

Where is the middle ground?  Ah-ha!  Perhaps I should change the name of my blog to “The Fence-sitter” since I am an advocate of balance and moderation in all things.  I think kids will be kids and should be allowed a lot of freedom to explore their interests and identities, but they also require some expectations, and a little discipline to help them meet those expectations.

But here is my compromise that I hope to achieve for LM:

I will let you explore your own interests but I will push you to commit to at least one, and excel at it–choose your own path but follow it with your whole heart.

I want you to learn that excellence is worth pursing, because mediocrity will easily find you–and there is nothing wrong with being proud of your achievement of that excellence

I will let you know that I am always proud of your for trying and that failure is part of learning–overcome it, get better, and then you will be proud of yourself.

I need you to know that while you may not always want to live up to my expectations, they are there for your future benefit–your happiness is my priority, but I think long-term 😀

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