Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tiger Mom and the Martial Arts

My daughter once accused my wife and I of being the strictest parents in the district.

Amy Chua was a mom of zero notoriety and an author of limited exposure before writing her recent book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.  She has quickly ascended into the lexicon of talk show hosts, if not most mothers in the free western world for suggesting that children flourish in an environment that could politely be called structured, and impolitely, Draconian.

Her actual story is one of growth and adjustment that began with very strict demands of what her daughters would / could / should do to a parental relationship based on love and trust.  But make no mistake, she never lowered her expectations.  I wonder if she was the strictest parent in the her area.

Call me a Tiger Dad.  I have two great kids that grew and flourished in an environment where there were simple core principles.  The first and foremost was that our kids were always required to try.  Failure can be dealt with, failure can even be acceptable.  But not - failing to try.  The second principle was based on respect, always treat others (especially your parents, teachers, and elders) with respect.  Mom and Dad can fix a whole lot of ugly if you have tried hard, and been respectful.

From there we established balance in their lives.  Each child would have a life of academics (including college).  School work was important and no amount of “I’m not a book person” conversations would be appreciated.  Each child would play a musical instrument of their choice, each would have an athletic endeavor (softball for one, karate for both). Both would have a religious life (Catholic), and both would be engaged in family / community activities.  We allowed our son to change schools, and both kids to switch musical instruments.  Catholicism was not debatable.

We never asked who the second most strict parents were.

I hear too many parents say that their child is dropping (fill in the blank) music lessons, dance, martial arts, softball, swimming, etc... because they are bored, don’t like the coach, never get to play, or some other equally soft reason.  Soft? Yes, boredom is a soft reason, as is everything else mentioned above.  Don’t like the coach?  Terrific, I’m not crazy about the current priest, maybe I should quit. 

If the decision is left to the children, the world will never have a decent musician.  We’ll never have a quality running back, right fielder, singer, or anything else that requires a subtle mind plus time to develop into greatness.  I am not suggesting that you should expect your children to be great; a great trombonist, gymnast, painter, or quarterback.  But my wife and I always believed that a balanced life provides a young mind with the experience, perspective, and skills needed to make informed adult decisions (when the time comes).

Should your son or daughter tell you that they want to quit their martial arts training.  Hug them, give them a kiss, and ask them why.  Maybe they need to go at a different time; maybe a different style is more aligned with their personality.  Adjust what can and should be adjusted.  Then softly explain that like school and church and music, martial arts training is not optional.

But I don't want to go back to school!
I’ve written before on the value of martial arts training for children and adults, so I’ll not belabor it here.  But these benefits take time - just like a violin, algebra, the New Testament, any Harry Potter book, or sculpting.  Children do not have the mental or emotional capacity to understand this.  Given a choice, most kids would not return to school after their first, first grade weekend.  Yet, without yelling you manage to persuade them that it is necessary, and that come Monday morning, they will return.

Call me a Tiger Dad.  My daughter accused my wife and I of being the strictest parents in the district.  My wife gave me a high-five, and we celebrated with a dinner out.

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