Two Answers to the Same Question

The question is, what is the right way of parenting? When you read about successful people one thing that all of them refer to is the kind of childhood they had. Either they had motivated parents who laid a solid foundation or they had abusive or divorced parents that made their childhood miserable and the sheer vigor to get out of it made them successful. One thing is common among both and that is they didn’t have an ordinary childhood like you and me. Parenting has direct affect on how much successful you will be in your life. So, I turned to books of various kinds. For me reading parenting books turned out to be like therapy. Its less about children and more about parents.

I recently finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua at rocketing speed in 4 days. This is the best I have done to a non-fiction book. Though by Amy Chua’s standards this might be a lousy effort. One of the reviewers has nailed her book correctly. Parent or not, lenient or strict, old school or modern everyone will have an opinion about this book. This is her story about how she raises her two daughters in a “Chinese way”. She follows an authoritarian style of parenting. She runs their affairs like a military camp preparing them for a war she calls their future. Rules are laid down crystal clear. No grades other than As, no sleepovers, no playdates, no boyfriends, no participation in school drama, they have to learn a musical instrument which can only be violin or piano, and finally they cannot complain about anything on this list. The list is pretty straight forward, no loop holes for rescue. You can’t do anything but submit to her. People who read her announced that she is a monster and said her children would resent her. Behind all this there is an uncomfortable truth. Her ways have rendered in my view the best her children could have accomplished at that point. She pushed them to maximize their potential. She believed in them and it didn’t matter if they believed in themselves or not. Being a Tiger Mom is not easy, it is heavy duty parenting. It is grueling, countless hours of nagging and cajoling can spin your head. She wouldn’t let anything come in between them and their practice. If sick then pop pill and practice, no time in the day then wake up at 5 and practice. They practice on holidays, weekends and heck, even when they are on vacation. This relentless pursuit to achieve perfection and an unwavering work ethic is what she wants to inculcate in her children.

Honestly, I was not even ready to buy this book, thought it would wrongly influence my opinion. Our approach of parenting is very conservative and closed. I don’t blame the parents (including myself) I think they are confused. I recently went to check out a school (of a different kind) for my daughter and spoke to few parents. They were happy that their kids are becoming independent day by day, but many of them confessed to want to have controlled independence.

I cannot but look back into my childhood. Being from an average middle class family, the only way to become successful in life was to get good grades in school. Pursue engineering or medicine and this was your ticket to elevating yourself up in the economic ladder. I studied well and was always in the top 5% of the class. But not well enough to ever top the class. Miraculously I always stood second or third. Thinking back I guess I never wanted to top. I was afraid. If I did too well the teachers would expect more and If I slacked then I will get noticed at home. So I simply stayed low and sailed through. Always got truck loads of sympathy, “Oh you nearly made it this time”, “you were just unlucky thats all”, etc. What I needed then was a mother like Amy Chua who would make me slog my back side. Instead my father would come and switch off my room’s light. “Enough of studying now”, “rest is best before the test”, he would announce and go away. I took pride in telling my friends about my father. Today I feel bad about it. I think he was not ambitious enough for me.

Now turn the bottle upside down. Sudbury Valley School in US is unlike any other school in the world. Its not just about a unique way of imparting education but its a way of life. There are no time tables and no teachers taking classes. The school looks like its in recess forever. Children are buzzing all around and doing their things. No one to disturb or direct them. A book about this school describes a kid who does fishing for 15 years only fishing, mind you! Every year his father would go to the administration and express his doubts. They told him to wait and watch. One fine day he found a new passion, computers. He never looked back at fishing and found an internship with HP and his career took off. Not that fishing is by any stretch of imagination a lesser meaningful thing. May be he could have become the greatest Ichthyologist of our generation and did some important discoveries in marine biology. Simply put, in this school kids just do their thing day in and day out for years till they are 19 when they graduate. Looking from outside it would seem like an easy and fun life if you are let free to do anything you like. But imagine you are doing this everyday. There is enough time for everything you want to do. Nobody to tell you how much to do, how to do or what to do. I bet it would be a very difficult. This is a place where you learn from getting bored. You are responsible for your life. You take charge of your own education. And when you start them young, they are exuberant and fearless. The intensity with which they pursue their passion is enormous. And it doesn’t matter what their passion is. Most of us don’t even know where our interests lie. We just stay low. Not questioning the prevailing norm has become our subconscious trait. Going with the flow is safer and easier because tiding against needs courage and is uncertain.

In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he says that unless you have 10,000 hours of hard work under your belt you can’t be successful. Let’s say you want to be a concert pianist. Ten thousand hours roughly works out to be a little less than 10 years if you practice 3 hours everyday (including the weekends). It is also crucial that you start young. So unless you have a tiger mom you’d rather play video games or watch movies.

Finally, I don’t think there is a correct way of parenting. So, I don’t know yet what kind of mom I will be. Will I let her do soul searching for hours swinging under the tree? Or will I have a stop watch and a time table for her in my hands? The latter seems hard and cruel. But actually the former is the hardest. I think I will go for the hardest because I guess I am ambitious for her.

2 thoughts on “Two Answers to the Same Question

  1. I would not suggest thrusting down parents wishes onto a childs throat. I do not agree that children cannot decide. As parents it is our role to see where their aptitude lies when young and try to provide the environment conducive so that the child can learn. It is that love that will make them into better and capable adults with life skills rather pushing them into vocations of our choice.

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