My husband and oldest son went kayaking about two months ago. While thinking about the issues brought up in that provocative article, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," I thought about the experience my husband had with our son that day.
They were out on the lake together, both in their own kayak. My husband looped a rope through the front end of both kayaks to hold them close together. They paddled around a bit and after a few minutes, our son asked if my husband would untie the rope so that he could go off on his own. My husband refused, confident that our son would not be able to maneuver the adult-sized kayak and paddle successfully. He imagined our son being swept quickly away by the slow lapping waves surrounding them. The tied rope allowed my husband to keep our son quite close to him and steer him where he wanted him to go.
They continued to paddle together. Our son again requested that my husband let him paddle on his own. He kept saying, "I can do it, Dad; I can do it myself." My husband refused again, still unsure of our son's abilities. However, our son's appeals became incessant and eventually my husband agreed. Nervously, he untied the rope. Without hesitation, my husband recalls, our son "took off." He paddled away and my husband had to work hard to keep up with him. He was completely surprised at our son's abilities, his strength and determination, his fearlessness and successful independence.
I know that the article ignited an extremely controversial discussion. But, for me, the author portrayed a passion of mothering that was eye-opening and inspiring. I loved how she depicted a mother that was so completely involved and there for their children. I think children need love and encouragement; I could never accept the "garbage" argument. I am finding that my son is motivated to practice his piano by my offer to sit next to him (all threats and bribes are now totally unnecessary). I never realized before the power in my showing him how important he is, his practicing is, and his accomplishing difficult challenges is, by my simply sitting next to him and being there, involved in his activities. BUT, I do believe that the rope has to be loosened and eventually untied in order to allow for real growth and success, self-fulfillment, understanding of self, personal maturity, the ability to develop and pursue passions, and, ultimately true happiness.
It is painful to loosen the rope. My 8-year old son attempts daily to untie it completely. I believe the challenge for a parent is in finding the balance between pouring out love and attention during their involvement in activities, or allowing them to develop (or quit) the talents they choose. Most important, I believe, is to be there for the child, to help them see how much they can accomplish when they work hard, and to be full of unconditional love for them, no matter what.