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.
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?
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?
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?