Almost every mother I know had heard of the Tiger Mom book and hated it. Not that any of them had read it, or so they said, but it was a bestseller, so someone must have bought it. What surprises me is how many moms compare me to Tiger Mom, and it’s not exactly a compliment. Personally, I believe that most parents today are too lenient and undisciplined with their children. While I haven’t gone to some of Tiger Mom’s “extreme” claims, most of the time I have agreed or at least understood knowing that she handled a situation.
My 6-year-old daughter receives cartoons on Saturday mornings. She had to spend thirty minutes to an hour every day this summer reading and spelling. She was literally forced to learn to ride a bike without training wheels and, after two months of lessons, she is still trying to learn to float, never mind swimming. I take her and the neighbor’s six-year-old boy to the pool every day. Her family just wants her to have fun. They are the older kids who are still stuck at level two. My daughter is punished for not paying attention to the lifeguard; she is praised just for putting her face in the water. Not surprisingly, “John” is much more excited about swim class than my daughter. She complains that it’s too much work and too little fun, while I bang my head against the wall in frustration. Not that she wants her to be an Olympian, but just for safety reasons I want her to at least know how to swim. My family and friends insist that she will eventually learn.
My husband (a true non-discipliner) pointed out (after another disagreement between mom and daughter about reading) that he never read books in the summer, but he did learn to read. I bite my tongue in anger. Yes, I’m sure he’ll eventually learn to read, but forcing her is really my way of trying to impart a valuable life lesson to her: life isn’t a party, it’s a job. There are things we don’t like and don’t want to do, but we have to do. When she finishes a book, she is giddy with excitement and tells everyone what she can do. I want her to appreciate that feeling of conquering a difficult task, of knowing that she accomplished something. And, of course, there is the discipline factor. I am the toughest boss she will ever have. She is going to have to learn to work for and with people who annoy her, make her angry and yell at her. I want her to be tough, independent, and confident that if she can handle mom, she can handle anything.
I try to embrace more and ask for less; it doesn’t come naturally to me. My husband, however, cannot resist spontaneous hugs throughout the day. They are always playing games of tickle, rock, paper, scissors and making silly faces at each other. He is the fun dad; she sits on his lap, they snuggle together and watch cartoons and color drawings together. That’s a good thing and I recognize that she needs fun things in her life. But she is always the mom whose approval she seeks; it is mom’s eyes that she sees for the first time when she walks into a room. In her defiant mood, she will attempt to stare at me, sometimes lasting two minutes before her head bows in submission. Some people think I’m trying to take the fighting spirit out of her, I’m not. But life is a jungle and right now she is in my jungle and I am the biggest lion. Her willingness to test and challenge hers inspires pride and respect in me, even as I repeatedly demonstrate my dominance.
Not everyone views my and my daughter’s relationship in a positive light and there’s no doubt that at times she probably wishes she’d been adopted by a different mom. But she loves me fiercely, as I love her. My hugs, smiles, and nods of approval may be few, but they are significant. Someday, she will understand. I look forward to the time when I can hold her adult hand in mine and she can caress my gnarled fingers and say, “Mom, you were tough but fair. You made me the hardworking, thoughtful, insightful, honest woman that I’m proud to be.” . Thanks”. And with tears in my eyes, I will smile and give him a hug. A really long one.