The New Victorian Childhood: Tiger Mothers and Constant Testing

An excellent post that puts together two of the pressures I admit I often feel: pressure to see my kids ‘fulfil their potential’ – i.e. do every possible activity available and succeed brilliantly at it – and pressure to not upset Them. I’ve talked about Them before, and I’ll edit in the link once I’m not blogging on my phone. Them, aka People, as in “what will People think?”
It’s 6:28 am and I’m in a nicely redecorated motel room in Christchurch, 5 hours drive north from home. I didn’t sleep well, I generally don’t the first night in a strange bed, and now I’ve given up. So here I am.
Christchurch is the city that both Sam and I were born in. He lived here more recently than me, when he was about seven or eight, while I left for Dunedin at eleven months and never looked back. We came here for our honeymoon nearly fifteen years ago and enjoyed the International Buskers Festival. But we haven’t visited since the Earthquake (link to come). So we’ve brought the kids to do a spot of ‘disaster tourism’ and see things like the Cardboard Cathedral and the container mall (a shopping centre constructed from shipping containers). We will also take the kids to Orana Park. I wish we had some kind of zoo in Dunedin but maybe it’s too cold, or maybe just too small.
This motel room is the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, although on closer inspection you can see the hideous old decor (embossed orange and green flower wallpaper, anyone?) peeping through the new paint. But I’ll forgive that for the mezzanine and the nice smooth ceramic cooktop. The kids were given a double and a single bed between the three of them, so naturally Mr 10 is sleeping on couch cushions on the living room floor instead. What WILL They think? We’d better clear it away before They come in to clean.


We think of ourselves as much more civilized than the Victorians, who sent their children to the mills or factories, or to work as chimney sweeps.  Thankfully, child labour has been banned, at least in most of the Western world. (Unfortunately, it seems it has simply been outsourced, like our factories… and call centres.)

But the Victorian legacy of depriving children of a childhood lives on… in the Tiger Mothers around the world, and in my local patch of North London, the obsession with schools, results, and cramming knowledge into children at the earliest possible age — ballet/piano/chess/foreign languages/maths/gymnastics etc.

We don’t expect our children to earn a living anymore, but we do expect them to carry our banner into the world.  And sometimes, it can be a very heavy banner indeed.  Especially if it they need to compete with lots of other children who are equally charged with carrying…

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