Here’s what I learned in the last two weeks since I wrote Me and Mrs. Chau: Part 1:
- If you push your child to study, he will learn.
- If you push your child to practice, he will get better.
- If you push your child work hard in school, he will become anxious, stressed out, not retain any information and may possibly have eating disorders, need to be committed to an insane asylum or have to quit school all together.
After writing my first post about The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and how it affected my way of parenting, I began to push my son. I did not want to be referenced to as one of “those parents” who did everything for their child and awarded him for being mediocre. But I also felt the reward of not backing down from his not wanting to play basketball. Beyond his weekly practices with his team, I would make him practice with me every day after school in our backyard. We would do sprints, and dribbling exercises, and ready positions, and if he missed a shot or whined about getting hit in the face with the ball, I would make him do push-ups. I kept playing scenes in my head from the book, and kept thinking, “How would Amy Chau handle this?” and it pushed me to push him. I would tell him that something becomes fun when you practice and get good at it. My intention was that, at home, he was building up the confidence he needed to go out and play with his friends. He ended up loving basketball. It is now one of his favorite sports. He has even gone on to play soccer, and enjoys that too. Because I pushed him to play, he is now benefiting from the rewards of team sports versus sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games.
My son is a smart kid, and he likes to have goals. He likes to be taught how to do something, then asked if he can do it, then prove to you he can. He also gets bored easily because he gets through things so quickly, and I’m often trying to find ways to keep him occupied in what he is doing. He goes through the motions sometimes with little retention, so I introduce ways to keep him involved in what he’s doing. For example, his teacher decided to try him on the “Challenge” words for spelling a few weeks ago. This is a big deal because not all the kids in his class are on the “Challenge” words list. He really felt a sense of accomplishment, but he was a little nervous. After thinking about it, he asked me if he would get something if he did well on the Challenge words. A great opportunity to introduce goals and rewards! We talked about what his goal was, he wanted to get 100% on his Challenge words each week. OK, how was he going to do that? By practicing the word list every day. And when he got 100%, what was his reward? He wanted a new game Application for the iPod. We wrote all of this down and kept it in his folder so he could remind himself of his goals, actions and rewards. The next week, his Progress Report was sent home. He was showing B’s in almost every subject, and they were so close to A’s that I was frustrated. I sat down with him, and discussed the grading scale. I showed him 90-100=A, 80-89=B, 70-79=C and so on. Again, we talked about goals…what is the goal? To get all A’s. How are we going to do that? By practicing, double checking our answers, and paying attention to the teacher so we know what our homework assignment is. What is the reward? You get to go to a good college and be well-educated. Whenever he has homework or tests that come back with red marks, I make him go through each answer and put the correct one down. Then I remind him about double checking his answers. If he misspells one of his Challenge words, he is to write that word out five times. If he misses a homework assignment, then he has to deal with the consequences at school. I know that getting a “HAM” (Homework Assignment Missing) is more embarrassing and disappointing for him than me grounding him. It is more effective, so I allow that to be punishment enough. I thought of Mrs. Chau every time my son would cry or complain that he wanted to play, I would make him work harder. I would talk to him about how learning is so important, and how education gives him the freedom to be who he wanted and be successful and have a great life. When he brought his report card home this week, he proved me right again by producing straight A’s.
My mother-in-law offered to find my son a piano teacher and pay for lessons. Now that I was thinking like a Tiger Mother, I thought, well, Mrs. Chau had her daughters also learning an instrument, so yes, he should be learning an instrument as well. I didn’t expect him to play the piano at Carnegie Hall by the time he was 12, and I had no intention of forcing him to practice in the manic ways she enforced for her daughters. I did however, insist on attending a lesson so I understood what he was learning so when he practiced at home, I could be aware of what he needed to work on. I even took pictures of his hands on the keys at his lesson so he could remember his finger placement at home. Considering how she used her life savings to purchase the best instruments for her girls, Amy Chau would probably scoff at what my son was practicing on…a miniature keyboard resembling a piano that my in-laws had bought him for Christmas when he was three. It wasn’t a Baby Grand, but it would do for 15 minutes a day. And, yes, I made him practice 15 minutes a day, with a timer and everything.
I had begun to think that everything was going along great. All of my pushing was paying off…my son was progressing in school, he was getting excited about sports, and was getting praise from his piano teacher. I was stern, but I had to be. I had to keep him focused and in check and learning and paying attention. He had to be with the “smart” kids so he would excel and get into a good college and become someone great. We managed to keep up with this lifestyle for a few weeks until, one day when my son forgot his homework assignments.
