Tag Archives: raising kids

What Changed When I Started Working

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For one thing, going for gatherings became easier. I had a ready answer to, “so what do you do?”. Yes, I know I being at home with the kids is “commendable” and one of the “toughest jobs in the world”, and that I should never have felt bashful about being, well, just a mom. Except, that I was – bashful, as well as just a mom. I hated the question, no matter how innocuously it was asked. And I never felt fulfilled (whatever that means) doing a seemingly noble job that was supposed to satisfy my motherly instincts. I was happy, yes, spending time with my kids, but always felt a sense of restlessness that took away from the contentment that motherhood is said to bring.

But, that was then. Now things have changed. And not. I still hold the portfolio of the home and cabinet minister combined. I won that uncontested, of course, and my having returned to work did not mean that the posts had fallen vacant. All it meant was that I had, willingly, taken on more responsibility. The previous ones still stood (and shall continue to do so as long as I live). That was the truth.

Why? Because I am the mom, and that’s the way it is. Mommies fix things, as everyone else pretends that they can’t. That, and also because I earn so little that it has no bearing on the husband’s life. He still has to bring home the bacon – so his life has not changed, while mine has turned on its head. And that’s why yours truly still does the stay-at-home-mommy things – ferrying the kids to classes, remembering the vaccinations, getting berated by the doctors when she forgets, rushing home to tend to a sick child, getting the house cleaned, things fixed, dry-cleaned, darned, repaired, cooked – you name it. And of course, added to this is the unenviable task of making a dash to the stationary shop on a Sunday evening, when mommy is most kindly informed about a project due on Monday morning. Yes, that is fun and brings me to the conclusion that real estate prices should not be driven  by hospitals or schools in the vicinity, but by the number of stationary shops near the house – try getting into one on a Sunday evening. I can tell you, from experience, that entry into sold-out Broadway shows are easier, as opposed to getting into a shop to buy Blu Tack. Try elbowing out harassed moms being trailed by sulking kids. I do it with more regularity than I comb my hair.

My bag, much like the rest of my life, is also bearing the brunt of the additional responsibility. Because it’s still a mommy bag (I am just not the sort to change bags, and when I have tried to be the sort, I have ended up returning home to pick up my wallet I forgot in the old one). So I carry one bag that lets me switch from the calm, working-mom at the office to the, never-know-what-you’ll-need mommy once I am back home. Which means that in office, when I reach for a pen, my hand returns smeared with ink from a leaking felt pen or a half-eaten melted chocolate (which I had refused to mop up and shoved into my bag a month ago). Or both. I also find broken crayons, smiley stickers, biscuit crumbs, spoons, flattened candies, paracetamol syrup, headache medicines, tampons, tissues and often, an expired credit note I had declared lost. Underneath all this is where I usually find the notepad on which I scribble notes while my boss rambles on about strategies we ought to be impressing our clients with.

So I would say that working has not changed so much as it has added things in my life. And on that note, of adding, guess what else has been added on me? Yup, the weight. I haven’t been able to run that much in the past year and bulges have started to appear, much to my consternation.

But, having said all of that, I will take the working mom, any day, over the stay at home one. No question about it. Sure, I am tired and my plate is spilling over, but I will not trade places with my old self at all. I love the fact that I leave the house and get into my own space, even if that space belongs to my boss and even though it’s not exactly the corner office (to put it mildly). But, just being out of the house and leaving the chaos behind me is liberating. Of course, the chaos tends to follow me – with the maid, the kids and the mother in law calling to ask inane questions. But still, I am physically away and don’t have to deal with it all the time.

“I was in a meeting” is a wonderful phrase I have re-discovered and use it quite liberally.

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From Kids to KPIs

G4 and womans hands

The past few months have been interesting. I’ve been working full-time, sometimes more than that. And all that I feared would happen, has happened. Kids have fallen sick, maids have gone on leave, weekends have been awash with work. Yes, I am quite the working mom now and it’s amazing how I have slipped into that role like I was always doing this. The truth is five months ago I was your typical stay-at-home-mom, quite reconciled (if grudgingly) to the idea of never setting foot in an office again.

And how dramatically that’s changed.

