Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Free Play or Tiger Mother? Can't be both...

Like dieting, parenting has trends.  You can point to different eras and see the trends of each era.  I remember my mother calmly putting my brother, ten years younger than me, into time out.  "What on earth is time out?"  I asked sullenly.  I had been spanked for the same offense.  She explained the process to the sullen tween in a time before the term tween was even thought of.  Now, I understand time outs, tweens, naughty chairs and spots, positive discipline, point systems, I could go on.  Parents embraced Ferber as quickly as a dieter threw away their bread and fried their bacon to join the Atkins revolution.  There is always a new trend, and it's impossible as an informed parent to not be effected by them.  This is not to say that all parents change their lives based on the next parenting craze, but I think all of us are aware of them and gravitate to the trends that have something in common with the parenting style we have, or maybe even wish we had.

So what do you do when trends that make sense to you conflict?

Just a few days ago, the New York Times printed an article entitled The Movement to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum.  Many parents (myself included) said "Yes!  An excuse for my messy house!" and "Of course children should play!"  Now, a book entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua discusses the opposite parenting strategy.  Amy Chua has written a memoir of parenting of her daughters, now teenagers, in which she has harshly driven them to be the best.  At 14, her older daughter played piano at Carnegie Hall.  Both daughters get A or A+ in everything.  An A- is a failure.  Yet in order to do that, each day they practiced their instrument for 3 hours, there were no play dates, sleep overs, or any extracurricular activities of their choice.  (Wall Street Journal article here)  While many of Amy Chua's techniques are beyond what we would do, our house also values excellence.  My husband and I work hard and we expect our children to as well.

The problem I see with these two differing views is not necessarily that there isn't room for a degree of both in a house but that our education system seems to push between these two views as well.  There are so many questions when thinking of this: How do we have both?  Should we have both?  How do we push our children toward excellence without turning the school district into Chinese mothers?  Should we expect the schools to be Chinese mothers (as many Charter schools are) and frown upon the free play parents?  Or, should we change how we measure excellence to include happiness and life satisfaction?  The list of questions could go on...

Where do you see yourself in this spectrum?  Do you see yourself moving in the spectrum as your children get older?