Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Confessions of a Schizo Tigger Mom

 I had read an online article or post on the vigorous strategizing some parents have for their children's future, almost from birth. The right music at bedtime to prepare their minds for math, the right play dates, the right activities, the right friends, and, most importantly, the right schools - even starting with preschool. There is a fever right now to ensure that our children "have a future". I have spent hours conversing with other parents about the worry we have in our children's grades or their choices of a career or the fact he can't carry his homework from his backpack to his teacher on the same day that it was due.

One day, I took a mental step back. Tiger mom? or Tigger mom?

The recession, our American economy, the frequent dire predictions of a jobless future for college graduates, our own bills and mounting financial headaches  - all that stress was being transferred through us to our children, particularly our oldest. Work harder. Get better grades. Join a club. Learn a language. Learn a musical instrument. This will look good on a college application. You won't get into college if you don't do these things. You will be broke and out of a job if you don't graduate from college. You might have to join the military. Study to be a doctor.

These aren't worthless goals. Many parents would love for their children to do all of these things and more. Invent something. Discover something. There was that teenaged girl who did a scientific study on mussels a few summers ago. Sure, her parents are scientists, but really, don't waste your summer. Do something like that. Intern for a law office. Your cousin is on a championship hockey team. Do you like hockey? Do you want to watch him play? Do you want to try out for a team? Just for fun?

But these goals weren't offered as enrichment. They were being required and failing to achieve them meant, in effect, our child is failing himself and us. Japanese is the language of the future. Learn that. You'll be a sure-fire hire if you do. If you are out of job, we won't be able to support you. It's summer - time for review, catch up and getting ahead. No time for sunsets, beaches or picnics. That stuff is for people who want to be broke!

What if he's not interested? What do I do? He will never make it in this world. What if he ends up working as retail clerk? How will he support his family?

STOP.

How did I get to where I am today? Was it one glorious forward-moving stride? In actuality, I am where I am as the result of a meandering path. I have changed careers three times. I can't play any musical instruments. I know a bastardization of Spanish and some scattered words across French, German and Hawaiian.  I have never discovered anything. I worked in retail for about five years myself. Am I not valuable? Am I not okay? Am I not happy? The answer may change from day to day, but I believe that compared to most other parts of the world, with food on the table, clothes on my back, roof over my head, generally decent health, I am truly part of the richest group on earth.

We should try to raise our children to be good people. Be kind, do your best, work hard, respect others, love your family, go to church, pray often. These are the things we should hope to instill in them. They should also think about researching the steps to become a scientist or a doctor. Even a veterinarian. They make good money.

My husband has enlightened me that even if our daughter wants to be a dog clothes designer, that would be fine as long as she enjoys it.  Tiger Mom adds - in a hot whisper - she always speaks in heated tones - And as long as she can support herself financially. Be even better if she supported us in our retirement, too.

In a surprise twist last year during dinner, my accountant husband loudly supported my son's ambition to be a video game designer (career de rigueur for today's high school sophomore). He was defending our son from my eye-rolling disbelief that our son would choose that over, say, being a doctor or a teacher.

Our daughter has recently refined her future career into being a costume designer for movies. In response, I forced her to watch an interview with a costume designer and am considering signing her up for sketching classes. She's been corralled into learning basic sewing - it's a good thing anyway, right?

Our son is currently taking ukelele lessons. I wanted him to take guitar or even saxophone because those are more common instruments which could earn him a studio gig as a part time job during college.  He wants to study Japanese this Fall as his high school foreign language requirement because Japan is the land of Pok√©mon and Totoro. It is also the land of computers, micro chips and international opportunity. He is undecided on a career choice between video game designer or marine scientist. I've researched summer programs for both.

My husband says its important that our children are happy in their line of work.
The Tigger Mom in me agrees with hubby Pooh, "Bouncey ouncey fun-fun-fun-fun... As long as they are happy, they should fine, too."

What makes a person happy in life? If one feels worthwhile in their work, productive, valuable, needed and good at what they do then one is in happy place. If they are a retail clerk, and they enjoy it, and they are good at it, and they can live on a retail clerk's salary, so be it. If they can't survive on a retail clerk's pay, maybe they'll be motivated to go into management or decide on a different career or go to college or a trade school. They will figure it out, God Bless America, and they will be fine, as long as their family loves them and gives them emotional support. Happy people spread happiness. Unhappy people spread unhappiness. If you hate your job, you are unhappy.

If my children do their best in school, even if it's not As, if they are producing solid, independent work, then we should be satisfied. What fourth grade test grade is going to affect college - or trade school - acceptance? I can suggest activities, careers or enrichment options, but am I the one who has to do it for fifteen or twenty years?

Doctors live with debt for twenty years after college. Joining the military is always an honorable option but there's that death-clause you have to remember. Dentists and doctors are among the highest rate of suicides compared to other careers. According to some sources, the highest areas of need in future jobs will be skilled tradesmen, not lawyers.

We haven't suddenly given up on our children and think they should be raised without goals or guidance. There are consequences for not earning passing grades or spending too much screen time.  We express disappointment when their grades suffer due to a lack of effort, we applaud when they've worked hard for a C. We repeat that they should really try to master a second language and any type of fine art or musical instrument. Although we have not accomplished that ourselves, it's not only good sense, it'll truly enrich them.

We talk about the future. We try to listen and respect their interests in careers - even if I silently envision years of he or she being broke. Artists and actors don't make a lot of money. Not every video game designer makes the next Flappy Bird or Assassin's Creed series - whispers my inner Tiger mom - but I don't allow her to speak directly to my children, particularly at the dinner table.  Tigger mom says, It's summer - time for picnics at the beach and moonlight hikes - time for memories for people who really want to be rich.

We've explained to our high school student that we won't be able to support him completely in college. We can help. However, he'll have to try to find scholarships, grants and likely, he'll have to find a job. He seems like he understands, but he's so young, that I think it'll hit later, like it hit me later in college, living on canned green beans and ramen noodles. In short, he's going to go through life and grow up and do the best he can.  Pretty much like us.


Author's noteWe are currently reviewing math, reading and spending time with writing during our summer.  Also our daughter is enrolled in a sign-language course this summer - but this time, she was the one who selected the class because she has an interest in it. I don't think she realizes yet what a marketable skill that will be in the future... But if she ends up just being able to flash a few love words to a deaf person, that still would be awesome


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