Guest Post: On Tigers (Woods and Moms)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

There’s no shaking Tiger Mama drama, is there? Like politics and religion, parenting philosophy is just one of those not-for-cocktail-parties, contentious topics.

I was thinking about this book while reading one of the 753 backlash posts on Amy Chua and her memoir recently. NurtureShock already covered much of the “tiger mom” stuff, albeit without calling anyone superior. (cough-cough-link bait-cough-WSJ)

So I was happy to see Katie Couric take on “tiger mom” and other meaty parenting hot-buttons in her weekly web series (@katiecouric) by talking to NurtureShock co-author Ashley Merryman. One of our favorite blogger moms, Liz Gumbinner, was also in on the chat, adding her smarts to the pot.

You can watch the full 33-minute segment here.

And then come back and read this: our special guest post by Jason Bartholomew, a father of two and friend of our little fam. Jason was originally slated to write something for our A-Men Monday series back in November, but unfortunately had to back out. The upside? He “owed” me a post. Ha!

So here’s Jason on Tigers, parents and expectations.

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The Tiger Mom has struck a sensitive chord with parents in the West, but are “Tiger Mothers” really superior?

While there has been plenty of backlash to Amy Chua’s book, there have equally been a handful of Western parents—my own circle of friends is included here—who are suddenly self-conscious of their own method of raising children; and whether we aren’t strict enough.

But what is the root of that doubt?  Can Chua make the claim that all children raised by Tiger Mothers become straight A-students who are now productive, well-adjusted, and happy individuals?  Or are we Western parents more impressed by the Tiger Mother’s results—and now have doubts—because one strict mother managed to force her daughter to become a Carnegie Hall level pianist?  Let’s start the debate there.

This is really an old story.  Strict parents have always inflicted their own insecurities or failed dreams upon their children in hopes that their offspring’s future achievement will reflect well on the parent. I had a good friend in high school who was a solid student.  The teachers adored Pedro, and he was well ahead of the rest of us with his academic success.  But his father would never give Pedro the praise he clearly craved, unless he brought home an A.  I remember one time Pedro brought home a test with an A-minus.  He was so nervous to show his dad.

Pedro said that his dad looked at the test score and said sternly before walking away: “You could have done better.”

I do not know Pedro now—and have no clue how this style of parenting affected his adult life—but at that time the comment ruined my friend.

Now that I have children of my own, it all makes me wonder if theses “strict” parents are striving for success for the child or for themselves.

Take tennis, for example. I read Andre Agassi’s terrific autobiography Open (and recommend you do the same).  As much as the book is an insight to the world of tennis, it’s also a cautionary tale for any parent who is pushing their children to such levels of “success.”  Agassi talks about how much he hated tennis, simply because he was forced to live his father’s dreams. (Another recommended read is this quick post about Agassi’s on-air chat on morning news radio program The Takeaway.)

As his book describes, Agassi eventually plummeted in the rankings, started taking drugs, and temporarily left the game of tennis.  One can infer that Agassi was simply rebelling in his personal life for not being given the choice to live his own professional life.

Stick with me in the sports world for a moment longer, and let’s move over to golf with this well-documented clip of a two-year-old Tiger Woods striking a golf ball on The Mike Douglas Show with Bob Hope:

Young Tiger looks so shy. You wonder who’s more excited about this moment, the kid or the adults circled around him?

It also makes me wonder: Would I want to be the type of parent forcing my child down a path, one that I chose for them? And to what end?  Who really wins in this scenario?

In a recent interview in the English newspaper The Evening Standard, Amy Chua claims that despite her grave efforts at forcing their daughters to learn the piano for hours each day and not even allowing the child a break for the bathroom, neither of her kids now plays the piano. Plus, she says, her youngest daughter is now rebelling against her mother in many other ways.

A Chinese reader commented on this interview the following day. About her own Chinese “tiger parents” the reader had this to say: The most conflicting thought I had as a teenager was why I had to respect my parents when they acted as if they did not respect me or my opinion.

I don’t want to beat up on Chua.  We don’t know her family dynamics.  And, really, there’s no scientifically right or wrong way to raise one’s children. But the better bet—for your relationship with your children and for their future happiness—is to allow the child to grow and flourish in wherever his/her talents may lie, providing a guiding parental hand along the way.

Ultimately, we should be striving to raise good, honest, and well-adapted children who can contribute to society.  But we know that children grow into adults, free to make their own choices.

As a parent, each of us has to blend the delicate mix of being a teacher, a listener, a disciplinarian, a friend, a comfort, and a guide.  And as I stumble down the road in my role as a father, feeling my way towards the right balance, I know that I all can do is try my best.

Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.
~ Oscar Wilde

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Jason Bartholomew works and lives in London.  He is married and a father of two children.

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