I recently read “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua. Very thought-provoking. By her own account, Chua seems to have spent most of her children’s growing years hounding them to practice, practice (and practice) classical music. Looks like her daughters are very accomplished young ladies, who would make any mom proud. But reading her descriptions of their day to day life – driving two hours each way from Connecticut for a one hour music lesson in New York City, having the kids practice the piano and violin for three plus hours each day, imposing what sounds like a military regime at home – I wonder. Can that have been a happy growing up experience for her girls?
As parents, you want to do right by your kids. But what is “right”? Ms. Chua’s tiger mom philosophy? I have to admit that I was one a couple of years back. Not that I knew it back then. I had my (then) 7-year old signed up in the following extracurricular activities all at one time:
- Carnatic music (I learnt it when I was little, so of course, my daughter should too)
- Bharatnatyam (something I always wanted to learn but never got around to)
- Piano (well, everyone learns to play the piano, don’t they?)
- Swimming (it’s a life saving skill!)
- Tae-Kwon Do (that one the girl wanted)
- Balavihar (one stop shop for kids to learn about the Hindu religion and Indian culture)
Life was hectic, to put it mildly, with a full-time job and a 3.5 year old in tow. But we were making excellent progress and having fun, weren’t we? Turns out, we were making excellent progress. The fun part, not so much. It took me several months to accept that my kid was not “mini me”. And while a child may be good at several things, she may not really want to do all those things.
So, somewhere along the way, light bulbs went off. We dropped every single activity on the list. Every one of them. It was very painful for me personally. After a while, of her own initiative, the munchkin signed up for violin – something she had always been asking for. Two years older and wiser (who? me, of course!), the girl continues to learn the violin. She also plays the piano on her own, and practices a lot more than when she had lessons. She plays soccer in the fall and softball in the spring. She cooks and bakes. The little one, who greatly benefits from my parenting experiments on her big sister, just goes to ballet and swimming (man, those younger siblings get the best of everything!!). We do more game nights during the week – “Name, Place, Animal, Thing” (remember that one?) and Scrabble are our hot favorites right now. We read for hours during the weekends in local bookstores. This tiger mom has come a loooong way in two years.
These days, I merely aim for happy and well-adjusted cubs, and hope that they will forever keep and nurture their love of learning. Oh, and I won’t complain if the one or both of them do make it into Ivy League schools.