I made a decision to stay away from the Tiger Mom discussion, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because there has been so much said already.
But as I was reading the February issue of Oprah Magazine last night, I ran across yet another Q&A with Amy Chua, aka Tiger Mom, and one of her responses motivated me to make just one small comment about something that is consistently misunderstood….
They asked: What about letting kids find themselves by trying lots of different activities?
She said: There’s something suspicious about saying, “I’m just going to leave my child alone and let her pursue her passions.” You know what? I think most 13-year-olds’ passion is sitting in front of the TV, or doing Facebook, or surfing the Internet for hours. I really feel that most things are difficult at the beginning and they become fun, something you love, only after you’ve worked at them. Making children do something hard can, in the long run, can be a great parental service.
I have heard responses similar to this when I give presentations about supporting our children’s interests. There is an assumption that if we allow our kids to discover their own interests, boundaries around things like TV, Facebook, internet would just go out the window.
Or that allowing children to be who they are means completely disconnecting or leaving them to their own devices.
Of course you need to have boundaries in place. Allowing your children to be who they are doesn’t mean letting go of structure and rules. Nor does it mean that you disconnect from their experiences. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.
The idea is to really notice your children, listen to what they say, and be open to their interests.
To support your children’s interests you actually need to spend more time with them so you know more about what they enjoy. Conversation and time together need to become a priority so you really know who they are.
Of course you should introduce your children to the things you love and expose them to new and different experiences. But it’s also important to stand back and notice what they like, what really speaks to them.
This is can be the difficult part because many of us have dreams for our children – things we hope they will do or things we wish they would be. But, these are our dreams, not our children’s dreams.
Sometimes it’s our dream to have our children do what we did or what we wish we would have done. But again, these are our dreams. And because they are our dreams, we should be responsible for pursuing them on our own; not ask our children to do it for us.
If your children work hard at something just to please you, they will need significant external validation for their efforts, a lot of looking outside of themselves for motivation.
But if they are doing something because they love it, they will be intrinsically motivated to learn more. They will want to work harder simply because they love what they are doing.
So a true parental service is giving your children permission to be who they are and listening and supporting as they realize what brings them joy.
And “leaving them alone to pursue their passions” is more about taking responsibility for your dreams and standing back a bit so your children have room to discover and embrace their own.