Here is what you don’t know. My son’s teacher is also his aunt. She is also one of the most respected and in-demand teachers in our school district, so we didn’t hesitate to put him in her class when she requested the opportunity to teach him. Well, that’s not all true, we did show some concern that he may want to call her “Aunt” and possibly take advantage of the fact that they were related, but she was confident that all would be well. It truly has been great, and we feel fortunate to have her for his teacher. Because of this, my husband and I went to great lengths to instill the idea of respect in our son about being in her class and how we don’t expect or ask for special treatment. That she is to treat him equally just like the other students, and we don’t make calls if we forget something. Enter grandma. Life would not be the same without my mother-in-law, in many ways on many different levels, but the one thing she does provide for us is extra help with the kids. One afternoon, she offered to sit with my boys while I ran my daughter to dance. They were to work on his homework and get his lunch made for school the next day. As soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted by my mother-in-law with, “Everything is OK. He forgot one of his assignments, but we called his aunt, and she said not to worry about it.” I looked at her, then looked directly at my son, and all I said was, “You know you are getting a HAM. That’s your second one this month.” That’s it. That’s all I said. Maybe I had something different written on my forehead, because for some reason, this caused her to go into a tirade about how upset he was, and how down on himself he was and she didn’t know how to handle it, so she called his aunt and she said it was fine. “I know you make the rules at your house, but she makes the rules in her classroom and she said it was fine.” What?? Seriously? Mommy trumps everyone. EVERYONE. Even the teacher. And further more, we don’t make calls to get special treatment. He gets a HAM and that’s that. After she left, and everyone was calm again. I started to think about what she had said about my son getting upset and being down on himself. Now, she really does favor my son. She loves all of my kids, don’t get me wrong, but she has a special something for him. And she tends to dwell a bit on the dramatic side, so I’m never really certain how much of what she says carries merit. Still, I started to worry that I was pushing my son too hard, for the wrong reasons.
I sat down with him to go over his homework. And it occurred to me that maybe he thinks that I don’t think he is smart. Maybe he thinks that I don’t love him, and that he’s stupid so I am being this mean mom who is always yelling at him. I really didn’t want to be that mom. I stopped him from his homework and said, “Do you know why I am pushing you? It’s because I think you are smart. I know you are smart. In fact, you are so smart, sometimes I worry that you are smarter than me! And I want to make sure you are using all of your brain, to help you get ahead in life. I want to teach you these skills now, so that when you are older, you will be able to make all these decisions on your own based on what you know. Do you know that I think you are smart?” He nodded, and I could tell that was a good move on my part. I’m not sure he knew that about me. Now that I told him he is smart, I see him working with confidence because he knows that now about himself. We all need to be reminded, every once in awhile, about how great we are.
The whole incident made me stop and think about the Tiger Mother style of parenting. There were definitely some good things about it. Kids get bored and lazy, and they need someone there to push them and keep them in check. But how much pushing do they need? How much is too much? I didn’t want the resentment Amy Chau was beginning to feel with her daughters, especially her youngest, at the same time, I knew if I didn’t push my son, he wasn’t going to do anything. I needed to find a balance.
That balance is often skewed once you become social with other mothers. Conversations about schooling and education and extra curricular activities and tutors start to become overwhelming and create fears of inadequacy with your children and your parenting skills. There becomes this unannounced competition of who is the better parent? the smarter kid? who goes to the better school? You want to keep up, and you feel the need to justify all of your choices in case someone is judging you or your kids. Ew. I don’t like that life. It’s stressful, and it’s not fun as a parent, or for your kids. I was beginning to lose sight of who I was doing all of this for. Part of me knows I have to be hard on my kids because now there is four of them, and I don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle in our family or at school. Part of me knows I have to create these independent children who can take care of themselves and be responsible for their choices because I have four kids and I’m afraid I’m going to miss someone or something if I have to take care of every little last detail in each of their lives. Part of me knows that they are kids, and life is short and they need to have fun and enjoy life because one day, too soon, they will be adults. When they look back on their childhood, I want them to have memories of playing in the backyard, going to the beach, the mountains and Disneyland, having playdates, and good times with their family. At some point in life, it really isn’t about what college you went to, or if you went at all. It becomes about how you use your intellectual property and your social skills. My husband and I may not be the intellects that Amy Chau and her husband are, but it’s certainly not going to stop us from doing something we are passionate about, and I didn’t need a college degree or piano lessons to teach me that. But the questions still remains…how much pushing is the right amount of pushing? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I ever will, trial and error I guess. I don’t even know if my parents have that answer either.
As I was pondering these questions, I was invited to see the documentary about the education system in America and the effects it is having on our youth called, “The Race To Nowhere.” Still don’t have the answers, but I have a good idea about what I should do next.