We didn’t actually do anything that different when my daughters were toddlers, just the same kinds of things that you probably do already: read picture books with them, took them for strolls and to the playground, did puzzles with them, sang songs about ABCs and numbers and mainly snuggled with and hugged them! Maybe the only thing different I did is that I always had a babysitter or student speaking in Mandarin to them every day, for at least four to five hours, including weekends, because I wanted my girls to be bilingual.
What’s funny is that I’ve been wanting Mr. F to take Mandarin classes since he was born. Not right now, I mean, though I’m sure toddler classes are offered somewhere in NYC. But when he’s a bit older and better able to process language, for sure. And we do everything else that Ms. Chua advises… so unless she’s toning down her rhetoric (because after all, who wants to imagine a tiger — mother or not — getting its mits on a toddler) then maybe I’m more of a Tiger Mom than I would’ve thought?
No surprise there, actually.
One of the many reasons my teaching stint in the NYC Department of Education didn’t work for me was the low expectations I felt the administration, other teachers, sometimes even the parents had for their students. (You can read more about this experience in my Open Letter to Cathie Black.) I left my position with the DoE to teach at The East Harlem School, which set impeccable academic, athletic, and character standards for its students. Students were held accountable for even the smallest of behaviors. Slouching in class, not making eye contact with the teacher while he spoke, not demonstrating an eagerness to learn either in facial expression or by not participating were all punishable under the school-wide discipline plan. My assignments were graded with a similar rigor. I loved it.
Like Tiger Mom, I found that when children and young adults were held to high standards, and when those standards were enforced with judiciousness and seriousness by the adults in the community, then they worked hard to achieve, and eventually came to feel empowered when their struggle led to success.
Now, I’m not endorsing Tiger Mom’s tactics — the harsh language, the depriving her daughter of food and water and bathroom breaks while she practiced the piano — but I agree with the gist of her approach. And I guess I make my own nutso parenting moves, denying my toddler his binkie for example, even though he’s obviously teething and wants it because I think he becomes obsessed with it in scary, addictive ways, and he can’t talk with that thing in his mouth, and I don’t think that he needs it the way he thinks he needs it. Crazy struggles ensue over this issue, believe me.
But I agree in high standards, and that kids sometimes need to be shown that they can meet those standards. My parents always expected a lot of me, and I’ve come to expect a lot of myself.
I don’t think that’s a bad thing.