I know I’ve said this before, but I am already facing a lot of pressure – mostly from myself. So on the back foot am I that I feel I have to constantly prove something – that I am serious about my work; that women who return to work after a hiatus may not be able to ace power point presentations, but they do add a lot of value to a company. And in my blind wish to prove this I have gone and done something that I now find impossible to get out of – I have poured cold water all over the negotiations that I made when I joined work – that I would leave at 4 and work flexi.  Not only do I not leave at 4, I also had a washed-out weekend where I worked flat out for a deadline, while my younger twin lay next to me with high fever. On Sunday night at 11:30 when she finally looked at me with watery eyes and asked me if I had the time to lay next to her, something in me snapped. I know there are good days and bad days and I was determined to not let anything get in the way of me proving myself – but when I saw her tiny face, all I could think of was the fact that she needed me. I sent off one last slide to my boss and shut my computer down. I was tired. And I thought about how much my life had changed.

I guess this was a test, of sorts. To try and work when you have a sick child tugging at your clothes. I did it, but with a lot of guilt. But, guess what, when I shut my computer, the guilt did not vanish – it merely shifted base – to work. I wondered if my boss would think I was shirking work – the fact that I worked the whole weekend with a sick child was not enough I guess. And I didn’t even want to tell my boss that my daughter was sick – because, in this flu season, my kids have been falling sick one after another and I didn’t him to think that it would affect my performance.

Anyway, long story short – the basic point I am trying to make is that a working mother has to constantly shift gears – from work to home and back to work, and to home again. It’s a constant cycle and I am still getting used to it. I am trying my best to do both, but there’s always guilt – of leaving the kids, of leaving work – that I haven’t been able to escape. And I doubt I ever will. It’s a woman thing.

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From a Stay-At-Home-Mom to a Working One

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I can tell you this – that I never thought it would happen. I never thought I would get back to real work. Yes, I was pretty sure that after ten years of being at home and looking after kids, I was good for nothing else. That no one in their right minds would hire me, which was quite alright, because, in my opinion, I was quite un-hireable. That’s what being at home does to you – you start to believe in the stereotype.

Well, I could not have been more wrong. Neither was I un-hireable nor had my being at home taken away from the person I was. Yes, I had been sucked into the demands of my home (and that was a choice I made, for whatever reason) and for a while I was that mother in the park who befriended others like her and thought that she would never be able to escape from the unending cycles of birthday parties, piano classes and fixing the mixie. But that was a period in time when I could not think beyond that. And while it may have temporarily lulled my grey cells into talking about maids, mothers-in-law and electricians, it really did not really make me into the person I thought I had become.  When I went back to work, the real me (ya, I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s true) just wriggled out of that home-mommy skin and rose to the occasion – something I never thought I could do.

And this is not about me being some super star who could rise from the ashes and go back to work because I was some genius who’s been rescued from the interminable demands of domesticity.  No, I am like every other mother who makes a choice to be at home, but that so-called choice is not really one. Because a choice gives you options and let’s you pick what you like. When someone like me chooses to be home, she’s doing to because she has nowhere to leave her child – really not a matter of choice. I’ve heard so many people say to stay-at-home moms that they made a choice, and I always find it interesting – the use of that word. Given a real choice, where the woman can get back to work and be allowed to be flexible as long as she delivers the work, many women I know would have opted to be back at work.

But what I do want to say to women is this – stay mentally active, that’s key. You will find something to do once things at home settle a bit. No, it’ll never be fully settled, but that’s ok, you’ll learn to deal with it. This last week my daughter had been ill, so I left work early and came home. Then I worked at night and on Saturday from home and completed some tasks. And yes, I still have to do the birthday stuff, the homework, the classes and all that comes with being a mum – work has to be managed with all that. But you know what, you learn to do it. Sure there are days when you feel overwhelmed, but nothing in life is easy. I’ve wanted to get back to work for so long and now that I have done it, the other things will have to be fitted in. The people around you learn too – your husband, your kids, your help – they all start to do their bit to help you. That’s what I learnt – they see that you are happy and they want it to stay that way.

