This summer, the woman in charge and I visited Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home on the Potomac River. As we inched our way through the tour of the house, we were treated to the joy of listening to a Tiger Mom quizzing and prodding her two small children as they “enjoyed” a family outing.
The kids looked to be about 7 and 9, and to call them well-behaved would be an understatement. They were like miniature adults, without the wrinkles and ear hair. They were articulate and informed – two words that have never described me. When I was their age, being able to tell time and tie my own shoelaces were the benchmarks I had to hit. Not so for these little automatons.
“Trevor,” Tiger Mom said, “Why do you think George Washington chose to live next to a river?” Trevor answered, “So he could transport his crops to market.” Now I was thinking that he bought the place for the great view and the big front lawn, but the tour guide later pointed out that George’s dad chose Mount Vernon because of easy access to the river for trading. I was beginning to hate Trevor.
“Lillian,” continued the Tiger Mom. “This nice woman just told us that President Washington was a surveyor. Do you know what a surveyor does?” Now I am a civil engineer and I wasn’t entirely sure. Lillian said, “Surveyors measure the land.” Tiger had a follow-up: “Why do they measure the land?” The child responded, “So people know where their property is.” Tiger then instructed her daughter to add the word “surveyor” to her list of today’s words. I’m not kidding. Lillian dutifully wrote the word on her legal pad.
When our kids were little, the only questions we asked were: “Did you wash behind your ears?” and “Who ate the last Oreo cookie?” I began to wonder, did we fail them as parents? Should we have treated the world like a giant classroom and instilled in our young ones the joy of learning and all that happy horse manure?
The original Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, thinks the American way of raising kids is hopelessly soft and we parents are “weak willed” and “indulgent” and our kids are all pudgy, spoiled video gamers. Oddly, Chua was born here in the land of the sofa spud. She didn’t allow her two daughters to watch television, play video games or have play dates and sleepovers. She accepted only A’s and demanded perfection in everything they did. Now the girls are young ladies and I’m guessing they are no fun at parties.
We’ve all encountered Tiger types in our lives, but most of the parents I knew were more Polar Bears. We would feed, shelter and protect our kids, and while we would often growl and threaten dismemberment, we would also romp in the pool or roll around in the snow with them.
When I see moms and dads pushing their offspring, I always think of young Eldrick Woods, who had the ultimate Tiger dad. This man relentlessly, and some say ruthlessly, molded his young son into the best golfer in the world. We all know that Tiger Woods has developed into a very well-adjusted and happy adult. Same story for Andre Agassi, whose father was so overbearing that Andre grew to absolutely hate the game of tennis.
I once read that parents are kidding themselves if they think their children will always succeed, always be happy and always do the right thing. The best you can hope for is that your kids will grow into adults that you actually like. I guess we did OK.