Kvelling of the Yiddisha Mama

It’s amazing that a book about the extreme discipline and focus of a high-achieving Chinese-American working mother has sparked a national discussion on parenting priorities. Certainly Professor Chua’s style is highly focused on measurable achievement – top scores, top grades, perfect performances. And David Brooks argues that she’s coddling her girls by keeping them from learning to navigate the social and emotional world.

Every parent I know (an admittedly self-selected set with fairly synchronous socio-economic characteristics) has high expectations of their children and values education. And we have a surprisingly varied array of approaches to conveying that value to our children.  We also value emotional intelligence and struggle to balance letting our kids learn by experience versus coaching them through social situations.  Here are some of our core values and how we are trying to teach them.

  • Responsibility - we use homework as an opportunity to develop this value. We expect them to do their homework and do it neatly. If they don’t do it properly, it’s between them and their teacher because that’s how we teach them to be responsible for their own work. But we do check in that they are doing it.
  • Achievement - we expect them to apply themselves and work hard in school and in their activities. We let them know that we are communicating with their teachers and getting assessments on their effort. We want them to know that we will hold them accountable for making their best effort.
  • Continuing education – last week, my son asked about his college fund and tuition.  I showed him his account and we looked up tuition at Cal Berkeley and Stanford. He appreciated how much money it would take for him to get an education – and that education is an investment.
  • Community – we discuss that our children are representing us, our school and our people in the world and that we expect them to treat people with respect and try to make the world a better place. And if they don’t, we express disappointment on par with if they don’t do their best on a test. That said, we believe that they should work out their own disagreements and ask parents for suggestions and advice, but not to fix it. They know we are in their corner, but they have to make their way in the world.
  • Mastery – every parent I know struggles to get their aspiring Mozart to practice their instrument and we are no different. Each piece of music is an opportunity to achieve mastery. Often, we find that having a performance focuses their practice and the fear of performing badly motivates more effort – resulting in the pride of mastery. 

At the end of the day, my husband and I think you cannot change a child’s inherent wiring but with lots of sleep (11 hours plus per night), good food (no soft drinks, juices or excess sweets), little screen time during the week and consistency in our expectations for school, behavior and music, we have a shot at creating self-directed, well adjusted but ambitious adults who are inspired to make a real contribution to the world.

What are your key values and how do you engage with your children to help them develop them?