Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tiger Mom- Mothers Day

Mothers day was on Sunday, in my little brain it took place on Friday and so I spent most of the day plotting what I could do for mommy dear. Idea planned and executed, feeling good I proceeded to the airport. Landed at the wrong terminal, zoomed to the other one and then moved to sit in the aisle seat of a rather uncomfortable, steadily shrinking spice jet seat,  where the plane refused to fly because the pilots were having an issue deciding what seat to sit on.  Or that’s what the airhostess said.

Anyway, am a little late in commenting on a topic that has been debated, raged and forgotten by the world at large, but it was only last week that I read the phenomena called

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom’

Time rated her as part of the top 100 people who influenced our thinking, NY times article on her book raised a storm in many a tea cup, and Chinese parents for the first time were applauded for being who they were.
The book starts with a list of things that a Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires. Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do: 
  •  have a playdate 
  •  be in a school play 
  •  complain about not being in a school play
  •  not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama 
  •  play any instrument other than the piano or violin/ not play the piano or violin
The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin. Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene: "According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:
1. Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse. 
2. I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality. 
3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!

Anyway, the details of how she brings up her two kids is well narrated with a very honest assessment of herself as a mother, the one parent who was willing to be hated if that is what it took to ensure that her daughters reached the pinnacles that they could attain for themselves.

As I shut the book and exited the plane, I pondered over something that my mother had said just that afternoon. “ Sometimes I think I offered too much choice to you and your brother, maybe if there was more decisions made on your behalf you would have actually done more than play endless hours of hide and seek’

I sat back and reflected. Someone recently said that childhood was about lots of things, one of the crucial ones being foundation building, ensuring that your child finds the avenues to express themselves in myriad ways so that they can choose the ones that they then would take. In the liberal parenting school, children are seen as individuals, as choice makers capable of thinking through for themselves and deciding. Free will and actions perculate down to that level.

In other schools, the understanding is that a child has to be made to stick to something before they realized what they are good at. Practice, Perseverance and Perfection come only when children are compelled to do something over and over again. The transition of a hobby into a ‘passion’  occurs when a person knows that they are good/great/magnificent in something. In her book, Chua categorically states that Chinese parents believe that their kids are magnificent in everything and hence they are made to excel in all that they do.

A line from the book however refuses to retire from my mind. 

Chuas mother in law, was one of those feisty women with a fiery personality, a child of the 60’s with a firm belief in self discovery, time with nature, free flowing thoughts, good taste and fine life that came from an understanding of culture.

She kept asking Chua that she be allowed to spend 1 day, or even just one afternoon with the kids, go to the waterfall, swim in the pool, bake cookies and do the things grannies and grandkids do.

They never had one afternoon free. 

In the pursuit of excellence, they had to ensure that they were in music school, or practicing at home, or excelling in maths and ensuring that they were getting A’s and never B’s. The completion was with oneself and the other, the deeper question remained who was the completion organizer. The mother or the child.

As the book, started to end, the tone too altered. From the battle chanting tiger mom the person with the answers and the firm conviction that Chinese way of parenting was indeed the one and only solution, there was a softening stance. The battle hymns gave space to lower chants, rock and roll made an appearance and choice was allowed to make a stage appearance.

Close friends are becoming parents, some of them are not the most disciplined souls themselves, but one cant help and wonder if as parents, what will be their stance, Chinese Tigers or Indian deer. Leaping and moving from one to the other?