Call me a stay-at-home mom. That’s what I call myself in the blog I write about my children, my dogs, my favorite foods and, more often than not, things that are important to me in living every day.
I’m home by choice. It was a hard choice. I used to be a lawyer. Now I’m a mom. Okay, now quick tell me: what’s the approval rating of lawyers versus moms?
Lawyers vs. Moms
I enjoyed being a lawyer. But I find more satisfaction in raising my two kids than rifling through stacks of paper trying to find some obscure piece of evidence that will, ultimately, have nothing to do with providing justice in the case at hand.
I love watching my children go through their days: negotiating among themselves, conquering their frustrations, soothing their friends and, every day, surprising me with their questions. How do you kick yourself in your own butt? Actually, I’ve never tried.
The other day, my 3-year-old daughter lay on the couch with her toes kneading my legs and drinking her “milt.” I asked her if she had a good night’s sleep. She said she had a dream. This was a first for her.
“What was it about?” I asked.
“Bulgogi!” she said. (Bulguosi is a Korean word for sweet beef.)
“Really?” I asked. Her first dream was about meat? She’d heard the word from her father, who made the best Bulgogi on the grill in Chicago.
“Can you make it for me?” she asked. So, of course, I went to the Korean grocery store, picked up some bulgogi, and had it waiting on the counter for her when she got home from school.
“Thank you, Mommy. I can’t wait to eat it,” she said.
It was all quite simple. She had a need for meat and I, being home, had the time to buy and cook it. I love being able to do that, to make her happy, and BE THERE when she puts the fork in her mouth. What’s the alternative? Call the nanny on the phone and ask how she liked it? I don’t want to miss this stuff. It’s good stuff.
Ho Hos vs. Tootsie Rolls
Here’s another example. I picked up my son from school and we went to our favorite ice cream parlor for a special “mommy-son afternoon” together (with no annoying little sister in tow).
At the next booth over, he heard a teenager tell a funny story about how she was eating a tootsie roll and it flew out of her mouth when she laughed.
My son then asked me to tell him what a tootsie roll is.
“It’s a chewy nugget of chocolate that comes wrapped and twisted on either end,” I said, mindful of my legal training that specificity trumps details. Especially when you are talking candy.
His eyes lit up with recognition.
“Oh yeah!” he said. “Those are really good. But are they as good as Ho Hos?” And therein ensued a discussion with a six-year-old of the relative merits of ho hos versus tootsie rolls leading to the conclusion they are both good, just different. Life’s lessons come in small ways sometimes.
Good Parent, or Good Enough
Despite the joy I find in being a stay-at-home mom, I still wonder what it means to me to be a good, or good enough, parent. Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and I ask myself every hour of every day whether I am doing an okay job. There are so many different factors that go into parenting (the age of the parents, socioeconomic status, race, family support, community support, etc.) So I use the term “good enough” because no one is a perfect parent, and we all have different ideas about how to raise kids who won’t one day shoot up an unsuspecting elementary school.
A few years ago, Amy Chua answered that question with a piece in The Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” It was an excerpt from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and it stirred great controversy in parenting circles. Chua contents that Chinese children succeed because their parents make them succeed. Her regiment for her two daughters includes no play dates, no sleepovers, no sleepaway camp, no watching TV or playing on the computer, no school plays, and no boyfriends.
In the American school system, Ms. Chua insists her children become the top students in all classes (except gym and drama) and absolutely MUST play either the violin or piano, preferably both. Ms. Chua goes on to explain that this list serves as a guide to her style of “tiger mom” parenting, which, in sum, goes something like this: the parent must be obeyed and made proud by the child; the child is not allowed an opinion as the parent knows “what is best;” the parent must “punish” and “shame” the child in order to make the child excel; the parent must drill the child on tasks until mastered and the child must submit to this; “nothing is fun until you’re good at it;” and being good at math, piano, pitching or ballet “builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.”
Ping Pong Lessons
I read Chua’s piece with special interest because my husband is Korean and grew up under similar circumstances. He was born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States when he was 11. His father made him join the national Korean ping pong team, for which he practiced 8 hours a day. He became so adept at the sport he was the top young player in Illinois.
His father was very invested in my husband’s success with ping pong, feeling the losses heavily, such that, once, when my husband lost a big match, his father spit on him. I asked my husband, innocently, what he thought of this. It made him dislike his father even more than he already did. He didn’t want to play ping pong anymore. But his father made him. What started out as fun for my husband became a grueling and sometimes abusive task. The winning meant nothing other than avoiding the inevitable spitting (and other unspeakable things).
I Am So Not a Tiger Mom
I ask myself, was the shaming, punishing, drilling, and forcing of my husband a good or bad parenting tactic? I guess if what you want most is results, then yes. He was the best at ping pong. But at what cost? Perhaps Ms. Chua would say who cares to the costs when the benefit is so great.
But, if success makes a child feel confident and happy, why was my husband so miserable? He not only hated ping pong but began to literally hate his father. To this day, there is a rift so deep between the two of them that my husband admits he may not even love his father.
I don’t know if Ms. Chua’s parenting style is right, wrong, or sideways. All I know is that I want my children to be happy. And successful. Both. And I am here, every hour of every day, to help make that happen. And, so far, it is working pretty well. They are happy kids. And good at a lot of things! And I helped make that. That is something to be proud of. I am a stay-at-home mom. And I love it.
Mary Raines writes about her family online at The SAHM Review.