Strong Heart Song of the Eagle Grandma

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These two books were featured on the same page of the Book Review section of last Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.  On Sundays I try to give my mind a complete break from Child Rearing Part 2, at least during coffee/Sunday paper time, but here was a double whammy—two books about raising girls, two aspects of a topic that nags at me.  Expectations.

First, I haven’t read either of these books, but the reviews are intriguing.  I’m raising two granddaughters, ages 6 and 8, and we love all things “girlie.”  Dolls, dancing, fairies, fashion, all kinds of frills.  It’s not that I’m pushing pink, and I we absolutely won’t be idealizing anybody type.  I’m an unapologetic feminist.  I’m not a royal watcher, and the whole nobility thing has never held much interest for me except as part of history, which I love.  So how much is too much princess fantasy?  Clearly we’ve struggled with the notion of femininity—certainly in my lifetime—as we assert our femininity and claim the right to define it for ourselves rather than allow others, mainly men, to define it for us.  Hmmm.

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On to the Amy Chua book.  We’ve seen a lot of this author lately.  She’s making the talk show rounds, and I find it interesting that for all her dedication to strict child-rearing and high expectations, she seems to be backing off during the interviews, claiming that people aren’t getting the self-effacing humor in her book.  But she does say that she thinks Americans coddle their kids.  Her two daughters were not allowed sleepovers, play-dates, TV, or computer games.  No taking part in school plays, no choice in extracurricular activities, certainly no sports, no pets, and no effusive praise.  Any grade less than an A was unacceptable, and mastery of the piano or violin was required.  Both daughters are excellent students, but now that Chua admits to some exaggeration, who knows how they really got there?

homework Things have changed a little since I did this the first time around.  Back in the day, homework didn’t really start until middle school.  I have to say that now we do homework every night without fail, and that started in kindergarten.  The girls are involved in organized activities—scouts, dance, gymnastics—of their choosing.  We have a piano—left over from Child Rearing Part 1—but we haven’t started any lessons, and I’m feeling a little guilty about that.  It’s a matter of finding the time.  I know—you make the time, right?  Right.  Out of what?  Out of the time we use for playing dress-up and having friends over to build fairy houses and have tea parties and hula hoop contests?

image I value creativity.  I also value excellence.  I agree that we tend to enjoy what we do well.  On the other hand, unrealistic expectations can be a killjoy.  I’ve seen straight-A students experience total meltdowns.  I’ve heard painfully thin young women stress out over fitting into the princess dress.  Where’s the balance when, face it, not too many of us are really happy with medium these days?

With all the talk about the U.S. falling behind in one area after another, about the need to be competitive, what do you think of the Tiger Mother philosophy?

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About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
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22 Responses to Strong Heart Song of the Eagle Grandma

  1. Betina says:

    Kathy, I soooo sympathize with your questions and I’m in total awe of your heart and spirit. We want the best for our kids and grands. . . but what is the best? I believe expectations should be high for kids given lots of opportunities, and they should be told why they’re high. I remember coming home with straight A’s(VERY hard fought!) and being told with a shrug that such a report card was just what my parents expected. A few kinds words would have been nice. Still, I knew my parents loved me and wanted the best for me– my mom explained later that she had underplayed things because she didn’t want “vain” daughters. Considering we were MILES from vain, it wasn’t much comfort. Would have been nice to have had a kind word or some praise before I turned 18.
    I’m in favor of keeping kids busy and giving them opportunities to try new things. But lately I’ve been thinking about those lazy summer days when I got to run in and out of the house and play in the trees and walk 1/2 a mile to a friend’s house to play. I had quiet time, down time, ME time. That’s how my brain and psyche work to this day. I have to have some down time, alone time in order to recharge. I think that’s why writing has worked for me as a profession. Soooo… I guess I’m coming down on the side of moderation in all things. Some lessons and planned things, some free time to created and just enjoy kid-dom. Finding a balance is tough. I fear that my grands are already too planned and programmed and activitied.
    But most of all, it’s important for kids to know that they’re loved. Kids can put up with a lot of mistakes out of parents if they know without question that they’re loved for themselves. That’s the point on which I become a “tiger mother.”