I underestimated the people around me. I always thought that things would fall apart if I plugged out. But they don’t – somehow it all happens. And yes, I’ve learnt to let-go of a few things – the dust behind the cabinet for one. I don’t care if it gets swept once in a few days. It’s just not important anymore. Working on a presentation for a client beats that any day.

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Why Does It Get To Me?

Does any mother not yell? No, seriously, is it possible? – leaving aside the Swedes, of course, who apparently don’t believe in using the word “no” to a child, let alone raise their voices ( my mother thought I was kidding when I told her that) .

I try as much as I can to be patient, but sooner or later the tantrums, the wailing, the sulking and the pestering gets the better of me and I find that the only way of making myself heard is by raising my voice.

I am not a patient person by nature ( it took me years to admit this) but with the kids, I try. A few months ago I told myself that I’d try to be more patient with them, no matter what.  So, when the other day when my eight year old made an unreasonable demand,  I declined gently, explaining all the reasons etc (all that textbook stuff about dealing with questions in a positive manner) but, the demand persisted. I counted to ten and explained it again. This happened about three more times. I continued to explain the reasons while holding my ground on my decision.  She didn’t take to it well and started to bolster her argument with talk of equality and fairness. It’s a time-tested strategy – when in doubt, bring in justice. Kids are clever enough to know that this usually puts the parents on the back foot.

Well, not this parent. I told her my reasons for my decision and expected her to understand.  I also wanted to make it clear that if she could not fully comprehend my reasoning then she would have to sort-of lump it, because sometimes parents have to do what they have to do. I always think of my own parents when I over-explain things to my kids in an effort to be the modern, involved (read evolved) parent. I cannot help but feel, at times, that their method of dealing with us was far better. My father had two pet phrases : ” you will know when you grow up” and “because I said so” as an answer to many questions . End of story. That was that.  My mum would try and tell us more, but only so much. I know that every generation glorifies their age and loves going down the how-things-used-to-be path, but my parents’ method did give them a lot more freedom than we give ourselves.

Anyway, that’s a whole different post. Coming back to my tale of patience, I tried as hard as I could to make her understand my point. And to be fair, she did get it, except that she still didn’t accept my ruling. Then the tears started. I took a deep breath and told her that she was overreacting. This seemed to open a can of worms and she went into previous arguments about this and that and how I never let her do blah blah blah. So, it finally happened . I caved and blew a lid, high drama followed (I am telling you, this teenage thing hits about five years too early) and more tears and apologies later, the matter was laid to rest, for the time being that is.  It ended, as it always does, with sorry notes from my daughter for the things she said in the fight, and apologies from me for losing my cool and making her cry. After having sworn, during the fight, not to take any more notes from her, I wiped her tears, kissed her, put the note in my cupboard (with the numerous others) and told her I’d never scold her that way again (this happens about once a week). What didn’t help (at all) was my husband’s comment about my handling it.  So I sulked and he didn’t address it, which, you can imagine, made me madder than ever (more on that in a later post, because man, that needs some venting)

With remorse comes guilt and with guilt comes introspection. I regretted the way I spoke to her and wondered, again, if I was being too harsh with her. I’ve never been able to decide this one,  does she react this way because I am too harsh? or does she react this way because I’ve not handled it right earlier? The guilt lingered and I thought about my own actions, of why I got so worked up and yelled. I started to question my reaction and look for a deeper meaning into my angst.  Surely I wasn’t so angry just because my daughter had cried.

Well, yes and no. Yes because the tears get to me. I can’t handle them beyond a point. I know it comes with being eight, when things that seem of little consequence to me, are matters of great importance to her and thus, when they are denied, there’s much gnashing of teeth. But when the tears flow so freely (with all three of them) I reach my limit and let my anger get the better of me. There’s only so much wailing one can take in a day and with the twins preferring it as a form of protest, I look to my older one for respite.  And no, because my anger is not only a reaction to her crying, it’s a symptom of the bigger problem (for lack of a better word).

I know I’ve said this before, but I wish that I was one of those women who was content being at home with the kids, or at least one who could make peace with it. But, I am not. And I am not even sure if such a woman exists.

