You know the worst thing about being a modern woman? I’ve been trained to appreciate the potential value in everything. Like a cubist, I contemplate each situation from every angle, which makes reality seem fucked up, much like one of those paintings. It also makes it difficult to take a hard line on anything. A lack of black and white reasoning makes parenting very challenging.
To tiger mother or not to tiger mother, this is the question.
During the summer, when my entire life revolved around the summer swim club, I spent a lot of time with bonafide Tiger Mothers. At first, we barely acknowledged one another. After all, what could I ever say to a woman, with zero facial flaws, who dresses in Gucci to watch her eight-year-old swim lengths?
While I can’t imagine what she might say to a spotty looking woman, hunched over her Starbucks cup, muttering about stupid rules that prevent her from throwing a piss-stained mattress in the alley.
Swim club Tiger Moms and I come from two different worlds, but eventually, we found the humanity in one another and built a connection. After one particularly lovely exchange, I say casually, “We should get the kids together for a playdate.”
On the drive home, I come up with at least a dozen witty replies, but my brain doesn’t work fast enough in the moment, and I can’t afford a team of script writers.
But I must admit, I love a plain-speaking, zero-filter, shoot from the hip sort of person. Even if she is totally offensive. Since she set the bar for directness, I ask her to explain her reasoning.
“White kids don’t respect their parents. They have bad work ethics and fear competition. I don’t want those attitudes infecting my children.”
I excuse myself to shout at my daughter to pick her towel off the wet floor. She pretends not to hear and keeps on walking.
“I don’t think those are fair assumptions,” I say.
The Tiger Mother then shouts at her son who is standing across the pool in a circle of friends.
“Zachary!” As soon as he hears his name, his head shoots around. “Zachary! What are my rules?”
Without missing a beat, he lists three things. All things I try to impart to my kids, without much success. Sunday family dinners are sacred and never missed. If grades are not high, no tv or computer time. Piano practice is mandatory.
I’d been a bit skeptical before. It seems wrong somehow to be so controlling of another sentient being’s life. But now, this Tiger Mother had my full attention.
“Your kids celebrate YOU on Mother’s Day?”
“Of course,” she said casually, sipping her coffee. All year, everything I do is for them. All I ask is on these two days they demonstrate the depth of their love and gratitude.”
She then goes on to tell me that being a Tiger Mother is the ultimate sacrifice and display of love for her children.
“It takes all my effort to stay on top of them. To teach them to think and act like successful people because I know this will lead to their happiness.”
She tells me that anyone who doesn’t parent this way is just lazy and selfish. Once again, because I was not raised by anyone approaching a Tiger Mother, I am at a total loss for anything witty and biting to say.
In short. She has my attention, then loses it, then gets it again. I’m dizzy flip flopping from indignant righteousness to severe inadequacy.
Last Mother’s Day, after making breakfast for everyone, I cleaned the apartment while my husband took my kids out to have fun – so I could get those chores done on my own.
“That’s so messed up,” said the Tiger Mother, laughing. “No wonder they don’t appreciate you.”
Obviously, this woman was on to something. When I asked her how she managed to do this, she openly used the word, Brainwashing. According to her, kids are responsive to parental brainwashing until the age of 12 – after that, it’s too late. This freaked me out a little. Whenever I discuss Tiger Parenting with my friends, the argument against it is always, “I don’t want to turn my kids into robots.”
Are you sure?
I’d love it if my kids put their shoes on the First Time I ask. It would be amazing if they’d help around the house without threats or bribes. Or if they’d just do their homework without constant nagging. Upon reflection, I think I may be ok with a little bit of robot mixed in with their wildness. My plan is to take the bits that align with my values while leaving the rest alone. So I ask for instruction on the one thing that really makes sense.
Brainwashing Tactics For An Improved Mother’s Day
1. Explain to partner/spouse that his/her job is now to lead the planning of a spectacular Mother’s Day. Or else. This will involve supervising kids as they execute a perfect day. Or else. Eventually, the kids will be expected to lead this process, but before the age of 12, your partner/spouse must participate in the brainwashing. Or else.
2. Convince yourself that “training” your kids to make a big deal over Mother’s Day and your birthday is really about teaching them to put others first. If they can learn to make someone feel special through a thoughtful and loving gesture, they will be excellent friends and, according to the Tiger Mother – marry well.
3. About two weeks before the big day, casually mention what other kids are doing for their moms.
“I just talked to XXX, and apparently her kids are sending her on a cruise. They must love her a lot. She’s really lucky to have such a thoughtful and loving family.”
You can also reference past mother’s days:
“I can’t wait for this year’s Mother’s Day. Last year, I thought you really pulled out all the stops with XXX. I can’t imagine how you’re going to top that one.”
4. Do not let them get away with doing a shit job. If it’s obvious they didn’t put thought or effort into their gifts – assure them that you know this must simply be a warm-up to the actual event and that you cannot wait to see what it will be. Then give your partner/spouse shit.
5. On the actual day, text all your friends to tell them the amazing thing your kids did for you and then let your kids know that their present was the best.
If raising robots means I can expect to be treated like the Goddess I am for two whole days a year, I will definitely step up my game. I can be more of a selfless hard ass, but I still have trouble with the whole brainwashing thing (mostly because I worry my kids will see right through it). But I’ll let you know how I feel after this Mother’s Day.