Parenting through neglect: down with the ‘tiger mom’

I love my blog. I really do. It allows me to spout off about things that I’ve just read.

In this case it’s a small piece in today’s ‘Sunday Times’ by Minette Merrin: ‘There is another way to be a tiger mother: ambitious neglect’.

In a nutshell Merrin draws on her own childhood and her mother’s parenting style, which took a very hands-off approach but with an undercurrent of high expectations, as being a far more effective method of parenting. It is the anti-thesis of the over-zealous parenting style that we are all encouraged to adopt nowadays. You know, the one where you are micro-managing your child’s existence from dusk to dawn: play dates, homework, after-school clubs etc. etc. etc.

The idea is a simple one: ‘let them be bored and amuse themselves’.

So simple, and one that I have instinctively taken to from day one of motherhood. It might have something to do with having been brought up by a pretty laissez-faire mother, who followed a typically south east Asian style of parenting, which involves the child fitting in with their parents’ lives as opposed to vice versa.

A novel concept; not letting your child take over your very existence, but leaving them be, and letting them fit in with yours. In other words, stop micro-managing your child’s life. Stop entertaining the little darlings….just for a minute, and you might be surprised at how good they become at entertaining themselves.

I am incidentally reading a book called ‘The Idle Parent’ at the moment by Tom Hodgkinson who advocates a similar approach, although he importantly makes the point that there is a difference between being an idle parent who stands back and watches, and becoming a neglectful parent. Obviously there are times when you will need to intervene to stop your little darlings from hurting themselves. But my view remains: let them be BORED.

It is, to be fair, difficult sometimes to stand back and let nature take its course especially when it comes to school work. The competition for good secondaries is fierce in our area, and it would be easy to fall onto the ‘competitive mother’ track. Two of my son’s friends are being heavily tutored for the 7plus in January, for a very competitive private secondary.

It’s tempting and all too easy to think that I should do the same with my son. He’s a bright boy and with the right amount of coaching would probably excel. But something stops me.  On the whole I’ve decided that his childhood and enjoyment outside of school and life outside school are just as important a part of his education as having his head in a pile of books. Primary schooling is just as much about learning social skills and learning to be a ‘nice person’ as it is about getting into the best secondary schools. I don’t think I’ve been a brilliant parent, but I do think that I have taught my sons to be compassionate and caring. It’s amazing, incidentally, how far up the career ladder just being ‘nice’ can get you.

I appreciate I may be in the minority here but I do think there is still a lot to be said for ‘learning through play’ and just letting them be.


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