Tiger Mom and Pussy Dad

Sometimes when my daughter looks up at me there’s this moment when she’s so beautiful it’s like the sun opens up right there in front of me.  The girl is almost nine, in the middle of this amazing process of unfolding herself out into the world.  She’s smart, creative, oversensitive, kind to her core (except when it comes to her brother), curious, and yet very responsible and rule bound – my friends call her “the designated driver.”  When she grows up she wants to be both a biologist and an artist, as well as an animal rescuer.  She loves the forest and everything that lives in it; she prefers girly clothes but the bottoms of her feet are always dirty because she wants to be outside, barefoot, as much as is humanly possible.  She’s part wood sprite, part forty-year-old philosopher. My nickname for her is Flower Face. 

It’s a wonder I haven’t ruined her yet.

You see, I am a Tiger Mom.  I didn’t know there was a name for those of us who insist that their kids get straight A’s, can’t imagine them going anywhere but an Ivy League school, screen friends, and discourage vacuous kid pop icons like Hannah Montana like they were a contagious disease.  When I heard about Amy Chua’s book* I had a huge moment of self-recognition.  Yay!  Someone like me, who believes kids have to be pushed!  And look how successful her daughters are! Vindication!  In the past I have given Flower Face a very stern talking to for getting a 95% on a spelling test. (This is all the correction she needs, being a child who is incredibly eager to please.)  I have spent days with my stomach in knots because she goes to a rural, public school that I fear doesn’t challenge her enough.  I have not praised her every effort because I think that’s what’s wrong with the current generation of college students I teach:  they think everything they produce is gold.  (In reality, most of it is something else entirely.)

Flower Face’s father is a little mellower than I am.  Let’s call him Pussy Dad.  When Flower Face gets a 98% on her report card, his stomach does not sink into his shoes.  Let’s chalk that up to the fact that he was not raised by a Tiger Mom but pretty much left to his own academic devices.  I, on the other hand, am the family failure for not attending Stanford, as was my legacy and birthright.  Though I do have a PhD, I do not have a Phi Bet Kappa key.  My Tiger Mom constantly reminds me of this fact; indeed every time we talk on the phone she laundry lists my shortcomings. And this is where it all starts to make me a bit queasy.  I wonder, do I push my Flower Face because it’s what’s good for her or because somewhere in my murky little subconscious I believe her achievements will undo my lack thereof?

Oh my god.  I am THAT mom.

Enter Pussy Dad.  Despite his pseudonym he is pretty good at telling me when I am going overboard.  This morning, as we were running, I told him I had signed Flower Face up to be tested for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. 

“What are you going to do if she doesn’t get in?” he asked.

What?! Never thought of that possibility.  “I don’t know.  I’ll be disappointed, I guess, but I’ll try not to let it show,” I replied.

“She’ll know.  You have to be proud of her anyway.”

I watched the trees, looked at my feet as they slogged through the mud.  Could I do that?  “Okay . . .?” I mumbled.

“If you let her know how you feel, she’ll never try again.  She’ll be too scared of your disapproval,” he said.  “You know, when I went to school my grades didn’t matter as much as whether or not I was learning something.  I just wanted to know more than anyone else.”  This is from the man who reads neuroscience texts just for shits and giggles, so there was some authority there.

“How are you going to feel if she doesn’t get in?” I asked.

“I couldn’t care less. She’s the one who’ll be upset, so I’ll try to make her feel better.  We’ll just go start a science project or set up the telescope in the field above the house.”

Then I got it.  Maybe not all of it but enough.  This afternoon I took Flower Face to her piano lesson.  Parents are supposed to sit in a tiny waiting room next to the classroom; I could hear everything that was going on.  Flower Face and her teacher spoke in gentle voices, in a language of gracenotes and bass clefs.  Staccato.  Legato.  Nothing that came through the door was quite a complete song, but it was beautiful anyway.  I went home with a new way to channel my parenting mania.  I need to draw with my daughter and cook with her and dissect owl pellets in the yard with her and study the names of trees with her and just quit worrying about the superficial stuff.  That present moment thing again.  And I need to remind myself  there’s a difference between pushing her to learn something and inspiring her to acquire that knowledge for herself.  I’m not saying that my Tiger Momishness is entirely cured,  but for now I’ll bow to the way of the Pussy Dad.

*The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

~ by Iphigenia on May 18, 2011.

8 Responses to “Tiger Mom and Pussy Dad”

  1. haha, Can’t wait to call Mike a pussy dad…

  2. Great entry. I do have to say though, having been raised by a Tiger Mom, that it does a disservice to a kid (I think) to have that much pressure. There has to be a balance, I think, between pushing children to succeed and allowing them to fail.

    But I don’t think you’re an Amy Chua, not really. Knowing you, I’m sure you embrace creativity and experimentation and allow your girl to fly. And I’m sure you’re there to catch her when she falls too, and that you let her know you love her no matter what. I think that’s the real problem with some Tiger Moms–that the kid gets the message the parent doesn’t love and/or is not proud of them if they’re not perfect.

    And just for the record, despite (and sometimes because of) my mother’s pushing, I NEVER got straight As in school and never spent time at an Ivy, but I don’t think any of that ended up hurting me in the long run. I think what I got from working my way through school and from being taught to help others was far more important and gave me far more lasting lessons.

    • I never got straight A’s either. And I was punished for it. I love what you say about allowing kids to fail; that’s so important. I am so terrified of failure myself that I sometimes forget to let my kids go through it. I think that’s going to be a goal for me – teaching my daughter how to fail (with style) and learn something from it.

      Thanks for the compliment on the blog. I am really enjoying it!

  3. Love this blog by the way!

  4. Oh, and that picture is priceless. :)

  5. I’ve been thinking about this entry for days. My dad was my “tiger mom”. All his pushing came across to me as “you are not good enough” and “I don’t like you”. I still carry it with me and it hurts, where the soul meets the bone hurt. I see him doing it now to my oldest child, who is very smart, he skipped a grade, he goes up to the next grade level for math class. His lowest grade on his last report card was a 98, he proudly showed his grandfather the pink piece of paper and he scoffed, “Why wasn’t it 100?”. My son cried. Later he told me he was pretty sure his pappy didn’t like him. My heart broke, again. I tried to talk to my father about it and he said he didn’t think it was a big deal at all. I told him it was. That was the end of the conversation. I realized that he wasn’t going to change his attitude and why should he? This is my kid. Balance is the key and encouragement, everything I wish I had gotten. I have no idea how much pushing is okay, I’m still learning maybe I can take what you’ve said here and apply some of it. This is how parenting is a community activity, doesn’t even have to be in person!

    We’re all just doing the very best we can with what we know.

    • You’re so right, Jos. If I had to parent in a vacuum (not the vroomy kind – that’s an odd mental image) I don’t know what I’d do. One of the things that’s been important for me is really admitting when I think I’m doing something wrong to my friends (and now the blogosphere). As for the toxic grandparent issue, same goes for us. My mom sometimes even makes fun of the artwork the kids send her. I wish I had some answers for the pain of that. So far what’s a blessing is the limited contact an across the country separation brings.

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