Thursday, November 22, 2012

Not quite a tiger mother

When my daughter was two, and we had just returned to Australia, my 5-year-old son almost sliced her finger off. Initially we thought it was just a very nasty cut, but a visit to the local Children's Emergency Department soon revealed it to be a far more serious injury requiring extensive surgery from the Chief of Plastics.

It was, to put it mildly, a parenting low. I am proud that we did not unleash a wave of fury at the brother who was obsessively trimming the garden with a too sharp set of shears. But I am not so proud that one of the thoughts that ran through my head in the middle of this crisis was "what if this stops her playing an instrument". And the fact that at the time of the "incident" my daughter had not picked up more than a plastic drum or wooden xylophone doesn't help my case.

Eight years later it seems that my concern was not entirely off the mark. She does play the violin and she loves it even if she does not practice nearly as often as she should. And if that finger had not been repairable something that now gives her great joy would never have been an option.

But that thought revealed something about me as a parent that the mother I was then would not have been entirely happy owning up to. It showed that among all that nurturing and free play, the rejection of flash cards in favour of real stories, the belief in passion and creativity, lurked the makings of a tiger mother.

I don't mind so much now that I have a bit of the tiger in me. Sometimes a little bit of fierce is required in this parenting game, but in my experience that fierce is most usefully employed on behalf of my child with learning differences. The rest will do just fine (or not) regardless of my efforts. And the reality is that while I am not immune to the occasional display of over zealous parenting, with four children my ability to focus is spread very thin.

The result of this less than laser sharp parenting is that if my daughter ever does find herself playing violin in an esteemed concert hall (the ultimate tiger mum dream according to Amy Chua) or my oldest son gets himself into MIT (his very own unrealistic and unaffordable dream) it will be the result of their hunger for that sort of success not mine.

Which is exactly as it should be.


  1. "with four children my ability to focus is spread very thin". I love it. I laughed, because it's true. It does kind of make you concentrate on the important stuff.

    With my eldest son being Mensa smart I told him that his giftedness was his to take, not mine to push.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M

    1. It is absolutely true. And try making a mensa smart kid do anything they don't want to.
      Not surprised that you could relate to this!

  2. Love. As usual. Will you *ever* write anything I don't like? I doubt it. PS I have 2 kids and feel pretty similarly regardless. :o

    1. Ha! I am pretty sure I would not be so different with 2 but will continue to use 4 as my excuse ;-)
      And thank you. Mutual admiration societies are the best xx

  3. Ha!! I know where this came from- and am very grateful for the discussion preceding it. The thing is that I like to tell myself I'm not a tiger mother, but when Cam is racing, woe betide you if you get in my line of sight to the pool, and suburbs three kms distant have been heard to report my yelling as seismic activity.

    Against that, when I read that NYT article you sent me about the young endurance runners I felt a little ill and a lot sad. I don't want to be that parent either, the one telling his 12 yo daughter that she let him down and gave up on herself (and him) for only coming in in 30th place in a 13 mile cross country race she completed with a broken big toe. It's a fine line to walk... even at Cam's level (regional and state competitions), a lot of practical parental support is necessary (driving to training and far-flung meets), and you can't help get involved emotionally as well when it's your child trying her hardest and given all that time you're both spending. I try not to feel disappointed when she doesn't race well, but I am. Not disappointed in her, because I know she always gives it 100%, but for her, that she's fallen short of what she can or wants to achieve. But then I feel cross with myself for letting it matter that much... sigh. It's a hard balance. I think I have resolved though (with your help) to always be led by her in regards to how much training she wanst to do and the goals she wants to set... and to always remember that it's her coach's job to coach her, to dissect her performance. Mine is to hug her and be there. Also to feed her lollies after each race. Great blog!

    1. I say accept the inner-tiger mother because I think she lurks in all of us but keep her in her place. And you are so right about the degree of actual investment of time and emotional support (not to mention money) that supporting a child at the elite level requires - which is probably in part why you see some step over the line.
      I get incredibly nervous for my kids when they have to give any kind of performance, and during our first year in a new school system I definitely stepped over that line in my parenting of my oldest child. He landed himself via testing in the top math stream when we got here but had missed out on essentially a years worth of curriculum so it was a real struggle to keep up at first and we knew that if we was dropped down a level it would shut academic doors in later years of highschool. So we pushed and prodded in a way that i am totally not comfortable about - and eventually hired a tutor and breathed a sigh of relief that we could get back to being the parents. And now he is sailing along and we are back in our place - as cheerleaders and not whip crackers.
      I have absolutely no doubt that you are getting the balance right with Cam and as a kid it would be just as detrimental for a kid to have a parent who didn't care at all as one who cared too much or in the wrong way.
      Ok, will stop here as it appears to be another essay.
      Michelle x

  4. When a child as their own genuine passion for what ever it may be, they will push themselves. I see this with my Miss 16, I'll stand on the side and cheer on loudly as she play hockey, when she competes in Taekwondo I'm a the quiet mum, the sparring I can't handle so well. It's still my baby out there. You can support, be loving and be there whatever the results. Love this post

    1. 100% agree. I have known kids who are at elite levels in music and they are absolutely self-motivated but also have to have parents willing to support that passion.
      And yes to loving support no matter what! One of my all time favourite moments with Mr8 was when he had to do a series of cartwheels across the stage at last years ballet concert, but he really hadn't mastered the cartwheel. An entire auditorium cheered him on, not because he was the best but because he was doing his best. Ok, going to go and grab a tissue now.
      M xx