We're in all-out Olympic mode around this house. We pile on the bed in our room and stay up way too late every night marveling at the strength and determination of the world's finest athletes. The award ceremonies, that moment when a record is broken, watching an athlete finish a race and then search the stands to make eye contact with their parents - it's all pure beauty. That shared moment between parents and child - their eyes meeting - that brief scene contains a hundred chapters worth of words. It all wrecks me. I feel like a postpartum mess during the Olympics.
A million thoughts and feelings find me during the Olympics, but the parent/child element of each Olympian's story stands out the most. While I'm cheering for the Olympians and emotionally overcome for them as they win or lose (I'm still not over Jordyn not making it) I'm also aware of my own kids in the room. I am in turmoil, wondering if I'm doing enough to help them reach their highest potential.
“Nothing is fun until you're good at it.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Last year, a sweet friend sent me the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Have you read it? Author, Amy Chua gives Western parents an insight into the Chinese-style of parenting. My love-hate for Chua and sick fascination with her parenting style propelled me through this book. I could not stop reading. At some points she seemed certifiably insane. At other points I was overcome with respect for her. Once I understood her motives and love-inspired dreams for her daughters, I had to confess a lot of laziness in my own parenting. Why do Chinese parents push their kids so hard? Because they love them and truly believe their kids possess the capacity to reach greatness. In Chua's opinion, not pushing her children would have been irresponsible and unloving.
“Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
“Every day that you don't practice is a day you're getting worse.” ― Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Chua argues, in a semi-psychotic and yet convincing way that building a child's self esteem is less about working hard to convince a child they are good at something (when they really aren't) and more about helping them to actually excel at a skill (which takes a lot of old-fashioned, hard work and sacrifice). She attributes not pushing our kids to excellence to laziness and selfishness on the part of Western parents. She makes a great argument and her book begs the question - why wouldn't we want our kids to reach their highest potential? Are we pushing our kids hard enough - even when they push back?
I walked away from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother equally disturbed and inspired. As I was reading the book, I traveled through cycles of excuses. "Pushing my kids to excel at something would consume our life. It would cost a lot of money. Chua is a professor at Yale. Her family is loaded. Hiring the best violin instructors and paying for expensive private schools is not an issue for her." All of my arguments fell apart during my make-believe arguments with Chua. Yes, Chua is successful, but her parents were immigrants to the United States who gave up an unbelievable amount of comfort to shape Chua into the woman she is today. Many "Tiger Mothers" were poor immigrants to the United States sleeping in their tiny shops, sacrificing everything to give their children the very best - relentlessly and sacrificially driving them towards excellence. Amy Chua lost a lot of sleep and gave up a great deal of comfort to help her children become the people they are today.
Even though Chua's strategies seem extreme, her love for her children is undeniable. She fiercely believes in them. I'll never be Amy Chua, but this book I love-hated, haunts me. A year later, I still find myself arguing with Chua. I've had some inner cat fights with her as I've watched the Olympics with my sons. I keep secretly wishing an Olympian's story would read like this, "I didn't really have to work hard. I was born good at swimming. I jumped in the pool one day, started aimlessly flailing around, and realized I was born to win a gold medal. I stand here today because of a steady diet of nachos and Sponge Bob Square Pants." That story belongs to no one at the Olympics. Each athlete is competing in London because they have worked hard and suffered. So have their parents.
Once you throw in additional elements - like faith and the truths we believe about this world and our role in it, I'm left with a confusing mess of emotions and thoughts as I watch the Olympics with our boys at night. While I want to encourage our sons to reach for excellence and faithfully steward the gifts and talents they have been given, I don't want their entire identities wrapped up in medals, titles, and labels. I don't want them to feel as though they have to earn our love or admiration. They already have it.
We are completely wrapped up in the Olympic story right now. We are deeply moved every single evening as we cheer for the athletes. Their hard work, focus, and their parent's love and support for them is remarkable. As we're watching this human story unfold, I've caught myself wishing I would have actually worked harder at something. While watching Gabrielle knock out her floor routine, I stop and dream for a second about what it would have looked like to have been more disciplined in my studies - to risk - to truly follow my dreams. Through teary eyes - watching the fifteen year old, Ruta, win a gold medal - I can't help but think of my children in the room. Their hearts won over by the struggle and victory of the athletes they are watching. Am I helping them become who they were truly created to become? Will they one day watch the Olympics and wish we had pushed them harder - will they be grieving their own mediocrity? I see that "no greater love than this" kind of love - that laying down of a parent's life kind of love in that moment when Missy Franklin takes the gold and bursts into tears once her eyes meet her mother's. For both of them - I can't imagine how much encouragement, hard-work, and sacrifice it has taken for that gold-medal moment to become reality.
Anyone else feeling this soul-pull during the Olympics? Talk to me.
Fun, Olympics graphics
Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (such a great read).
I'm having way too much fun at night talking about the Olympics on Twitter. Join the conversation!
Feel like a geographical idiot after the opening ceremonies? While watching the Olympics, hone your geography skills over at Jet Punk.
Another fun Olympic quiz from Jet Punk.
For the kids - these free Olympics printables from Tinyme are not only adorable but also a lot of fun. Our boys used the Opening Ceremonies Bingo Cards. Really cool.
Opening Ceremonies photos from The Big Picture. Incredible!
For fellow Texans: Did you know 33 Olympians are from the Lone Star State? Out of those 33, 23 are from Texas A&M. Can I get a Whoop! Check out these Aggie athletes in London!
Have you seen this video celebrating the mothers behind the Olympians? Watch it and weep!