Say goodbye to the “mommy tiger”. Welcome to Parenting Jellyfish School | Emma Brockes


IIt was practicing the violin, in the end, that broke me. I got hung up, last year, through conflicting extracurricular activities involving frantic taxi rides between venues, so we were never there on time. I sucked in the complaints of my children who would have preferred to be at home. I have invested huge sums to provide them with useful skills (official rationalization) and (real case) to avoid having to supervise them in the playground. “It’s a hostile environment,” I mumbled after the first day of term, as 500 children converged on the park near the school. The mom standing next to me looked around worriedly. “Oh sorry. I just wanted to say that I guess I didn’t miss it. And then, two weeks ago, I shut it all down cold.

Much has been written about parental over-investment in extracurricular activities and the anxiety that underlies it. Happiness is not strictly the goal. We can talk about empowering our kids by helping them identify their passions – such a clever phrase – but before the age of about 10, we’re really talking about competitive advantage. The “passions” in children of this age are largely transient, cultivated and massaged by parents. Left to their own devices, my kids’ passions are playing Roblox, watching Henry Danger, and writing mean little notes to each other. How will all of this help them when all jobs become AI?

None of this would matter, perhaps, if the cost were lower. Americans coined the term “tiger mom” — dads get away with it freely in this scenario — to describe the overbearing parent who polishes their five-year-old’s resume, a dynamic you can drift into without ever really wanting to. . In New York, where I live, if you want your child to swim, read music, or be exposed to a second language before high school, you have to pay for it yourself and the sticker price can be in the thousands . The demand for services is so high that even integrating them into a program requires Darwinian skills. You need an alert on your calendar for the second a good swim lesson opens, in which case you’ll refresh the page until you lock in your spot. My children are seven years old. You would think they were trying out for the Olympics.

This feverishness has the effect of changing the color of the experience, both for parents and for children. This raises the unfortunate specter of return on investment. If I’m simultaneously bankrupt and killing myself to do karate for one kid, in town, at 4 p.m., and French, in town, for the other, I want to see results. Pleasure is an inadequate measure. I want to see badges, certificates, rankings. I want some sort of outsourced measure of success.

The city’s children’s activity center business model intuitively understands and leverages this. Martial arts, swimming and, notoriously, gymnastics programs are designed to fan the flames of parental vanity. If your child shows even a hint of ability, they are designated as “talented” – always be your parental heart – and invited to “team training” and the privilege of paying several hundred extra dollars per month. It’s a more expensive version of why we walked through the Duke of Edinburgh all those years ago, weeks of our lives that we’ll never get back.

The cost of living crisis on both sides of the Atlantic may force a rethink of all this, where stressed children have not. For us, it was a combination of both. My daughter did not want to practice the violin. I flattered and pressured. I told her it was supposed to be difficult and it might take some time for her to improve. To my shame, I reminded him that it was $75 an hour. About to utter the immortal line, “You’ll thank me when you’re older,” I had a sudden, seditious thought. What if we didn’t do that? The child who loves the piano can follow this, but why force the other to learn the violin? What was that compulsion to provide them with a string of accomplishments like tiny Regency ladies in a Jane Austen novel? Why not embroidery?

We stopped the violin. (Take the feeling you get when someone cancels a dinner party and quadruple it.) We gave up taekwondo (initial enthusiasm, followed by endless weekly foot drags). We’re about to get out of the dance (I loved it, then I didn’t). I put it in Google: “What is the opposite of a tiger?” Google suggests jellyfish. Jellyfish relatives – boned, diaphanous, endlessly flexible. I’m almost there. There is a climbing wall near our house and a few weeks ago one of my children climbed it like a pro. Obviously I put her on for team tryouts – I can’t do much with my personality – but if she comes in and she doesn’t like it, we’ll do the craziest thing. We will stop.

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