The New York Times ran a story mid-March about a Manhattan mum who was suing her daughter's USD 19,000 a year preschool for failing to adequately prepare her child for an IQ test required for private elementary school admission. The suit claims her 4 year old was still being taught shapes and colors, "a two-year old's learning environment." Also in the suit apparently, it's "no secret that getting a child into the Ivy League starts in nursery school.”
Molly Jong-Fast then published a story in this month's US edition of Harper's Bazaar that mentioned among others a family friend was filing a lawsuit against her daughter's Manhattan private school for not accepting her younger son. In it she described the rise of the Tiffany Mum, and how one of the nannies of 3 boys under-5 showed her color-coded schedules with no fewer than two after-school activities per day. Squash, basketball, chess, piano, robotics, math, speech and occupational therapy (as a precautionary measure) and Mandarin. (I noted that last with interest, as well as the preoccupation with Mandarin-speaking nannies, since this was an article about parenting on the Upper East Side in New York.)
But anyway wow. I'm like Total Hippie Mum by comparison. I, who was erm, not exactly raised hippie (which could make Understatement Of The Year.) Thing is, for reasons some of which I will not disclose here I still spent years training in less-than-ideal/well-equipped gyms and practicing on a broken down piano. Then I had other kids around me who made me feel "uncool" because they had exquisite pianos (or shoes) so I smugly type that I was the only one in that bunch who finished my grade 8 and it was on the cheapest 3rd hand piano with some keys that didn't work. (Though I only scraped thru on much less practice time than you really are supposed to be putting in.)
That was for all you kids with the stuff who make other kids feel lousy - you're doing them a favor because you piss em off so much they get even more determined to kick your butt. Scheduling and expensive schools et al are a parenting choice, I'm not judging... Some kids take to it, others don't, each parent knows their child best.
But the rubbing it in someone else's face to feel good about yourself is uncool (now I'm judging). There is a mummy equivalent of "Hi, I'm from Harvard.""Hi, I'm a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs." (If you're really that smart how come you're going about life (or the playground) just asking to get your butt kicked? Think you won't need friends, or else you want to be friends with people who will only be your friend when you're the mummy equivalent of Nice To Meet You I'm Harvard-Goldman Sachs? I mean get real friends right, doesn't everyone need them, they're great for sharing notes and tips and a beer after you all kick Nice To Meet You I'm dot-dot-dot's butt with relish together..)
But back to Tiffany Mum - oh wait, I already made my points.
But I don't think everyone is doing that to keep up with the Joneses. Ms Jong-Fast also talks about Type A Tiger Mums who just have to win at everything, parenting included (check!), but there are also the working mums who feel real guilt. I can understand the I Can't Always Be There, But At Least With That Comes The Stuff I Can Spring For. Dyed-pink real-live ponies and hay bales at birthday parties. (Ok that's just a little scary.)
But... Mums Who Downgraded - Think you're not "spending" right by not dropping the several million HKD for a private school corporate debenture that's within your budget and that your peers are all running after? By not filling every hour of your child's free time with extra-curricular activities? What about the salary you gave up in order to spend more time at home?
Truth is, once I got pregnant, my work choices changed. I had to learn that it really didn't matter how kickass I was at the job - if I wanted children, I was going to have to be the one who had them. And then I was going to have to be my child's mum...
So I woke 90 minutes earlier for a year to express breastmilk before starting my dealing room day and the year-and-more after I don't really know what I ate at home because it was all in a mix in a bowl while I bathed Rockstar (none of our maids have ever bathed him though very occasionally Kings did) and then "read" in front of him - product termsheets, economic reports, Harper's Bazaar just so he would see me reading while he played on the bed and oh, if he wanted to try it there just happened to be a whole bunch of baby books or my magazines within his reach.
Then I remember telling my new boss when I got back from maternity that I was fine with the P/L target (and I met it, even during the financial crisis) BUT I wished to be in as few management meetings (ie the politicking kind) as possible. I did not want to bring that home to Rockstar.
But that said I didn't like when people at work (ironically, mums themselves -I tell you mums are the ones who judge other mums the hardest) would describe pregnant co-workers, "She's pregnant, she's going to be giving up half her braincells for the next 6 months then." (When I heard that I wasn't even pregnant in Singapore - though if anyone thought it during my own pregnancy in Hong Kong I wasn't aware.
My point is, I did not become a birdbrain once I had a child. But my choices at work change And it's not easy to be a working mum, there are mums who struggle with real guilt about it.
Anyway. I just remembered something that another mum told me, about how those who dropped a lot of cash for the more expensive schools were also the ones who tended to organize many other extra-curriculars. (She should know, she hangs out with a lot of em). As a teen (not even a Kindergartner), I was once enrolled in what I felt was too many, and found my productiveness and what I took away from each different lesson diminished.
I'm not in the least bit trained in the education field, and somehow from banking I picked up this habit - we would have analysts who did nothing but look at say, the Turkish market, the Indian market etc etc. We would have structurers who did nothing but look at the interest rate curves and how the probability of rate hikes was already/not yet priced in, say. And as "generalists" or "product specialists" who looked at them all, we would be humbled by the fact we didn't spend our entire careers researching those markets - why not make full use of the work someone else had done on that?
So after I'd decided on a good fit for Rockstar, I just followed most of the stuff I could from his school - the weekly emails, the home-reading tips (complete with briefing notes and a one hour preso). I actually find if you followed it all you do have quite a lot of stuff to do for your child, so sometimes I wonder if you're really supposed to follow all the advice from the school and still multi-enroll... Schools play a part. Parents play a part. They are very different parts and expecting the one to play the other doesn't work, leads to disappointment and Just a Loada Bad Stuff
In her article, Ms Jong-Fast quoted one of said multi-scheduling nannies-for-the-5-year-old boys (including eye-rolling), "All these children lack empathy and compassion because those are the things you can't buy."
Regardless of your financial situation you can give the best thing to your child. Let your child achieve for him or herself, not for you.
Just be Mum. It's both amazingly simple and incredibly hard.