I am reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friednan – it was a book that addressed, head-on, the real truth about the picture-perfect life of the suburban American housewife, about her angst and and of how she felt unhappy in a life that she’d longed for in a mistaken belief that that was what a woman must aspire for – a life of domestic bliss filled with a husband, children and a nice house. The book is said to have started a second wave of feminism ( don’t care for that word).

Here’s the opening paragraph:

“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night — she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — “Is this all?”

My life could not be more different from the American suburban wife of the fifties, and yet, I can relate to her  “strange stirring”.  I guess that’s the stirring I need to address, because it’s whats causing the yelling. From what I hear from other women (and it’s comforting to know that I am not alone in this) it’s the way a lot of them feel.

So, what’s the solution? Not sure. But I know the problem, and that’s always the first step..

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What career advice will you give to your daughters?

When I was growing up all I heard my mother say was that we had to make something of ourselves; that we must “stand on your own feet” – a term that Indian parents love to repeat, ad nauseum, or at least they did when my parents were in the stage of child-rearing that I am today.  Hindi films extolled the virtues of the phrase with lachrymose on-screen mothers telling their kids to “become something in life”.

So, it was ingrained in me very early – parents, cinema, et all – that I had to make something of myself. Stories of didactic brilliance, against all odds, were fed to us on a regular basis. The boy who sat under a street lamp and topped the national level civil services exam was the role model who we had to get inspired from, if not emulate.

So, my question is this. And, just to clarify, this is not to assign blame or say that my life would’ve been different had my mother prepared me for what lay ahead. But what I want to know is why no one told me one day I’ll have to make a choice – work or home? I spent years thinking, studying, working towards a career and then, whoosh. Before I knew it, I became that Stay At Home Mom, wondering if someone out there wants to hire a freelancer who is willing to work harder than “regular employees”, whose only limitation is that she cannot leave home for hours on end.

Why was I told that I must “stand on my feet” when that is exactly what I am not being able to do, whatever the term means?

The question that could be thrown back to me is – who told you to have kids? Or, did you not think about who would raise them? Well, not really. I mean, you reach a point when you want kids and you feel you’ll be able to figure to out as you go along. After all, the world has kids and juggles. My mom did. Couldn’t be that hard, right?

It’s not hard. It’s just life-changing. For those who can strike that magical (but it so eluded me) work-life-balance, I sound like a whiner (don’t like that term, my blog name notwithstanding). But I am not. I am asking a real question; more because I want to say the right things to my daughters. I do not want to lead them down a merry path only to have them reach a dead end later, or worse, to reach that wretched fork in the road where they’ll stand and dither and fall into the deepest quandary, the answer to which they will seek for the rest of their lives.

Should I tell them that they must work hard and dream big, but that one day they may have to let go of that dream, or a family? Or, should I tell them to be realistic and choose a path that will allow them to strike a balance between work and domestic life? So it’s better, say, to become a writer, academician (but wait, not dean, that’s time consuming), entrepreneur, teacher, consultant (so many women I know now “consult on a freelance basis) as opposed to any other profession, enriching as it might be, but which threatens to take them away from their homes for long passages of time?

What’s the answer? Is there one?

I want to, just because it’s sort of relevant, tell you this story. Make what you want of it.

I have a friend who was brilliant in college – the sort we thought would lead the way and we’d just follow. At 21 she got married. No one could understand it. One fine day, she just married this guy her parents had chosen for her. Just like that.

It turned out that her mother was this control freak who had figured life out and had laid out a plan for her daughter. She got this rich guy to marry her. By the time she was 23 she’d had her first and only child. She then, needled by her mother, did an MBA (while changing nappies – no diapers then). She lived with her parents-in-law (she, husband, kid on the top level; they on the lower, pretty common in India) So, the child was magically brought up while she worked. Long story short, today, she’s only 42 and her son is safely pursuing his undergraduate degree somewhere in the US. She’s on her way to the top management of her company with which she consulted (surprise surprise) for a few years while her son was young.

So, she’s set, as they say in Indian-English parlance. No stopping her till she reaches the top, which is less than an arm’s length away anyway. Her mother always wears this smug expression on her face – she’s something out of a Jane Austen book, where her only aim in life was to settle her daughter, first into a wealthy household by way of marriage and then into successful employment. Both were achieved.

