Earlier today, Madeline reported that Tiger Mom and author Amy Chua’s oldest daughter has been accepted to Harvard. That’s a mighty accomplishment, and it’s being touted by some as proof that the Tiger Mom method works. The only thing it proves is that Sophia can get into Harvard. That’s not a verdict on her mother’s parenting style.
First, congrats to Sophia. Getting into Harvard is no mean feat. As an education reporter, I’ve watched some very accomplished young people try and fail. Living just a few miles from the venerable school, I know my share of Harvard alums, and they’re lovely people. I’m sure she’ll get a great education there and go on to do great things with it.
My kids, however, won’t be following in Sophia’s footsteps. Or if they do, it will be entirely through their own efforts and no credit to my parenting. There are a lot of things I want for my kids, but a Harvard degree isn’t one of them. As Meredith writes, a Harvard degree isn’t the thing for every family.
It’s not that I have anything against Harvard. I just don’t care that much about external badges of success. I want my kids to get a good college education, certainly. A Harvard one? Meh.
I don’t want The Best for my children on that scale. I merely want Enough. Enough education and money to give them reasonable control over their lives and a good shot at happiness. I don’t care much how they get there. Here’s a short, incomplete list of things I want my kids to have when they hit adulthood:
- A good education
- Some practical skills like swimming and biking
- Healthy diet and exercise habits
- Basic musical skills
- The ability to manage their finances
- Happy childhood memories
- Healthy attitudes about sex
- Rock solid self esteem
That last one is a big bee in Amy Chua’s tiger mama bonnet. Her famous essay slams “Western parents” for caring about their kids’ self-esteem and for being unwilling to insult and bully our kids to get results.
Well, I do care about my kids’ self-esteem. I don’t think that’s a flaw in my parenting at all. It’s the focus of it. I don’t lack the willpower to drive them toward excellence. I just have different standards of excellence. I care more about health and happiness than I do about wealth, power or fame. This seems to be a point Amy Chua is missing in her Tiger Mom manifesto: She thinks “Chinese mothers” are superior because they push their kids to succeed and get results, but some of us “Western parents” really don’t care about those results. I don’t need to see my kid play at Carnegie Hall or get accepted to Harvard. I just want them to be happy.
If one of my kids turns out to be an ace student and really wants to go to Harvard, I’ll do what I can to get her there. But I’m not going to push it because it isn’t my education. My stake in it is to see the kids happy and equipped to succeed in the world. There are hundreds of schools that can do that.
Whatever school they attend, I’ll (hopefully) get to go to their graduation knowing I never bullied or belittled them along the path to that moment. That’s worth more to me than having “Harvard” stamped on their diplomas.
Photo: Patricia Drury