Sunday, January 30

Thinking about moms

I'm not a mom.  I'm a daughter and a sister, and an aunt both formally and informally.  I have friends who are moms, many of them are working moms and I do know it's hard to be a mom.

So I'm intrigued by three very different stories in the news.  The one attracting a lot of attention is about the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua and her recently published Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  The cover story of TIME magazine compares Chua's approach to the American Parens helicopterus, or the American helicopter parent.  When I taught, I encountered a few helicopter parents.  They were exhausting, especially the ones to whom I could say little because their college students were over 18.  Parenting never really ends and some parents really struggle to let go. . . ever.

I've followed the Chua story with interest, though I've not yet read her book and I'm not sure I ever will.  This is a topic that many are more than willing to talk about because how parents raise their kids affects us all.  Which leads me to the story about State Representative Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland, FL), mother of five, who has proposed a bill that requires teachers to grade parents: satisfactory, unsatisfactory, needs improvement.  You can be sure that has raised the ire of more than a few parents and been the catalyst for considerable conversation, criticism, and derision.  Much like Chua's book and subsequent interviews.

Personally, I like the idea of teachers grading parents.  Teachers are held accountable for students' performance in school; why shouldn't parents be held accountable for their kids doing their homework, getting to school, etc.?  Oh, I know it's not that easy and I know there are a zillion factors that influence parents' involvement.  Teachers grading parents?  No, not the answer, but I wonder how many parents wondered how they would be graded by their kids' teachers.

So here's what I find interesting.  First, a parent is taken to task because she has high expectations for her kids, perhaps excessively high by most American parents' standards.  Second, through her high expectations, she was teaching her children to be accountable and responsible for their own work.  Yea, that's a terrible thing.  Third, someone wants to pass a law to make sure that parents are accountable for their children, which is terrifying that such a thing even has to be considered.  BUT, it underscores, I think, educators' frustrations in getting parents involved in a real and productive way, but also reminding parents that they have a significant role in their kids' success.  Fifth, other than the Tiger Mom, we under-emphasize the importance of students learning to take responsibility for their learning, for their own success.

The third story?  I don't know how widely it was reported that Kelli Williams-Bolar went to jail for a few days for lying about residency so her kids could go to a better school.  Her father lives in the district and Ms. Williams-Bolar claimed his address as her own, claiming she and her kids lived with him part-time.  But she doesn't live in the district, so she and her father falsified papers and she doesn't pay taxes in the district.  There is so much we don't know about this story--why she couldn't move into the district, etc.--but it seems to be a drastic move for a mother to try to get her kids into a better school.

It's easy to sit on the sidelines and be judgmental about intentions, about parenting styles and strategies.  It's easy for other parents to compare to themselves and measure their kids and their kids' successes and failures as well as their own parenting successes and failures against other parents.  It's much harder to get the whole story, the rest of the story, and really try to understand why a parent takes a particular approach with a particular child.

Whether or tiger mom or a helicopter mom, or one who lies about residency, or one who wants parents to be accountable with and to teachers, the one thing that seems to be the same is this: these are all moms who want the best possible opportunities for their kids, which seems like a pretty good parenting goal.

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