Happy and imperfect

Published by Lori Pickert on February 6, 2011 at 07:16 PM

I liked this (yet another) follow-up to the Tiger Mom controversy:

“Once a child starts to excel at something,” [Chua] writes, “he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

Although there’s some logic to this “virtuous circle,” the druglike gratification that comes from this type of achievement is not happiness or fulfillment: Once the initial exhilaration wears off, it’s on to the next goal, in search of that elusive feeling of accomplishment. It’s success without long-term enjoyment, work without meaning.

Chua is prescribing life motivated by perfectionism — fear of failure, fear of disappointment.

Raising Happy, Imperfect Children (NY Times parent blog)

 A quote from the article: “I do advocate happiness and joy as the paths to a meaningful life.” The important point here is that joy and meaning can be combined with work when the work is freely chosen and the child has the power to direct and manage his own learning. In other words, you don’t have to choose between success and happiness.

(Re: the unfortunate title: We are all imperfect. If some parents are confusing perfection with success, we may have a whole new problem.)




Comment by Heather on February 6, 2011 at 10:29 PM

thank you so much for the years you have spent on this blog. It has always caused me to pause and think, although I only recently have commented.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2011 at 02:42 PM

thank you, heather.

Comment by Deirdre on February 7, 2011 at 02:48 PM


Above is my favorite response so far. I'm unfamiliar with Shmuley, so I'm a bit wary of referring to him, but found his thoughts on Chua and our society's limited definition of success to echo your thoughts here, and to be exactly what was missing most from the whole "Tiger Mom" debate.

"But what most rubbed me the wrong way is Chou’s seeming insistence that having a kid who can play the piano or the violin is the ultimate in success. I believe in developing a child’s potential. But our kids aren’t a bunch of circus monkeys that we’re just supposed to train to impress teachers, ace exams, and perform in front of admiring audiences. They are people too and we have to help then find a personal truth that accords with their unique gifts and disposition. King Solomon expressed it wisely: Educate a child according to his way."

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 7, 2011 at 09:44 PM

this is yet another interesting take.

i agree with what he says in the paragraph you quoted. but i disagree with this: "In essence her argument is that we must raise children with an extreme focus on self." really? my take on what she said was that children are expected to do whatever their parents said -- even into adulthood -- and chase those accolades that impress society. it seems more like an extreme *lack* of focus on self. her whole parenting breakdown happened when her younger daughter insisted on being able to play tennis (her own choice) and wouldn't back down when chua said no.

" I want my kids to be successful, sure. But more than anything I want them to be soulful and moral. Yes, I would like to see them prosper, afford nice things, and earn the admiration of their peers. But damn it, if money and status become more important to them than being ethical, altruistic, and giving then I have utterly failed as a parent." this is interesting, i think *many* parents see that as their jobs -- the job, success, status part, i mean. that's my anecdotal experience. from preschool on, they are focused on where their child ranks among his or her peers, how well he or she completes, whether or not their child is receiving everything they need for "success". the soulful, moral, ethical part seems to be assumed...

i completely *agree* with what he says about success and values, but i can't say i see it in the community. well, maybe it's there but it's invisible -- whereas the parents scrabbling for every bit of advantage they can give their kid is right there on display.

"[T]here is also an overarching, pernicious American belief that the essence of good parenting is giving your kids all the things you yourself didn’t have as a child." he goes on to say this means the *material* things. depressing.

"In the final analysis what Chua exhibits above all else is considerable insecurity. She tells her children that they risk becoming losers, which is what she terms anyone who is second-best. Life is a winner-takes-all competition and Chua’s ambition rules her like a demon." agree, agree... once again, the way the parent sees the children is the way the parent sees herself. the only way to not be a loser is to be #1 .. chua's parents obviously convinced her of this.

i agree, too, with his statement that chua is raising her children in a "climate of fear" -- fear of failure, fear of mistakes, fear of not being perfect, fear of loss of a parent's respect and maybe even love. scary.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 8, 2011 at 03:06 PM

deirdre, remember this quote you shared here awhile back?

"If your kid flunked out of school, don’t worry about it. Teach him to love his life. Teach her to do good work and not expect recognition. Not smart? No problem. Be useful. That may be better for humanity than to be brilliant and troubled. And it wouldn’t hurt you to smile more. Just do it." -- Garrison Keillor


Comment by Barbara in NC on February 9, 2011 at 03:11 AM

I have to say that my own little corner of the world gives me hope. In my immediate community (meaning the parents and children that I spend the most time with) I see a lot of adults who have been (or could be) successful in very traditional terms--well-educated, accomplished individuals who have shown themselves to be competitive participants in the playing fields of school and work. But then many of those adults (especially the moms--like me!) have cast aside mainstream definitions of work and success in order to be home with their kids, to homeschool their kids, and to try and help their kids find success and happiness on a much more unconventional path. These are smart and engaged parents who are trying to find a new way, to support their kids in finding a new way of learning and being and defining success.

Not that this is representative of the world as a whole, and not that doing any of this is easy. But who ever said being a parent would be easy??

Comment by Anne T. on February 9, 2011 at 03:26 AM

My husband has two beautiful, very smart nieces who are completely useless. Both also hate reading and school, even though they are "A" students. How much better if they loved learning and were useful!
Both are also plotting college studies for the sole purpose of getting high paying jobs. Not really a guarantee at this point anyway, besides being a horrible attitude at 16 and 18.

Comment by Lisa on February 24, 2011 at 05:40 PM

"Tiger Mother" is here beside me waiting for me to dare to open it!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2011 at 09:32 PM

Lisa, did you finish "Tiger Mother"? I got it form the library but found it a bit of a snooze so I returned it without finishing it. Oop!

The controversy was more interesting than the book! I suppose that's the power of editing. ;)

Comment by akari on April 4, 2011 at 07:20 PM

Yet another article referencing the tiger mom. About the Finnish education system

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