Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has created a buzz among the parenting set with its story of an awesomely ambitious mother forcing her children to achieve using harsh and sometimes heartless measures. NPR likens reading her book to listening to Hannibal Lector "explaining how he's going to fillet his next victim." Her daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, on the other hand, felt that her mother imparted valuable lessons of honest, hard work.
Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.
I remember walking on stage for a piano competition. I was so nervous, and you whispered, “Soso, you worked as hard as you could. It doesn’t matter how you do.”
Reading those words from the Tiger Mom's teen-age daughter warms my heart. Colleen, the daughter of an Alaskan Tiger Mom, is learning the same lessons with, I hope, the same awesome results.
I'm the kind of Tiger Mom that is more concerned about her kid being able to cook for herself, do her own laundry, clean up the dinner dishes and sweep a floor than she is about her kid winning a medal or playing at Carnegie hall. I'm more interested in my kid being able to haul wood, rake hay, pitch fish and pound nails than I am interested in her winning a gold medal in anything. I've heard it said that "knowing how to sweep a floor isn't going to get my kid into college." But it might be how she pays for college. Or how she eats while she's at college or after she gets out. Knowing how to sweep a floor might keep my kid off a stage, pole-dancing for 50-year-old truckers with sweaty handfuls of 1 dollar bills.
And it's important to remember that not every kid IS going to go to "college." Some may go to vocational or technical schools, some may get a great job picking trash off the tundra on the North Slope of Alaska. Some may end up commercial fishermen. Regardless, they are all going to need to know how to wash their sheets, keep their kitchens passably clean and, most importantly, put in a decent day's work.
"Oh, I could NEVER get my kids to do that."
I'm not sure how to address that statement. Try telling them to do it. With, as I tell Colleen when she's dealing with the two overly exuberant Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, an EXCLAMATION POINT at the end of your sentence, NOT a question mark. I believe every child will meet and exceed the expectations of the adults around them. If we expect them to behave badly, perform poorly and quit before they've accomplished a given task, they will. All of this, "They are just kids" is an adult's way of copping-out of the difficult and usually thankless task of educating young people.
Obviously, children have to be taught how to do things. Genetic memories of washing dishes aren't going to spring forth from the mind of an adolescent with just a prompt and a smile. But, with persistence, any kid who can reach the sink can be taught to wash up the dinner dishes and stack them neatly in the rack to dry. It is the same with any task, academic or manual. If the child is physically capable of the task (size, strength, coordination), then they are mentally capable of the task... Except for bearing and raising other children, perhaps.
In order to show what a child, adolescent, girl, "tween" (shudder), kid can accomplish with a bit of direction, persistence and threat of dire and unpleasant consequences, behold the following:
Colleen's Keyhole Garden
|Colleen collected stones and poles from our property and stacked them around in a semi-circle. Morgan helped.|
|She dug an 18 inch hole in order to anchor the four poles which would serve as the foundation of the compost basket.|
|She put six inches of last year's Princess (the pony) manure around the bottom. Morgan sort of helped.|
|Here the girls and Quinn pose with the finished garden. We ordered a load of topsoil from Anchor Point Greenhouse and Colleen retrieved a load of beach rock with her Uncle Ben to finish it.|
The following are some artistic shots (taken by Colleen) of rhubarb we dug up from my dad's place in Ninilichik. I did most of the digging while Colleen held Quinn.
Here's Colleen's garden at the end of the season:
|Getting ready to harvest. We mulched around the garden with our failed hay crop. You see Quinn is considerably bigger in this picture.|
|The rhubarb gets a bath.|
|And gets mixed with sugar, cranberries, lemons, oranges, raisins and nutmeg for an AWESOME conserve.|
|Our little kitchen had a tough time making do.|
What is your kid doing right now? Is it something that is going to benefit her in the future? Are you sure? Wii Mario Cart? Really?
Our young people WANT to feel useful and have a purpose. They WANT to know that they are leading meaningful lives. Let's give them that and give them the skills and habits which will sustain them into their future regardless of what that future brings.