    • Betina, my sister, we must have been raised by the same mother. Mid-century Southern ladies, yes? One does not toot one’s own horn or the extension thereof, which would be the daughter’s horn. Our parents grew up during the Depression, and they were not from the “privileged” social strata, so they had a little of that work-hard-or-die mentality that was bred into Tiger Mother. Down deep I think Mama would have liked to have been a princess, but she had no illusions about raising one. As long as I was bringing home A report cards, she didn’t see any reason to go my school for conferences with teachers, which were rare anyway in those days. To her, that was like fishing for compliments. I wanted my parents to go in and let the teachers tell them how well I was doing. Come on, give me my moment. I guess I did learn that doing things well is the ultimate reward, which is a point Tiger Mother makes. But like you, Betina, I have such fond memories of the freedom to play un-hovered-over, and I know that fostered our creativity.

  2. Keri Ford says:

    But she does say that she thinks Americans coddle their kids. Her two daughters were not allowed sleepovers, play-dates, TV, or computer games. No taking part in school plays, no choice in extracurricular activities, certainly no sports, no pets, and no effusive praise. Any grade less than an A was unacceptable, and mastery of the piano or violin was required.

    oh, my. where do I start? That whole thing right there pretty much horrified me when I read it.

    I’m not really interested in making a mold and then squeezing my son into. Without doing or trying some of those things, I don’t know how a person could become an individual who finds his own talents.

    Son will be 4 in April. He’s learning to write (loves it!), loves to read, loves puzzles and games and challenges (daddy was teaching him checkers last night and dang if he wasn’t picking up the game and starting to understand the rules!). He loves sports (baseball to bowling to golf to tennis—doesn’t matter, he loves them all). He does a lot of these things because he learned about them from the tv, first attempted them on the computer, discovering about them from his friends at preschool.

    Do I expect him to grow up with straightAs? Well, I certainly hope so. I should think every parent would want their child to do their best in everything they do, but I’ll be far more pleased with him if he’s happy, doing what he loves and is succeeding at it. If that’s coddling, then I’m a coddler all the way. 🙂

    • “Without doing or trying some of those things, I don’t know how a person could become an individual who finds his own talents,” said Keri.

      I like the child-rearing traditions that encouraging the growing child to find his “true self.” Traditional Lakota culture is all about that, but so much of the tradition was anathema to the missionaries that claimed the right to educate American Indian children. I think we’re missing out when it comes to meaningful coming-of-age experiences these days.

  3. leannebanks says:

    Blessings to you on your second motherhood. I read the Tiger Mother pieces with interest. I found what she said about how tiger mothers assume their children are strong rather than fragile fascinating. When my kids were growing up, I allowed them a snack and a few moments rest after school, but then they had to do their homework. I took a class in parenting for adolescents that taught the philosophy that you do your homework first, then you get the “good life”. The good life included choices of things to do and a limited amount of television. One of my children was ADD (bordering on Aspergers) and structure was very important. We also worked hard with specialists to try to find sports and activities that would help him. My husband and I both worked hard to make sure they could experiment with extracurricular activities that interested them. I was a bit pushy about physical activities. Pretty much required them to be on the swim team in the summer for several years. Hey, they’re both great swimmers.:) They both had plenty of free time, though, for reading, playing, exploring…
    My daughter was a princess, but she was a working princess.:) She was expected to get a part-time job if she wanted a USED CAR. Actually both my children were. We drew up a contract when they got their drivers licences. I didn’t demand As, but if you wanted to drive, you had to maintain a certain grade point average. lol Amazing how they both managed to do that.:) I’m sure I did a lot of things wrong, but I’m also sure I did the best I could.

    • The granddaughters are realizing the benefits of getting the homework done early so they have the rest of the evening for “choice time.” I was also of the no-B-or-better-average-no-driver’s-license school, but I’m actually not a big proponent of the license at 16 anyway. I’m probably in the minority there.

      Leanne, you hit the nail on the head when you said you did your best. Tiger Mother admits mistakes. We all make them. We’re struggling with our personal bugaboos while we’re bringing these kids along, and one of mine is control. I’m more aware of it now than I ever have been. I’m also a bit mellower in some ways. I want them to play, and I’m going to take the time to play with them.

