Whenever I happen to meet up with other parents, the conversation eventually goes to,
“So what classes are you sending them to?”
To which I always reply “None”. In about 2 seconds I am met with a surprised, confused, silent expression which screams “Butwhy?”
I am never annoyed, for I was one of them before.
There is a lot of emphasis on the first 5 years of a child’s life, very rightly so. It, after all, decides the overall trajectory of a child’s life. But I sometimes wonder if it has gone to the other extreme these days.
The previous generation’s free range ‘See ya back at 5’ parenting days have been replaced with the structured ‘Ifthen’ algorithm parenting.
If my baby goes for ‘Mommy & me’ classes, then she won’t lag behind others in Preschool.
If I teach him French, then it will improve his comprehension skills.
If I invest in these expensive STEM classes, his future in Robotics will be set.
Parents are figuring out the perfect amalgam of sports and instruments to be ingested to make sure that Ivy League college acceptance letter finds their mailbox. It’s no surprise that most kids have better career prospects at 5 than I will have at 55.
I confess, as a new parent, I was no different. With my first kid, I was a Tiger mom on steroids.
I felt if I wasn’t singing ABCD to my 1-year-old nonstop, he would never learn speech.
When he was 3, I felt if he couldn’t spit out the capital of Morocco, his I.Q points would diminish greatly.
My son is a little fidgety, Energizer bunny. I felt learning a musical instrument would be a great way to help him focus. It would teach the magical skill of discipline and hard work.
He loved music and so I enrolled him in piano class at age 6. The sooner the better, right? Fingers crossed, he could be potentially auditioning for Julliard at age 8!
After 3 classes, his teacher told me-
“ This child is NOT able to pay attention in class. It’s better that both of us use our time better.”
which roughly translated to — I don’t want to teach your son anymore!
I had learned and loved the piano as a child. I even used to forgo my lunch breaks so that I could get free lessons at school. I expected he would feel the same way.
I next enrolled him in Band class, maybe another instrument would do the trick, I thought. He loathed staying in those noisy classes with trumpets and saxophones blaring into his ears. He always came back in an angry, mopey mood.
So I stopped that too.
I felt as a boy he would automatically love sports. He was the tallest in his class. So wouldn’t basketball be a natural fit for him? No. My son had no interest in it. He briefly went for Karate but stopped that too.
While all the other kids raved about the Warriors game, my son yawned. He did feel left out because he had nothing in common with other kids to talk about, but it just didn’t float his boat. The only sport he liked was splashing in the swimming pool.
I had to accept that-
Though my children may have come through me, they were their own unique person in a world of 7 billion +. I was just the vessel that landed them on to these new shores.
They would have their own unique strengths, weaknesses, opinions, likes, and dislikes just like anyone else.
But as a parent, the mantra that played in my head was-
If he doesn’t do ___X___, he will not succeed when he grows up.
Why do we heap kids with multiple servings of music, art, sports, debate, coding and academics? The answer is simple- Parental Guilt. We don’t want our child to lag behind others and fail.
I felt his failure would be my failure as a parent, especially in front of others.
What I didn’t realize was that I had wrongly defined success and failure.
True failure would be my son not getting to be his most authentic self.
True failure would be my son not feeling accepted for who he really was.
My son didn’t need to be a cookie cutter kid who played piano and loved soccer. He could be who he wanted to be.
I failed to realize that a connection with my child trumped fluency in Cantonese or a violin proficiency.
A 32 year long study had shown that the single greatest predictor of a child’s outcome in life irrespective of socio economic background was the degree of connectedness in the parent child relationship.
Thankfully, my days as a tiger mom abruptly came to an end when baby#2 and baby #3 came in quick succession. I had no time to even spell the word “piano”. Plus I started working and going to college shortly thereafter. My son was left to his own devices. I feel that’s the best thing that happened to him.
He got the gift of TIME to just be a kid.
Why do kids need to have jam-packed days from sunrise to sunset where they are jumping from one class to another, even on weekends?
Let them be unscheduled. Let them be kids.
My kids are home by 3–4 pm. After homework, they still have lots of time. There is no TV or electronics on those school days. They do whine a lot about that rule saying how boring it is.
Some folks say, kids are just wasting time sitting at home. That is time, they could have learned a whole new skill.
But being bored has its advantages. They might not end up in Julliard, but their creativity gets sparked in other ways. They come up with their own ways to entertain themselves.
I realized my son who had no interest in sports or instruments had other interests. He loves making comic books, creating short animations and is quite a Lego creator. He recently said he wants to be a Camera Man when he grows up. I know that will change like a hundred time, but I am so happy, he found a passion!
I am not against classes. Children do learn great skills in classes and even learn social interactions. If tomorrow my child says that they are interested in learning about something, I will do my best to help them pursue that.
But I will not sign them up for classes just because everyone else is doing it or so that they will have something to list on their college application letter.
As a parent, I do not need to be the GPS rerouting their lives at every corner to make sure they land at the gates of Harvard.
Their true success will come when they learn to SELF DRIVE on the winding roads of LIFE.
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