Well, needless to say, I am not that mother. Don’t want to be. Besides, I’ve never asked this friend what she thought about being married so early. She never questioned it, at least not publicly, but I am not sure she loved being coaxed into domesticity while her friends went abroad for further studies, or ones like me who enjoyed single hood till my twenties ended.

I have no doubt about the reaction my kids would have, if I was to, in some wild imagination, turn into that controlling mother with the all-good intention of planning their lives. There’d be a mutiny, to put it mildly.

So back to the original question. What do I say to my daughters?

I ask, but I think I know the answer.

I am going to let them figure it out for themselves. Limiting their imagination right now for some future dilemma seems unnecessary and frankly foolish. They’ll cross the bridge when they come to it.  Hopefully, I’ll be living on the ground floor, looking after their babies..

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A journey then and a journey now..

One of the most vivid, most abiding memories of my childhood is of my father and his (not ours) car. So much was centered around it. He loved and looked after it like his fourth (sometimes first) baby.  We could not eat or litter it. When my brother expressed his desire to learn to drive it, my father marched him off to the mechanic’s garage in his summer vacations with one simple logic : if you can’t fix it, you can’t drive it.  My brother protested, of course, but in vain. So, while his friends fled the inclement summer to the cool hills with their families,  my brother spent a greased-out month in the heat of June lying prostrate under cars learning their inner workings.  He hated it, but not more than his desire to drive  the forbidden car.

Anyway, I got reminded of my father’s car the other day when I was going on a journey to the town where my parents live – it’s about a six hour drive.  Some random thread of thought-process (thought about the rain, which reminded me of the smell of wet earth, which reminded me of my childhood house, which reminded me of my father’s obsession of cleaning the car after it’d poured, which reminded me of his love for his car..) led me to that little memory tucked away in some tiny crevice inside my head and I started thinking about how much had changed since we took car journeys with my parents as children.

I remember only too well how my father used to ready the car for the trip. There was such flurry of activity around it. The car had to go for servicing two days before the journey, everything had to be checked and re-checked, yet it still broke down on the highway. There was no air conditioning, of course, and somehow we didn’t seem to mind (unimaginable now – makes me somewhat embarrassed at how much we’ve changed and gotten used to the good things in life). My mother would cook and pack the food and feed it to us when we’d done some respectable distance (unlike my kids who pop into the car and want the goodies, not the home cooked ones at that).  When the car broke down (the word fan-belt was introduced very early into my vocabulary –  I can still hear the sound of it breaking – whirring uncontrollably at first and then settling into a slow flap as the car shuddered to a halt) we’d get out and run into the wilderness, as my father furiously tried to flag down other cars and trucks to get a lift to the next little cluster on the highway where he would be able to get a spare fan belt. I remember suggesting to my father once that just like we carried a spare tyre, perhaps we could carry an extra fan belt – he didn’t see the humor in it, and actually neither did I – I was serious.  Not that he paid much attention to my innovative suggestions.

After we got tired of running around we’d sit in the shade of the biggest tree we could find and pretend that it was the Faraway Tree and that Moonface would burst out of the trunk and ask us for a toffee.

Compare those journeys to the ones I take today with my kids. The car never goes for a “check-up” before the trip – apart from the fuel and the air in the tyre. Gone is that whole opening the bonnet and twist-opening the cap to check the coolant or pulling out that long metal stick to check the oil level, or studying the battery and its contents. I don’t know how I remember all this, but I do.  I can shut my eyes and picture my dad, young, handsome and energetic (not the frail old man of eighty that he is today who squints his eyes to force out memories of these journeys from his brain or who now has trouble remembering the name of my favorite fruit that he used to buy in buckets) bent over his beloved car, that always betrayed him but that he loved nevertheless, peering into its inners and fixing its workings. He always had the last laugh though,  as he managed to get it going again, sometimes long after we’d slept under our imaginary faraway trees.

