Am I just a “Kitten Mother?” Because I was feeling that way about a week ago when I read Amy Chua’s now infamous WSJ article on the superiority of Chinese mothering. Or do I just have a slightly different vision of what “success” entails?
Because I’m looking for the children who are going to grow up and save the world. And I couldn’t find them in Ms. Chua’s secret sauce. I could see famous musicians, doctors, lawyers, and maybe business owners that were really good with numbers. But I couldn’t envision the children who were going to grow up with a passion to save the whales, stop global warming, or worry about child labor. Show me a child well-equipped to take on these issues, and I’ll call her a “success.”
It seems to me (and research bears this out) that in order to really care about our planet and the creatures in it, children need to experience nature firsthand. And if a child is spending all their time indoors working on test scores and musical pieces, can they develop a social consciousness or connection to the natural world?
Maybe I just want to feel better about deciding to rear my daughters in crafty, outdoorsy, free-play-heavy household that The Tiger Mother would surely scorn. But I don’t think so. Ms. Chua and I agree, actually, that it’s important for children to work really hard, to achieve more than they ever thought they could. We both believe that hard-earned results, not praise, should be the basis of self-esteem.
I agree with her that we Western parents can make far too many excuses for our children, instead of investing enough effort when it’s really hard. For example, we love the idea that some people are just “good at math,” even when research shows that in general, the people who are good at it just practice it a lot. Why this fatalistic approach? Maybe two working parents don’t have enough time to help, maybe we don’t know better, or have the skills we need to change things. Or maybe we fear that we’ll ruin our relationships with our children if we demand too much.
But I think I differ from Ms. Chua in that I believe there are more than just a few ways to achieve mastery that also lead to “success.” My six-year-old cannot play the piano yet. But she can knit a scarf with her own fingers and learn to count in the process. She can resolve a fight between two friends on the playground. She can make a fairy doll from a tuft of colored wool and create entire imaginary worlds with the end product. (And she’s good at math). She couldn’t do these things the first time she tried, but as she practices, she learns to develop creative solutions to problems and appreciate subtleties in her work.
Sure, it’s not as immediately impressive as piano playing, but later, she’s developing the skills she will need to solve problems creatively and even coordinate group projects effectively. All the while, she is building her self-esteem by accomplishing tasks with her own two hands.
And she does it joyfully.
Maybe this is what makes me a “Kitten Mother,” but my vision of a successful life includes lots of joy. Constant fighting and demands suck the spark out of childhood. And how can a person learn to be a joyful adult if she spends her childhood the subject of constant demands, only to escape to adulthood and repeat the same cycle on her own children? Where’s the joy?