Before I read her editorial in the Wall Street Journal, I heard an interview with the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua. Her advocacy of high-achievement child-rearing horrified me. Then it reminded me of an incident last spring, when I volunteered to take one of JT's classmates along with us to a local baseball game. The classmate, a child born in the United States but being raised by a family born outside the western world, was unfamiliar with the sport. JT had baseball practice before the game and so his buddy, let's call him X, and I and I sat in the sun, read our books, and visited about baseball while JT wrapped up his practice.
As we walked to the car to head off to the game X asked me, "why would you play baseball?" And I responded by asking about what he does with his free time (he doesn't play a sport but I knew that he takes lessons in violin, studies a foreign language, and goes to chess classes). And when I asked about those activities, hoping he would tell me he does them for fun, X instead confirmed my fears as he explained, 'I do those because my mom says that I should."
Not my sort of childhood.
Like many parents, I have encouraged my son's interest in a variety of activities. But, unlike the Tiger Mom, after that introduction, I've followed JT's lead and let him select the activities which have provided fulfillment to him. I don't pack his weekend and after school hours with so-called enrichment. Instead, I encourage him to play. And by play, I mean play: run around outside, ride his bike, dig in the dirt, and otherwise explore the world. He attends a school filled with the children of driven parents and sometimes, when they ask what JT will be doing over the summer, I respond by saying, "I run an old-fashioned childhood so he's going to be a kid." I mean it.
It may very well be that in failing to secure his fluency in another language and violin, I have doomed JT to a life outside the walls of the Ivy League. And if so, well...so be it.
What I want for JT is not a series of accomplishments from a childhood given over to lessons and resume-building. Instead, I want for him a life filled with creativity and a rich imagination; a life inspired by a thirst to know and understand more. I want him to do his best and to please himself; to be proud of his real accomplishments and mindful of his privileges in life. I want my boy to figure out how to learn from failures and mistakes. I want him to be resilient and confident. I want him to love learning for the sake of the power of the ideas, not for the grades. I want him to be a whole person, not a series of grades, test scores, and numbered achievements.
I want JT's childhood to be the foundation for a happy life. And sometimes happiness is a lot harder to find than perfection, a reality that I think is lost on the Tiger Mom.