Attempting to teach my eldest son the alphabet had turned into a battle of wills. One morning, as we sat in front of his little whiteboard and I took him through the magnetic letters one by one, he wouldn’t listen and I lost my patience and snapped at him. Previously he had been quite happy to sit but all he wanted to do that day was to look for the truck that he’d lost, causing me to walk away in frustration. Upon reflection I might have been being overly ambitious. Perhaps he just wasn’t quite ready yet. But because I’d learned to read at a young age and knew the value in being a reader before starting school, I was determined that my son would follow in my footsteps.
It’s an instinctual thing to want to arm your child with all the tools they need to help them get ahead. This is why my Filipino parents speak to my sons purely in the Philippines’ native tongue Tagalog, to ensure they’re bi-lingual because I want them to know their heritage, but admittedly also because I’ve read it offers cognitive advantages when it comes to learning. I played classical music to them in utero because of the “Mozart effect” and its supposed ability to boost a child’s intelligence. We make a point of reading several books in a day because research shows there’s a 1.4 million word gap between kids who are read to and those who are not by the time they reach kindergarten.
Prioritising academic achievement was drilled into me throughout my childhood and going to university was non-negotiable.
Prioritising academic achievement was drilled into me throughout my childhood and going to university was non-negotiable. Even though my kids are still very young, I find myself doing the same thing and having the same expectations. And I can seem myself becoming quite strict on this front as they get older, and adopting what some might see as a tiger parent approach.
Tiger parenting was brought to prominence by Asian American lawyer Amy Chua and its tough love approach is polarising. Some view it as being overly authoritarian, others see it as the key to a child’s success. Before I became a mother, I was quick to dismiss it, quite aghast that anyone could treat their child in that way. But now, deep in the trenches of parenting, I find myself understanding the value in certain tenets of its approach. There is merit in pushing your child to be the best they can be, and providing the discipline necessary to facilitate this. As a parent, you can see so much farther down the road than they can and know the benefits of what you’re helping them do.
Tiger parenting was brought to prominence by Asian American lawyer Amy Chua and its tough love approach is polarising.
As Chua has said herself: “It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else – more than they believe in themselves – and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be.” I think at its core, this is what I identify with when it comes the tiger parent approach.
It’s having the unwavering belief to see your child through the road ahead, even when it seems all too hard (for them and yourself) and doing all you can to help them achieve.
That said, I do want my boys to be able to grow into their own people. I want them to discover who they are and be well rounded individuals. It’s always tempting to swoop in and tell them what to do or take over, especially when I can see them struggling, but I’m learning that I have to be able to let them go on their own path of discovery of rights and wrongs, failures and triumphs. I won’t dictate to my sons what they can or can’t be – that’s their choice to make. But what I will do is tell them that without hard work, without discipline, they’ll find it almost impossible to get there. And the greatest gift you can give to yourself is finding something in your life that you find deeply rewarding and doing it to the absolute best of your ability.
It’s always tempting to swoop in and tell them what to do or take over, especially when I can see them struggling, but I’m learning that I have to be able to let them go on their own path of discovery of rights and wrongs, failures and triumphs.
After that initial morning’s lesson didn’t go to plan, I decided to take a different tact and take a slightly more relaxed approach. We’d talk about letters and words but not in front of the white board. My son gradually started recognising and identifying letters in his books or as he looked out the window from the car. To my delight, he then brought his favourite book to me and said “Mummy, can you please teach me how to read?”. I learned that while I can give him all the tools I can and push him and challenge him, sometimes I also have to know when to give him the freedom to discover things in his own time, in his own way. I can see in him now a determination and interest in learning to read that wouldn’t have been there had he not made his own decision to get there. In that moment, my son’s expectations of himself eclipsed my own, and ultimately that is what my job as a parent is all about.
Tania Gomez is an editor, digital producer and freelance writer whose work has appeared in InStyle, The Guardian, JONES, body+soul, CLEO, Women’s Health and vogue.com.au.