*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Diary

by
02 February 2011

by Oenone Williams

Parenting, tiger-style

A NEW book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by a Yale law professor, Amy Chua, has caused a tremendous fuss. It is a defence of Professor Chua’s pushy parenting style, learnt from her Chinese immigrant father, and applied with terrifying energy to her own two daughters.

They were not allowed to watch television, play computer games, choose their own after-school ac­tivities, or go to sleepovers. Instead, they had to get top marks in all their academic subjects, and play violin (or piano) to concert standard.

Western parents, Professor Chua says, worry too much about their children’s “self-esteem”, and so don’t criticise or make demands. Real hap­piness comes from success; so good (Tiger) parents insist on hard work.

As well as excelling at school, Professor Chua’s daughters had to do three hours of music practice a day. The regime paid off: her older daughter gave her first Carnegie Hall recital at the age of ten, and today — astonishingly — both girls are normal young women who fondly describe their mother as “mad”.

Musical battleground

WHEN I read excerpts from Tiger Mother to my 20-year-old son, he was forthright in his approval. “She’s so right,” he said firmly. “I’d be a lot happier if I were better at the piano now. Why did you let me play so many computer games instead of making me practise?”

Oh, the injustice! When I think about the battles I had with him (and his siblings) over music prac­tice (not to mention homework, exam revision, vocabulary learning), I feel a great wave of exhaustion.

“It was quite hard,” I replied. “I suppose I just wanted you to be happy.” But, of course, what I really wanted was for him — and his brothers and sisters — to fit in. If their friends had computer games, surely they should have them, too? But now it turns out I was wrong.

It’s a tricky one, this balance between pushiness and indulgence: I know several children who, hot­housed into musical brilliance early on, slithered wildly off the rails as soon as they were free. So what is a parent to do? Follow the Professor Chua school of parent-as-Ober­gruppenführer, or the idly horizontal “Lovely, darling. Now please stop banging away on that piano: I want to watch Strictly”?

Maybe the solution is to en­courage children without becoming obsessive. I was obliged to outsource music practice, and employed im­poverished piano students to help, in the vague hope that being ac­companied on the piano would make my children’s squeaks and scratches sound better, and make them want to practise more — a not entirely successful strategy (see above).

But if parents can help their chil­dren to establish a skill by giving them the instrument, organising the lessons, and encouraging the prac­tice, then, ideally, the children will eventually pick up where mum and dad left off, and get better because they want to rather than because of their parents’ narcissistic demands.

Pidgin fancier

HAVING too many Christmas stock­ings to fill, I resort to cheap but dull (NB: if you think you can stop doing stockings when your children leave home, think again: it’s when they are living “independently”, i.e. on the breadline, that underpants and tooth­brushes are really appreciated).

But one item this year really hit the jackpot: Da Jesus Book, the New Testament in Hawaii Pidgin English, which I gave to my my 21-year-old, would-be-missionary daughter. It is marvellous to read the familiar words in a language discernibly based on English, but as far removed from King James as it possibly could be.

Daughter and I began, rather un­kindly, by laughing, but before long we were hooked:

Mary, no scared.
God wen pick you, cuz he like do plenny good stuff fo you,
You goin come hapai, an goin born one boy,
You goin name him “Jesus”.
He goin be importan,
An God goin call him “my Boy dat come from me
Da God Mass Mo Importan
Dan All de Odda Gods
God Da Boss goin make him one King. . .”
Mary aks him, “How dis can be?
I neva even sleep wit one guy.”

Mary, no scared.
God wen pick you, cuz he like do plenny good stuff fo you,
You goin come hapai, an goin born one boy,
You goin name him “Jesus”.
He goin be importan,
An God goin call him “my Boy dat come from me
Da God Mass Mo Importan
Dan All de Odda Gods
God Da Boss goin make him one King. . .”
Mary aks him, “How dis can be?
I neva even sleep wit one guy.”

For the first time in years, I heard the words, and thought about what they meant.

Eau de caoutchouc

IN BED, soon after Christmas, my husband sniffed me suspiciously and asked what my new scent was. (Did he suspect a gift from a secret ad­mirer?) It was only a little de­pressing to tell him that it was the aroma of hot rubber emanating from the lovely new hot-water bottle given to me by a dear, but female, friend.

Oenone Williams lives in Salisbury with five children and a husband who sings in the cathedral choir.

Forthcoming Events

26 January 2022
Book launch: Entering the Twofold Mystery
Author Erik Varden in conversation with Sarah Coakley.

1 February 2022
Cathedrals and social justice
Book free tickets for this Church Times webinar with Mark Russell, Anne Richards and Adrian Dorber.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)