Over New Year’s toasts this year, while my husband and I spoke about the challenges, the highs and the lows of the year gone by and thanked each other and our children for their continued support, our children had other comments to make. They (at ages 9 and 6) wanted to evaluate their classes during the past year and discuss what they were ready to drop and what they wanted to pursue. My dreams for a star ballerina, musician and sportsman flashed before my eyes as I braced myself for what was to come. I realised my daughter was searching my face, looking for some encouragement. And so, putting my nerves aside I let her know I was ready to hear it.
We are tiger mothers, though each and every one of us claims that we are not. We guard our cubs fiercely, but allow them to fall before they learn to run. We nudge them forward with the strength of a tigress, with a push that makes it difficult for them to turn back. We groom them with the precision that is required when grooming future rulers of the jungle and we expect them to excel in their skills – to master all.
Sometimes, this works and we produce a wonder child. Someone who will pirouette on stage with such tender elegance, or who will master a chessboard, exhibiting a mind way beyond his years. We have a child that swings his racquet like a magician or swims with the beauty of a dancing dolphin. It is these moments by the pool, the stage, the court or our own living rooms, that will make us smile and we will tell ourselves that we have a genius.
And in turn these genius children will ache for free time. They will long to lie down in bed staring into space or watch amazing television shows — yes, the very same ones ‘we did not have growing up’! They will crave a cuddle with mum without a motivational lecture or a book between the sheets. They will wonder what it is like to receive a treat without winning it.
Chances are these children may burn out.
They may hate the instrument, the sport and reject the skill. They may get over the initial high of winning and feel the exhaustion of trying too hard. They may start rolling their eyes every time you say, “He loves the sport so much.”
We spend oodles of money on classes and activities. From fees and uniforms, private sessions and court/studio timings, competition costs and exam fees, there’s no end to it. We tell ourselves, it is for the children. We should give them the best, if we can afford it. They are fortunate to have opportunities and we should support that. And then the child who studies under the street lamp tops the board exam. The NGO soccer team beats the school teams hollow. The dancer who lives to dance because she has a passion for it, blows everyone’s mind when her feet touch the floor.
She worked with determination till her feet bled. She never gave up, because she wanted to achieve. Not merely because her parents had a dream.
Maybe we should focus on squashing our dreams and really let our children dream for themselves. Maybe we should groom them to fly, not just to rule the jungle. Yes, we can buy them a good life, but to live it well, we have to let them lead the way…