I Killed the Fun in Kung Fu

grumpy-face

I could feel the Tiger Mom in me emerging recently as I started hovering over the boys’ Kung Fu classes.  I would glare at them when it looked like they weren’t concentrating, frown at their happy chit chat with friends, and scold them during breaks to do better. The other day my younger one turned to me before class and mumbled, I hate Kung Fu, I don’t want to go.  And yet… that very day during lessons, I noticed how much higher their kicks were, how strong their ma bu was, how many stances and movements they have memorized, and how they hung out after class to rough house with their classmates.  And it dawned on me… my 8-year old didn’t hate Kung Fu at all!  He hated how I made him feel about himself when we were discussing Kung Fu!

The weird thing is, I can absolutely observe the huge improvements they have made… even as they resisted my pushing and internalized my criticisms. As much as they dislike the hard work of Kung Fu, we can all see how much stronger and more flexible they have become.  My older one told me that he didn’t like Kung Fu, but he liked the results.

Time to make Kung Fu fun again… time to see Kung Fu masters in action.  So, we watched Stephen Chow’s silly nutty Shaolin Soccer (subtitled no less), laughed at all the outrageous and exaggerated antics, got excited at the Chinese words they recognized and pointed out how to use Kung Fu in soccer.  We had fun!  Next, I let our Shifu know that I would no longer watch or critique my amazing boys while they were in Kung Fu class.  He concurred that parents can put an awful lot of pressure on the kids and it can turn them off of something that is such a great life long practice.

Note to self: time to retire Tiger Mom!

A Tiger Mom Roaring

In 2011, Amy Chua published the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book, sharing her style of Asian-American parenting style that many of us grew up around (whether our own family or those of our friends).  It’s all about having high expectations and rigorously working towards meeting them. It’s about aiming for perfection and not settling for less than perfection.  It’s about squashing all that is not good enough.  It’s about practicing until we perform with excellence at all times.

Except we’re talking about our children.  Who are human.  Who have their own personalities.  Their own interests.  And who… well… don’t always meet those expectations in the time frame we want them to.

When my first son was born, I fluctuated between Attachment Parenting and Tiger Mother Parenting.  It was a frustrating experience for me and probably very stressful for him.  I was all over him.  He had to do everything correctly – and he did, or at least he tried.  My second son did not respond very well to Tiger Mom at all. This one had to do things his way or not at all.  I spent evenings and weekends hovering, worried about everything that they couldn’t do.  I watched them at classes and critiqued them as soon as they walked over after class.  I hovered over my husband to hover over them.  They got it from both of us.

What I came to realize is that more than anything, I want them to grow up confident, able to problem solve and willing to do what it takes to achieve what they want.  What THEY WANT.  Not what I WANT.  All that takes abilities, discipline, perseverance, motivation, curiosity and patience. I also want them to make the world a better place than they found it, which takes ethics, humour, empathy, love, hope, humility and respect.

My Tiger Mom approach involved a lot of criticism about what they weren’t doing and should be doing.  It involved strict rules and little room for enjoying each other. I was angry a lot because they were never quite perfect. There was so much room for improvement.  There was a lot of, well, roaring going on in my household. At my children. By me.  I wasn’t being empathetic, loving… or respectful.

One day I saw the pain I was causing them, reflecting from their eyes, when I yelled about something. Another day I watched them yelling at each other. My interpretation of Tiger Momming was not working for us. Something had to change.

I was looking for an approach that helped me guide my children through this crazy world with wisdom and love, not with fear and anger, with calm and thought, not with obedience and stress.

It was time for this Tiger Mom to stop roaring.  It was time for a new approach.