Today we get into our air-conditioned luxury car that cruises swiftly on the same highway (not the same road though, they’ve been rebuilt from the terrifying one-lane highway to a six-lane one) tearing through the sweltering heat without so much as a peep (touch-wood, touch-wood). My kids would not know what to do if it did ever break down – much as my older one loves the Faraway Tree, I don’t think she’d think much about wandering in the heat and waiting for Moonface to show up. And that’s a shame.

For my kids journeys are about comfort – both physical and psychological. They don’t know life any other way, and it’s not their fault I know.
Which brings me to this question: Have we changed or has the world around us ? I mean should I try and create a different environment for my kids, different from the one that we are fortunate enough to afford, or am I ruining my kids by providing them such level of comfort? (my parents clearly think the latter).  Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.  After all we cannot now suddenly go back to the cars that my parents used to drive just to inject reality into the lives of our children.  We can probably do that in other ways (like not handing them iPads to keep them mentally occupied in journeys)

With progression and affluence comes a loss of the little things in life, a loss that I lament on but somehow cannot seem to do much about. Then I remind myself that my kids are living their childhood and not re-living mine, so I must allow them to make their own memories, no matter how comfort-laden, and not try and thrust mine on them.

What I am mindful of, is to keep it somewhat real – to remind them from time to time that they may have all the comforts in the world right now, but if they have to keep it up, they have to work at it.  I am not sure how much of that actually sinks in as they sit in the comfort of their cool rooms and most of the world around them slums it out.

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Am I a tiger mom?

Not sure. Husband says there’s no question that I am. Needless to say, I differ. Er, I think I am pretty much like any other mom I know, is what I say to that.

So is every mom a tiger mom? Well, no. When I say other moms, I kind of use it loosely. Not ALL the moms around me are tiger moms, but, most of my mommy-friends are, at any rate. Husband’s answer to that is that like attracts like and that we get along (mainly) because our parenting methods are similar.

You see this whole debate started after I read the Amy Chua book (you guessed it). There are only two things that can happen when you read it (for those who don’t know what I am talking about, it’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’.) You will either flip the book over your shoulder and declare her as insane, overbearing and completely nuts, or, you will start to seriously doubt your parenting style and whip yourself into a frenzy for not pushing your kids enough. I don’t know about you, but the latter kind of happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, I do think she’s waaaay out there, but, I did end up wondering if I was being too soft on my older daughter and got into the whole you-got-to-fight-the-rat-race mode. The debate is endless and really there’s no right or wrong in this. It all depends on what you think is right for your kid, the definition of which is not a constant and could keep changing as you discover and learn with your kid.

My point is, and this is where I agree with her, that kids don’t know better when they are 5 or 6. They are not in a position to judge what’s best for them. Neither will they sit at a piano for five hours a day if it wasn’t for someone (usually the bad cop, i.e. mom) making them do it using coaxing, love, threats, deprivation, whatever works. So, if this kid ends up becoming a world class pianist, or let’s forget her example and say that if this kid ends up getting high grades, excelling at school and moving onto better colleges, then is that a bad thing?

Also, I think as parents we get too caught up in what the kid will say when he or she is older. Of course, there will be complaints (you didn’t allow me sleepovers, TV, blah blah – both of which Amy’s kids were not allowed btw) but then what is to say that the kid won’t complain in the reverse case? I know kids who’ve blamed their bad grades and lack of reading habits on their parents years after they grew up.

So, what the children will say is not something one can be sure of. As parents I guess we have to strike the middle ground. Except the reality is this: if you have to excel in anything, anything at all, you gotta work at it. And if you have to work at it, it’s going to lead to tears and this is what you need to steel yourself for. The world’s a tough place and you need to toughen up your kids for the immense competition that lies ahead.

My kids are young right now, so I am not sure how much of a tiger mom I will be. I can’t say that I have not been affected by this book. I have made sure that my daughter is ahead of her class in reading (math I am working on). And you know what, she loves it, she loves the fact that she’s better than the rest (or, so she thinks!). It gives her encouragement to stay on the top, something that’s more difficult to do than getting there.

So am I a tiger mom? Maybe. But I need to get better. If my kids have to get anywhere in life, I’ve got a part to play in it. So beware kiddos, I just turned the button a notch higher!

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