  4. Helen Brenna says:

    Wow, I had the same reaction Keri did when I read that part. She’s probably right that we do coddle our children perhaps too much, but what in the world do the rules no sports and no pets have in common? No school plays and no play-dates?

    In my opinion, she’s a madwoman and if this is truly how she raised her kids I won’t be surprised if they end up automatons. One day they just might wake up and hate their lives because they’re not finding fulfillment. There are also studies that suggest young girls feeling as though they have no control in their lives end up bulimic or anorexic.

    Kids need to explore to find their own identities, not get pushed and prodded into, as Keri said, a mold – their mother’s mold.

    I was a huge tomboy – boys surrounding me – hated wearing dresses. I did my best to let my daughter find her own way in pink, purple, blue or whatever. She had trucks to play with, but she always chose the dolls. I was worried about staying home fulltime because I didn’t want my daughter thinking that’s the way it had to be. I made sure she knew it was my choice.

    Feminine strength comes from inside us. You can’t manufacture it with what you wear or don’t wear.

    Kalil Gibran’s quote on children says so much:
    “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you.
    And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
    You may house their bodies, but not souls.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
    You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
    The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

    • Love Kalil Gibran, Helen!

      I did a little research on China and found that they have one of the highest rates of suicide in the world and one of the few where women surpass men in suicide numbers. Their adolescent suicide rate is among the world’s highest, too. This may have nothing to do with the Tiger Mother Method–U.S. teen suicide rate is highest among American Indians–but you have to wonder.

  5. Kylie Brant says:

    Great post, Kathy. I have only heard of the Tiger Mom’s book and interviews but of course have an opinion 🙂 When we’re raising our kids we’re constantly questioning ourselves. Are we being too permissive? Too strict? Are we being consistent? Is it ever ok to allow them to quit something they’ve started? And when our kids screw up (because they’re kids–it’s synonymous) we’re asking ourselves if we’re going to be visiting them in prison somewhere down the line 🙂

    But when they are grown we get the benefit of hindsight, and with it comes a measure of satisfaction. We’re at the point where we’re sort of patting ourselves on the back. After all we have one son who’s a federal bank examiner, another who’s an attorney, a son who manages a federal grant for a university (yeah, I can never remember the job title), a daughter about to finish her master’s and a son who just landed the same job my dh has…making him the youngest FSA CED in the state. I’m a little proud 🙂

    So was it necessary to suck all the joy out of their childhoods in order for them to be successful as adults? Not from my view. They are well-adjusted and enjoy being around each other. We spend lots of time together as a family. Wonder how many tender feelings the Tiger Mom’s kids have for her?

    I think it’s important for parents to establish boundaries and have clear expectations. High standards. But there’s a balance to everything and kids are individuals not mass produced socket wrenches. If I had pushed harder would one of the kids been a rocket scientist instead? Does it matter as long as they are good well-adjusted people with strong values and they are successful in their chosen field?

    Sometimes I wonder what the rush is. Getting kids through school earlier so they can get into college earlier and then be out of med school earlier…is there a race? Does anyone get a prize for winning it?

    Tiger Mom does have a point. Compared to Asian cultures we definitely coddle our kids. But for all the negatives we hear about American education, the one area where the US is never outshone is in the areas of creativity and innovation. Teaching kids to think, problem solve and create has got to be as important as memorizing facts, right?

    • Well said, Kylie. I remember a prof from South Africa (he was white, and this was during apartheid) saying that America was the only country that claimed the goal of “universal education,” which he in turn claimed was not possible. I remember arguing that the goal is universal opportunity. We were far from reaching it then, and it’s still far off, and maybe we’re claiming to have that goal, but not not really putting our money where our mouth is. Still, we hold it out there. And we do outpace most other countries in creativity and innovation.
      But tests show that we’re falling behind in those areas, too, and our college students are not doing as well as they once did in critical thinking. And writing? Students are getting into college without maving written much in high school. And if class loads continue to increase, forget the writing altogether.

    • I do think we need to take notice of the fact that Asian and Asian-American kids tend to be academic achievers in American schools. They’re doing something right. Let’s figure out what it is, and then let’s apply it “the American way.” We don’t want to lose the creativity, but we want to promote better skills for everyone.

