How do you answer this question when it’s asked by your 10 year old? Especially when you were raised in a pretty typical Asian-American household where average wasn’t acceptable? (There’s a reason why those Asian parent memes are funny) Because truthfully? Despite how I was raised and despite whatever struggles I have with it myself, the answer is…nothing. There’s really nothing wrong with being average. So I did the only thing I could when I was caught off guard when asked that question point blank during a confrontation about homework – I didn’t answer, mostly because I didn’t know what to say at that moment.
Raising a kid who has an entirely different temperament and personality than your own has its challenges, though I suppose on the flip side of that, I can argue that it’s equally hard to parent a kid who is exactly like you. I have one of each. At least you have some knowledge of what you’re dealing with in the child that is very much like you, but the other requires stepping out of yourself to try and understand the child that is different from you so that you can make the right choices and decisions for her and not ones that you would make for yourself. I’m not even sure if my Type A, perfectionist personality is a direct product of my upbringing or whether that is just ingrained in who I am and always was. Even though my knee-jerk reaction to her question might have been similar to those Asian parent memes (what do you mean you’re fine with being average? Why even think that way?) I know that it’s a very narrow (and often unhappy) way to live life.
Given how hard my brother and I were on ourselves when we were kids, to the point of ulcers and severe anxiety, I always wondered what kind of parent I would turn out to be. I didn’t want that kind of stress and pressure, self inflicted or parental, on my kids, but now that I am here where grades and test scores are starting to count, I’m finding that it’s a lot more complicated. What makes it worse is that in NYC, kids start taking standardized tests in 3rd grade which causes anxiety at such an early age, and middle school applications are competitive. It’s simply not a matter of going to your neighborhood middle school; you need to tour, rank, and interview at your schools of choice and hope that you get in. This year, 4th grade, is when the tests, grades and attendance count. If you’re thinking this is a crazy process, then you’re right. These kids are 10.
I reread that Tiger Mom post I wrote 3 years ago because I remember asking myself that very question when the girls were just starting school. What kind of mom am I going to be once school grades start carrying weight towards their academic future? Turns out I’m that mom who gives her kids extra writing assignments during school vacations and downloads practice tests to complete on the weekends leading up to the state tests. Really didn’t see that coming, but I still don’t consider myself a “Tiger Mom”. I think there is a line between encouraging your children to do their best and pressuring your kids to succeed beyond what they’re capable of, and I don’t plan on ever crossing it. But I’m still trying to figure it out and I’m sure I’ll make a few mistakes along the way. What worked for me, how I was raised, and how I performed in school are the not the standards that I should hold my kids to because the girls aren’t me. I do, of course, want my kids to do their best and succeed, but by whose definition of success am I measuring? It’s different for everyone, isn’t it?