Have you ever heard of The Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua? A controversial New York Times best-seller, it tells the story of a Chinese Yale professor who raises her children “the Chinese way”. I have not read the book, but I am well acquainted with this Chinese way. When I taught piano back in the days when I was single, I had several Chinese students who were being raised by Tiger Mothers. These kids were amazing. They were respectful and hard working. They listened carefully to everything I told them and were very diligent about practicing exactly the way I instructed them to, every day, seven days a week. No wonder they made rapid progress and performed beautifully. I loved teaching the children of Tiger moms. They were dream students.
As a piano teacher of many Tiger-mom cubs, I saw first-hand what children are capable of when they develop a work ethic that is detail-oriented, disciplined, focussed, and persevering. Children have tremendous potential, and Tiger moms know how to instill in their kids the disciplined work ethic that can unleash that potential. It is powerful stuff, and the results are amazing.
When a child gains mastery of a subject and excels in school or sports, he/she also gains self-confidence. My son feels good about himself because he plays on a travel baseball team. Ever since my nephew became the chess champion at his school, he has exuded a new self-confidence. However, I also know that too much competition and too much emphasis on achievement is damaging. When we make grades, test results, scholarships, awards, and competitions too important, we send our children a very erroneous message: your value lies in what you can do and how well you can do it.
The message we need to be giving our children is this: we love you because of who you are, a child of God made in His Divine Image. You are precious. You are priceless. And we love you unconditionally.
Some of us homeschooling mamas are Tiger moms at heart. For whatever reason, whether it was the way we were raised, our education and training, or because of our temperament, we feel a strong drive to see to it that our children excel in their studies. We value education and discipline so much that we are ready to do what it takes to raise diligent, hard-working, highly accomplished adults. Drill to kill practice? Rote memorization? Extra hours of school work? These are all a part of our tough love.
But tough love gets to be really tough when you are with your kids all day, every day. Without the competition and peer pressure that a classroom provides, pushing your children to work hard in a home school requires a lot of discipline and patience. Being tough all day gets tiresome. In fact, it can be down-right exhausting.
More importantly, when it comes to tough love, children tend to see the “tough” and not the “love”. That message of unconditional love can become obscured when we continually push our children to do better and work harder. And yet, we all want our children to know how deeply we love them. I want my kids to see and remember me as a loving, affectionate mother, not as a task-master, don’t you?
How can we reconcile our drive to instill in our children discipline and industriousness with our desire to be gentle, loving mothers? How can we push our children to reach their potential without pushing them away?
By teaching our children to work for the glory of God, and by trusting in the providence and mercy of God.
We need to remember that our children are His children and that God has a plan for their lives, a plan that will bring them happiness and salvation. Our job is to help them develop the virtues that will enable them to discover and live out their vocation to the fullest. So we push our children to work diligently and to put their best effort into everything that they do for the glory of God. Encourage your children to offer all their work to God. Inspire a desire to make each homework assignment and chore a gift of love. Some students like to place a small crucifix on the their desks as a reminder to offer their work up to Christ. Others write J.M.J (for Jesus, Mary, Joseph) on the top of each page in their books. The famous composer Franz Joseph Haydn used to write Laus Deo (Latin for “praise be to God) at the end of all his works.
As our children strive to do their work for God, we should gently remind them that we cannot offer Our Lord shoddy work that is done half-heartedly. We can think of St. Joseph, who worked hard and built things with precision and excellence. He could have won “Nazareth’s Carpenter of the Year Award”, but we know he did all for God’s glory, not for his own. This spiritual motivation, working hard for the love and glory of God, is the best way to teach our children true and lasting discipline.
And then we leave the results of their efforts to God. We teach them detachment and trust. Trusting in God’s Providence, we can let go of our desire to control the outcomes of our children’s education. So what if my son is not learning to read as fast as I would like him to? As long as I keep trying to help him, in God’s time, he will figure it out. When he is thirty, no one will care whether he learned to read at six, seven, or eight. So what if my daughter does not make it into her no. 1 choice of college? As my husband likes to say, “When God shuts one door, He opens another.”
I believe that our drive for excellence and our strong desire to help our children reach their potential is actually part of God’s plan. He, too, wants our children, his children, to excel and develop the talents He has given them. But we need to temper that drive with humility and soften our tough love with understanding and patience. Trusting in God’s Providence will enable us to teach our children the way He wants us to teach them: with our focus on faithfulness, not success, and with our sights set on Heaven, not Harvard.
And when we screw up because of pride, ambition, fear, or what have you, we need to trust in the mercy of God. He can and does work through our mistakes, weaknesses and imperfections. If we are truly seeking to do His will, Our Lord will not allow our shortcomings to get in the way of His plans for our children. And in confession, He is always ready to forgive, to console, and to strengthen.
So let us teach our children to do all things for the love and glory of God. And then let’s place our trust in God’s providence and mercy. This combination will help bring excellence, serenity, and gentleness to our home school.