  6. Marilyn says:

    I’ve been reading about Tiger Mom too and she left out the part about the high suicide rates among Asian women because of the high expectations of them. Yes, I expected my boys to do well and sometimes they did. I wanted things for them I couldn’t afford. I did what I could. I wanted them to make all A’s and B’s like I did and they didn’t (probably because they were playing some sports and stomping through the woods out back). But they both got into good colleges and graduated. #1 son is now a licensed architect and a great husband and daddy. #2 son barely had a high school GPA high enough to qualify him for his college track scholarship. That scholarship forced him to maintain a certain GPA. He worked for 18 months before he went back to grad school and he got his Master’s with a 4.0. I think he had to “grow into” those good grades. Now he’s coaching college track and inspiring kids to be the best they can be.

    I have a granddaughter and I struggle with the princess thing, especially after reading an article in the February Redbook magazine. As a mother of only sons, it’s been SO much fun to have a little girl to buy for. But I get a book to balance the lip gloss, art supplies to balance the jewelry and I tell her she can be an Olympic swimmer just as I tell her she can be a princess.

    Balance. I think that’s the key.

  7. Marilyn says:

    Kylie wrote: Getting kids through school earlier so they can get into college earlier and then be out of med school earlier…is there a race? Does anyone get a prize for winning it?

    Reminds me of a joke. What do you call the person who finishes last in his/her class in medical school? Doctor.

    Also, I live in a town full of rocket scientists who are sweating whether they’ll have jobs. Don’t get me started on the importance of space exploration and how our lives have been enriched by the discoveries that have come from NASA (like this home computer I’m using or my cell phone or the ATM machine and the list goes on).

  8. Kylie Brant says:

    You hit on a significant point when you talk about universal education. We are the only country offering all kids free and equal education, regardless of their academic prowess. I have been saying for years that it’s unfair to compare us to other countries’ achievement levels because we aren’t just offering to fully educate the so-called best and brightest.

    As a special education teacher for thirty-one years I consider myself a huge advocate for special needs students. But one correlation to dropping test scores is the uptick in full inclusion in this country. Give a teacher twenty-five fourth graders which include a Down’s Syndrome student, three non-English speakers, a behaviorally challenged student whose parents refuse services, and three learning disabled students, just for example, is unrealistic. Expecting under NCLB that they will all be proficient on state assessments if demoralizing and laughable. What other country does this? It’s an unreasonable expectation and further detracts from the education of the rest of the class.

    Don’t get me wrong…I fully support educating all children in the least restrictive environment. But the pendulum has swung too far when LRE is the be-all and end-all and no one is questioning the value of that education…for the special needs kids or the rest of the class.

    A very politically incorrect view, but not uncommon to special education teachers. We’re seeing our time with students diminish in the interest of keeping them in the regular ed classroom for what is often purely social purposes. They lose out. So does everyone else.

    And don’t even get me started on the challenges of teaching students who speak no English. NCLB gives them three years to be proficient on state assessments when research shows fluency takes 7 years. What are we doing wrong? It starts with the mandates at the top.

    • Oh, my, Kylie. You’ve touched so many points that are so desperately in need of discussion. I taught for 17 years, beginning right about the time we were beginning to deal with dyslexia and mainstream special needs kids, but it didn’t really hit me until a few years in, when I started teaching 7th and 8th graders. I had been teaching high school English–my first love–for several years, and I decided to go back to school for a reading specials and then a consultant credential because experimentation with teaching kids to read without phonics had brought us so many students struggling to read at the high school level. The school instituted reading for all 7th and 8th grader, so I devised a program to meet all needs, and since we couldn’t have ability grouping, we had to do that within each class, where ability ran the gamut. It was challenging, but it worked. We made it work. But we had aides and team teaching going for us. A all-too-brief period of putting money into Indian education gave us the window of opportunity. Now it’s budget cuts everywhere you look. Believe me, when people badmouth teachers around me, they’ve got a fight on their hands.

      And I’m so glad to hear you say that overboard mainstreaming has been a disaster for all concerned. It’s led to leaving every child behind. (But don’t listen to us. We’re just the teachers who believe in these kids and their right to the best education we can possibly offer. And we believe passionately.)

