Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My open letter to the Tiger Mother

Dear Tiger Mom:

My bet is that I am late to the game when it comes to showing my shock at your aggressive parenting style via the blogosphere. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep up with people behaving badly. Be that as it may, the convergence of events in my life as of late has made me realize that I am on a path-- a trajectory, if you will-- to write you a personal letter. I have some important things to tell you- things that will need to be on the forefront of your mind in the coming years.

I want to tell you what you will need to do for your daughters now that you have created neuroses, insecurities, and deficiencies in their lives that you may have never even anticipated. At least, I am going to assume that you never anticipated the problems that your parenting choices have caused. Thinking that you may have been cognizant of these potential pitfalls gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach and a tightening headache at the back of my skull.

I don’t talk about my father often. Partly, this is because it is not all my story to tell. Partly, this is due to the fact that I still know, deep down inside, he is mentally ill. Partly, this is due to the fact that it is still embarrassing to me. Frankly, I prescribe to the Midwest mentality that no one really wants to hear YOUR problems because they are, in fact, dealing with their own. Midwesterners, in my personal experience, tend to keep their mouths tightly shut when it comes to things like this.

I am going to talk about my father now, since I would (with years of experience and personal reflection behind me) consider him to be a Tiger Dad. Keep in mind that he is, in my mind, mentally ill. We’ll come back to that point later.

When I try to think back to kindergarten, I remember flashcards. I came home every day to flashcards, to augment the learning that was apparently not taking place in my classroom, according to my father’s opinion. When I think back to my room in my childhood, I remember posters showing the bones and musculature of the body instead of ballerinas and pop band posters. When I think back to junior high, I remember how awful it felt to be an eighth grade girl being picked on junior and senior boys in Algebra II. I remember boredom, I remember sticking out. They are not pleasant memories.

I didn’t have sleepovers like normal children. When my peers now discuss childhood shows and cartoons that they loved, I have no point of reference. I was not allowed to watch them, unless I snuck them, surreptitiously. When I think of summer, I think of piles of books to read, not riding my bike, or playing with friends, or catching fireflies. I remember being chastised for wanting these things; I remember being told that normal or good enough was not going to be acceptable. I remember being told that I needed to be better, to be more. I had more own experiences of my love for a parent being rejected because it wasn’t good enough. I remember, distinctly, the feeling that I had when I was playing volleyball in junior high and I scored 13 points in a row, and my father thought I could have done better, so he walked out of the game in disgust.

I had not even finished serving yet.

So, I did the thing that so many other children do under similar circumstances—I rebelled. It was a spectacular rebellion! I won’t get into the specifics here, because they are not integral to my point, but let’s just say that I took all of that determination and focus that I had been taught, and wholeheartedly threw myself into the act.

What are the effects now? Well, I am successful. I have a wonderful job, a nice place to live, and two lovely sons and a wonderful husband and a graduate degree. All of these things did not come to me because of my father’s parenting style; they came to me in spite of it. They came to me because of the unconditional love and support of my mother. They came to me because I was determined to show him that I could be successful, in my own way, without his influence. The flashcards and book reports and bones of the body memorized did not do this for me, but they nearly derailed me.

I cannot accept a compliment. I cannot stop fretting over projects at work. I cannot stop feeling guilty about my inability to do all things at once. I cannot stop feeling as if I am still inadequate, still unloved, and still not good enough. I cannot see when I do a good job and when I need to improve, because, to me, everything I do always needs to be improved. It’s never good enough.

This brings me back to my point about what you will need to do for your daughters as they reach adulthood. You will need to apologize to them. You will need to compliment them. You will need to accept their choices in life, and tell them that they are, in fact, good enough. You will need to support them when they hit the brick wall of stress, frustration or burn out. You will need to tell them this is normal, it is what happens to everyone, that it is a learning experience we must all contend with. Because it is.

You will need to teach them now how to participate in our social, culturally influenced society. You have not done a good job of this up to this point, and now your daughters have a steep learning curve to overcome. By not allowing play dates and sleepovers, you have refused your children the ability to learn how to respond, adapt, and interact with their peers.

Most importantly, you will need to go and talk to someone about YOUR insecurities, and your perceived deficiencies. I think that these things—perhaps you have tried to hide them, bury them, bringing out the best in your daughters in the areas where you feel you lack the most—are the things that are directing you down this path. It is a treacherous path—and it is not within the realm of acceptable behavior for a reason. It is time to accept this weakness and ask another for help, instead of trying to rectify the situation in your children, thereby causing numerous other problems.

1 comment:

  1. What a great letter! I haven't read the Tiger Mom piece (I'm still debating because these things get me very emotional and worked up), but from what I know of it, you've done a good job pointing out the flaws in her point of view. Does no one recognize that that kind of vigilance and pressure can be bad for kids? How many of kids with tiger moms and dads are still recovering, decades later, with the use of anti-depressants, therapy, alcohol, food.... Oy.

    Good post! It's nice to meet you!


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