I tried to be a Tiger Mum once , which for the uninitiated is a phrase made famous by writer Amy Chua in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
Based on her own parenting skills, and that of many Chinese mothers, the book pretty much suggests filling your child’s time with as many academic and extra-curricular activities as possible to promote in them a strong work ethic and make them super achievers.
And who doesn’t want their wain to do well? Who doesn’t glow with pride when their child gets a good report from school, or scores a goal, or wins a medal at the Feis?
Being one who sets fairly high standards for myself I wanted to set the same for my children; I wanted them to be the very best they could be.
Being as the boy is the only one of my brood currently at school, this started with him. I booked him in for speech and drama, fooball, gaelic, swimming as well as buying as many books as I could to help me support him with his homework. I filled his hours with practice and clothes changes and as many activities as could sort out.
Amy Chua would have been proud.
Me on the other hand? I was exhausted. Saturdays were no longer chilled out family fun days. They were days when I was a glorified taxi driver who waited outside in the car or stood on the sidelines or tried to fit all my errands into those 45 minute slots when he was otherwise engaged. I had to be super organised and super patient, and the notion of quality time seemed to fall by the wayside.
So when the boy started showing a certain reluctance to go to some of his activities and when my other child became more demanding of my attention, I admit I happily told my inner Tiger Mum to depart and I adopted a more slummy mummy approach to parenthood. We pared down his activities and reprioritised what we wanted to do, and needed to do.
Instead of running the country every week trying to drop him off at whatever he wanted to go to, we spend more time doing things as a family; something we don’t always have the time to do while balancing work and family.
He also gets time to just be a child; to read his book, to watch TV, to kick a football about, to play computer games or make a mess in the way only a child can do. (His most recent adventure being to “make a big puddle” on the bathroom floor not realising it may cause a minor flooding incident in the kitchen).
For some I’m sure that makes me a bit of a slack or lazy mummy. Amy Chua would most definitely be having a minor stroke at the thought of having such a relaxed attitude towards parenting.
But then again a new study this week shows that children whose parents are pushy are more prone to depression and anxiety. They can also have lower self esteem despite being high achievers, and this the report states could be because even as a young child they feel as if they are constantly having to seek the approval of their parents and constantly feel as if they have to impress them.
I’m not saying children don’t need encouragement and direction. Of course, they do. They do need guidance and parents are the perfect people to provide that but in my humble opinion they also need to be allowed to be children and to make the most of the fleeting moments of childhood. They need to feel that if they make mistakes, or don’t excel at something that they aren’t letting their parents down.
A look of disappointment or disapproval should be saved for major incidences (such as flooding the bathroom floor) rather than not scoring a goal, or winning a medal or coming top of the class constantly.
Children all have their own personalities, and their own strengths and weaknesses. They don’t come in a ‘one size fits all’ model where they can be made to excel at everything they turn their hand to.
Allowed to choose
They should be allowed to choose, within reason, what they do. They should have the time to just be children and act the maggot. God only knows life gets serious and responsibility laden quick enough.
The thought that pushing a child to achieve could cause one so young to suffer from depression and anxiety terrifies me. Having been afflicted with both through my adult years, I could not bear to see my child go through similar. If I thought that was somehow to down to me, my parenting, and how I had pushed them, I would find it hard to forgive myself.
When I became a mother, I made my children a promise that even though I may not be able to give them everything they want, I would always love them, cherish them and feel proud of them. I would appreciate and cherish the individual they are and would celebrate all their achievements, big or small, without pushing them too hard to move onwards or upwards to the next big thing.
So I’ll not be pushing myself again to become a Tiger Mummy. I’m quite happy as I am, and looking at my children, they seem pretty content too. That’s enough for me.