Michelle Martin

Not a tiger mother

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Talk of Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has been dominating parenting blogs for the last couple of weeks, as more laid-back parents express outrage at the way the daughter of Chinese immigrants raised her two daughters, and others, frustrated with what they see as laziness on the part of American parents and children, suggest that she might have a point — even if she went a little overboard.

According to reviews and discussions, Chua uses the book to explain why she followed a policy of academics first (any grade is all right as long as it’s an A, and you’d be number one in every subject but gym) and music second (only piano or violin, with three hours of daily practice) and really nothing else: no sports, no theater, no play dates, no sleepovers. Some of her anecdotes sound like torture for a 7-year-old: master this piano piece tonight, with no water or bathroom breaks, or see your dollhouse go bye-bye, and, indeed, her younger daughter did eventually rebel and win a measure of freedom.

Not much of this is relevant to anything in our household. Frank lives and breathes for anything sports-related, and has been known to have five or six practices or games (or some combination) in multiple sports over a three-day period. Which he then augments by playing videogame sports in his downtime.

Caroline, who quit playing piano after about two years because she just didn’t want to practice, and I was sick of nagging her, spends a good part of her non-school hours immersed in the world of musical theater, singing and dancing and acting.

But I would argue with anyone who said that we don’t have high standards for our children. Yes, they are more than free to pursue their own interests; they have our active support. After all, they cannot pay for drama classes or hockey leagues any more than they can drive themselves to rehearsals or games. But those are their interests. If they want to do something else when the class or season is over, so be it. I won’t see it as the end of my dream to have a professional athlete or a Broadway star in the family. That’s not my dream.

My dream is to raise children who are fundamentally good, people of faith, who care about people beyond themselves, who are prepared to help other people whether on a formal (scouting or school service projects) or informal (helping other students with homework, etc.) basis, and who have the wherewithal to do so. My children mean the world to me, but I know the best thing for them is to understand that they are not the center of the world.

My children have been blessed in so many ways. I expect them to succeed — just not on the terms of a Tiger Mother.