Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The mean mommy

Awhile back, maybe two years ago, Amy Chua published a book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The main premise of the book was to defend the tough parenting style that many Chinese mothers exact on their children. For instance, any grade lower than an A is unacceptable. Sleepovers and playdates are not an option. Period. Never compliment your child in public. Always take the side of teachers and coaches. You get the point. Of course, her book "sparked controversy" (I hate this media phrase, but it's the only one I could come up with, you know, since I am a journalist), especially here in the States. You can imagine why. Our Western sensibilities and sensitivities couldn't handle the seemingly harsh treatment of the most precious, most innocent of our population: The Children.

Well, I loved the idea. Still love it and I'm sure many of you will groan in horror at my loving it. I think Ms Chua has her sights set on the ever-threatening horizon of adulthood that her children must face, especially in this country. She knows that it is her job to make sure her children not just "get by" but excel in life, in whatever they pursue. I'm all for it. In fact, the older my children get, the stricter I become, to their natural dismay.

"Lucian, you are not leaving this room until every sock and every Lego is put away."
"But I haven't even had breakfast yet! I'm hungry."
"That's good. It'll give you some motivation."
"You're mean."
"I know. But you can have water. I'll give you that."

And just to drive the point home, while he is cleaning his room, pancakes are fluffing out on a skillet in the kitchen, fillng the house with a delicious breakfast aroma.

These same conversations about cleanliness happen with my tween daughter. Usually, they are more heated, until I pull the "food, shelter, drive" card. And just end the conversation with, "Just do what I tell you to do. I'm not doing this for my health, but for your benefit." And right before the door slams, I put my foot in the door jam and say, icily, "Better think about it." Then she quietly shuts her door and commences the relentless clean-up project. That should be in all CAPS: CLEAN-UP PROJECT.

It's exhausting. Truly. And some days, I don't even want to personally uphhold the standards that I have drawn in stone for my kids. And I am nowhere even close to Chinese mother status, but when I look around me...yeah, swimming against the tide.

"Hey, Mom, I got an A- on that geography test!" Anna is all smiles as she puts the test on the fridge. I immediately remove it and comb through the answers to see what she got wrong, then quiz her on the wrong answers.

"Are you going to put it back on the fridge now," she asks, disgusted.
"Of course, it's a good test. Next time, though, honey, you need to pay more attention to what the question says. This could have been an A."

Total dumbfounded silence. And her brother is not safe from this scrutiny either. He is often forced to help me make meals in the kitchen, from scratch, or to rewrite his entire homework sheet because his handwriting is not up to snuff.

"But I got every answer right," he complains. "See? Check plus plus."
"It's good practice," I say, watching him from the doorway, coffee in hand.

I have been scrutinized and criticized for years about this kind of parenting. About how I keep them from social events if there is even the slightest hint of illness, or how I don't allow them to stay up late, not even on the weekends, how I floss and brush my son's teeth still...

Thankfully, I don't care. My eyes are set towards the future in which I will not be able to afford to pay for college for two children, so scholarships are a must. And school comes first, screw your dreams, you're only gonna get there if you have an education, kid. Fact. As for happiness, well, that's up to them. They aren't going to be happy being mediocre and not knowing how to take care of themselves, so...false praise will not a better human make.

So what if you're kid can write an essay, can he write an amazing essay? So what if she does her own laundry, she's supposed to, she's 12! So what if he plays the piano, does he play it well? Does he practice? Better be. Oh fifth place, that's good I guess. If you had started your project earlier you would've won first place.

We're not helping them by patting their backs because they ate their apple at lunch. Or because they are helping with the dishes.

The only thing I will say about holding back on praise, is, in this house, we never hold back on saying, "I love you." Even at the height of frustration at the rules and the strict atmosphere and the high standards, never will I not say to my children 'I love you," before they go to bed and when I drop them off at school or drop them off anywhere. No matter the fight about the saxophone practice, the bad handwriting, the plethora of chores, I will always say it.

"I love you, no matter what."

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