I read Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of a Tiger mother’ some time ago – it was a very well written book, though the content would be considered highly controversial, for this day and age. The book spoke about Amy Chua’s experiences with authoritative parenting, which is anathema in today’s world. I thought about how my own parenting has evolved over the years and was somewhat dismayed to note that while I started off as an almost-Chinese mother, I gradually crossed over to the other side completely and am an almost-Western mother today. When we talk of Chinese mothers and Western mothers, we are stereotyping, but that can be excused, as these stereotypes do exist, to a large extent.
The Chinese mother in the book referred to above never permitted her kids to:
- attend a sleepover
- have a play-date
- be in a school play
- complain about not being in a school play
- watch TV or play computer games
- choose their own extracurricular activities
- get any grade less than an A
- not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
- play any instrument other than the piano or violin
Indian parenting falls somewhere in between- more on the Chinese side of the spectrum, but not so overtly authoritative: when my kids were very young and I lived in India and was a full-time working mother, I was a typical Indian parent. Computers hadn’t yet become the norm, sleepovers and play-dates were concepts that were yet to catch on and extracurricular activities in school meant a little bit of sport. I was a strict mother and exercised a fair bit of control at home. When we moved to Singapore 12 years ago and my kids started attending an International school (grades 2 and 6 respectively), my concept of parenting underwent a change as well. I was no longer a mother working full-time and was consequently more relaxed about rules and regulations. I was also introduced to the Western concept of children growing up with self-esteem, which meant they could not be coerced into anything, including getting good grades! They slowly started participating in sleepovers and play-dates and could not be told otherwise as all hell would break loose. My girls were involved in a host of extra curricular activities, including Bharatanatyam, Tennis and Piano. To borrow a phrase from Amy Chua’s book, I literally got in the trenches and put in several hours tutoring, training, chauffeuring and stalking my girls- they started protesting: a 7-year old Akshita complained she could not keep up with Bharatanatyam because the araimandi (half-seated) stance was too difficult; the 11-year old Dhriti never practiced her piano lessons and I started wondering if I was pushing my kids more than they could handle. I relented and took Akshita off Bharatanatyam and enrolled her in music classes instead. The piano lessons continued for some years, but both girls were mediocre at best and refused to practice. The Tennis lessons continued for some time as well, but I saw no progress being made. Over the years, the activities dwindled to dance for Dhriti and music and drama for Akshita, apart from whatever they did in school as part of their IB curriculum.