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Higher Expectations

I was talking with some of the moms after school the other day while our kids ran around the playground together. It was parent teacher conference week so I asked them how their meetings had gone. "It was good," one of them said. "I mean I don't really care if she does not meet the ridiculous standard they have for kindergarten nowadays." The other mom agreed. "Yes I am happy with how she is doing. I know her attention span is not great. But I don't want a kid who just sits quietly and does everything her teacher says. I like that rebelliousness.  I think it gives her personality." "Yeah. I don't really care how my kids do in school so long as they find something to be passionate about. That's what matters." And so on.

You get the gist. I love both of these moms. They are fair, sensible, smart and very loving. My daughter has been to their houses many times.  I like their kids too and I do not doubt that they will do well in life. But our conversation bothered me.

Maya does her fair share of challenging authority, mostly mine. She is plenty feisty. In fact, just this morning she showed off her colorful personality by telling me everything I was doing wrong. (Apparently I need to work on a LOT of things, from how I get her breakfast to the way I talk to her. I'll get right on that, I promise.) But she is an angel in school. She takes her teacher and the classroom rules very seriously, and she always does exactly what she is told. She is also doing well in school. She is reading at a first grade level and her math skills are very high. In fact, at her conference we were told "She is right where she needs to be."

I would love to take credit for this, but most of it is luck. Maya likes school. She likes structure and routine. She even likes homework. And she seems to have an innate desire to work at things until she gets them right.

Like yesterday. One of the dads at her school volunteered to run a soccer program and yesterday was the first class. Here she is practicing her skills:

I wasn't there but according to Matthew this moment occurred while five other kids were getting a water break and two were throwing a tantrum about how cold it was outside. He didn't tell her to go practice. In fact, he asked her if she wanted water but she said that she wasn't thirsty. Instead she wanted to work on kicking that ball around. This is just how Maya is. She likes to be good at things. And she seems to understand, even at the young age of five, that the way to be good at things is to work at them.

We don't keep Maya up until midnight practicing kata. We don't make her write her sentences over and over until they read like a John Grisham novel. We don't even own flash cards. But we do encourage her to work hard. Especially when she wants to anyway. Why wouldn't we? 

We also let her stomp around in the mud. And watch Star Wars. And eat ice cream. Not the organic kind.  
Better call CPS.

I agree that these Common Core Standards ( that we have in place in all our public schools now are ridiculous  Teachers are forced to treat the current crop of kindergartners the way we were treated in second grade. There is little time for art, music, play, for just being a kid. I have signed petitions and attended meetings of groups that are working to change this. But I do not mind that Maya gets homework every night. I do not mind that she is challenged in school. And although I will accept a certain level of rebelliousness inside our home, in the classroom I expect her to obey her teachers. Furthermore, I DO care how my child does in school. What is the point of being there all day, five days a week, for over 13 years if you aren't going to at least try to do well?

Uh oh. Have I become one of those crazy tiger moms?

I admit that I have super high expectations for Maya. But that is partly because she has shown that she can handle them, and even more important, that she actually has them for herself. 

I expect Maya to listen to her teachers because kids who get in trouble in school learn less. They end up missing out on activities. Ultimately, they have less fun. Also, it is the right thing to do. Her teacher works hard. During school time she is the one in charge, and therefore she deserves respect. 

And I don't care about grades. But I do care that Maya is doing her best. I care that she wants to learn new things, that she enjoys it.  I care that the work that she shows her teachers is something that she is proud to put her name on. So when she makes little mistakes in her homework I shrug them off, but when she writes her name in a fast sloppy way I make her erase it and do it over. Not every time. But enough times to send the message that it is her effort that matters. 

If your expectations are too high, your child will feel overwhelmed, fearful that no matter how hard they try they can never please you. Obviously, this is not ok. But if your expectations are too low, aren't you sending the message that they don't even need to try? When you say that you don't care if they do well in school, is it because you don't want to pressure them? Or is it because deep down you are afraid that your kid is really not that smart and you don't want to be disappointed when they fail? And come on, every mommy knows that "I like her spunk" trick. Its the bullshit we tell ourselves to make us feel better after bedtime takes two hours. Its the "Hey at least she will be a fighter when she grows up" that keeps us from quitting on this parenting thing altogether. I get it, I've said those words myself.  I love my stubborn, spirited Maya. But if our world were made up of more"Yes ma'am" instead of "Hell no!" I wouldn't trade her in. And neither would you.

I have high expectations for Maya because I feel that any less would be cheating her. I want her to know that  these things matter, not because they will make me happy, but because they will benefit her. There are so many things out there to learn about and so many things she can do. But she can be a passionate artist and still do well in math. She can love dancing and still bring home a solid report card. It does not have to be one or the other. And most importantly, just because she sits on the carpet cross- legged, with her hands perfectly folded in her lap, does not mean she does not think for herself. It does not mean she cannot grow up to be independent and creative. It does not mean she cannot be a leader. It does not mean there is not a fire in her belly, just waiting to explode into fabulousness.

In fact, the more she learns when she is young, the more weapons she will have at her disposal when she decides to change the world. 

So call me a tiger mom if you want to.


  1. Very well said, Sensei. Growing up, my mother had a similar mindset when it came to raising my brother and myself and for that, I am eternally grateful. While my teachers had higher expectations when it came to report cards (not for a lack of trying), they were always impressed with my etiquette. While it is not my place to judge, I am under the impression that this type of parenting allows our children the best opportunity to achieve their innermost dreams. Keep up the great work (parenting and blogging).

  2. Is it genes or just good luck? I don't know, but I'm proud of both of you.


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