  9. Marcia in OK says:

    Kathy – good luck with your girls and being grand”mom”. Girls are tough! (At least my DD13 and DD10 are keeping my life interesting.)

    NCLB hurts the kids – most all the kids, the teachers and the administrators. Spending weeks and weeks out of the year just teaching to the test. I’m thankful every minute that I live in a school district that still has an art department and a music department.

    Critical thinking – bet many would see that as an out there concept.

    When we hit middle school (all this is harder the second and third time around than it was when I did the first time myself!), I was slammed with concerns about self-esteem building, body image, bullying and a host of other things. I’m thankful that not every major issue consumes every day and we have “free time” on occasion.

    I want my girls to have free to be “me” time and friends in the neighborhood and all that, but they aren’t growing up in the same world I did as a kid. Their world does have scary stuff!

    Sorry – random thoughts on a Friday afternoon. All my clear thinking, spelling, and grammar have been used up for the week.

    Great topic.

    • I hear you on the used-up words for the week. Still writing, but what’s the word I want? Oh, yeah, public. Public school. Our national ace, and we’re driving into the hole. Our girls attend a wonderful public school with a beautifully diverse student population. Great leadership, terrific teachers, and the parents are deeply, deeply involved. The–what’s the acronym now? It just flew out of my brain–what used to be PTA–is amazing.

      I don’t know if I can handle a round of teenagers at–how old will I be? (One day at a time, Kathy.) Our son is very much involved with the girls, but for a variety of reasons, they’re with us. Hey, it takes a village. Or a family.

      About teaching to the test, you’re spot on, Marcia. Deadly.

  10. infinitieh says:

    My nieces and nephews have playdates and such. I’ve always felt sorry for them. When I was a kid, what playdates? I had so many siblings and cousins around, all I wanted was to be an only child of only children. Sleepovers were at some other family member’s home; I’ve never had a sleepover at a friend’s house. I know that kids now don’t have large extended families nearby so they have to resort to playdates for socialization. As for all that princess stuff, I never wanted that as a child and I’m fairly certain I made sure none of the younger girls wanted that either (ah, the power of the oldest kid).

    The whole tiger mother thing isn’t that crazy to me but then I’ve known Jewish tiger mothers, too, not just Asian ones. My parents weren’t very tigerish though (I thought my Jewish friends’ parents were way more strict than mine). Still, lots of ethnic groups, especially the first generation, want their children to grow up like they did and are appalled by whatever lack they see in American popular culture. And, of course, they tell the kids how much easier they have it, living in this country instead of the old country.

    Besides, I do believe in if you tell a kid he/she can do something, he/she will believe it. This just demonstrates faith in that child. Even if I’m only the auntie and not the parent, having a respected grownup telling a kid that she believes in him/her does matter. Besides, I did expect all A’s for myself and my siblings while growing up because I knew we were smarter/worked harder than the other kids in our classes. My parents didn’t have to do anything to push us that way. Years ago, I told a niece that if she learned her letters and such before school started, her teachers would think she was smart. This did happen and all that praise reinforced her wanting to learn more and do well. What’s wrong with that? I don’t think I was acting like a tiger mom to the kid.

    I, too, grind my teeth over the whole No Child Left Behind fiasco. I just see it as taking money from the gifted programs for remedial ones. Not that I don’t want all kids to catch up and such, but the smart kids will be even more bored in school and no one wants bored, smart kids (who knows what they will come up with on their own).

  11. You mention the value of the respected adult’s opinion, infinitieh. So important. The Eagle family is numerous and close–relationships and, for the most part, proximity. We moved from the Dakotas to Mn almost 20 years ago, but we’re still close. Somebody asked me recently why Indians stay on the reservation if it’s so lacking in basics like jobs and housing. One thing that’s not lacking is family. Respect for the elders is part of the culture, which is why taking the children away and putting them in boarding schools nearly destroy the culture. And talk about strong women! Lakota women are every bit as strong as the Tiger Mother. But their ways are less controlling. I think we can learn from each other, find balance, make better lives for children. But the best education we can offer becomes more important as the world shrinks.

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