In the pursuit of nurturing a prodigy, many parents hope for a gifted “academic overachiever,” but reality often reveals that “academic overachievers” are mostly found in other households.
Recently, after watching the highly-rated documentary “Incredible Moms” with a score of 8.5 on Douban, three mothers left a deep impression on me.
There was the Google elite mom, the single-parent entrepreneur mom, and the working-class mom from Taipei, each making rational choices when faced with their children’s ordinariness. These three families shared a common value—that the cultivation of their children’s character and spirit is more important than social class ascension.
Looking Beyond, Rejecting Anxiety: A Better Fit for Xiao Shuai's Growth
Li Qi, the mother of boys Xiao Shuai and Liang Liang, once returned to China on the same flight as Li Kaifu and was one of the founding employees of Google China. Li Qi is not a “academic overachiever” in the traditional sense. She worked hard to save up for tuition and studied in the United States. Immediately after graduation, she joined Google. She once self-deprecatingly referred to herself as the bottom of the Google despise chain.
Her partner, on the other hand, has had a different path. He was sent all the way through school and enrolled in Beijing No.8 Middle School for both junior high and high school. Currently a professor at the Design Institute of a Beijing state-owned enterprise research institute, he is the legendary “naturally gifted” player.
Li Qi and her family live in the education hub of Haidian, Beijing, in the school district of Renmin University-affiliated Elementary School. These two children can be considered as the offspring of an elite and knowledgeable family. 11-year-old Xiao Shuai attends Renmin University-affiliated Elementary School. He is mischievous yet intelligent, but he is not the traditional “child prodigy,” which took Li Qi some time to adapt to.
His grades are average, and he usually falls below the class average in exams. He loves playing games, programming, and computers. Li Qi, influenced by the trend of “education frenzy,” has enrolled Xiao Shuai in various extracurricular classes, but the result is that he is not even in the top 50%, let alone the top 5%.
Despite being in Renmin University-affiliated Elementary School, Li Qi also has to consider the problem that 50% of the children cannot be admitted to the prestigious high schools in the area. Many children in Haidian are striving for early enrichment programs, but Li Qi did not let her child participate. After seeing her Google colleague, a Ph.D. graduate in computer science from Tsinghua University, unable to solve a graph theory problem in an early enrichment exam, she realized the reality and transformed her anxiety into calmness: not letting her child take part in the exam was the right decision. It’s like selecting immortals.
Li Qi gradually accepted the fact that her son, who had average grades in class, was destined to not be admitted to Renmin University-affiliated High School. After a struggle, both mother and son waited for the centralized placement process.
It seems that Xiao Shuai’s talents lie beyond academics. He has obtained a Level 1 certificate as a programmer and has a fan base as an UP blogger. He even started a magazine club and published his own book at school.
He possesses a special skill that surprised even his father, who works for a state-owned enterprise — a talent for business. For instance, when he accompanied the volleyball team to Ningbo for a competition, before leaving, he bought snacks worth 200 yuan from a supermarket, such as spicy sticks and cola. Upon arriving in Ningbo, they found that there was no convenience store near their accommodation. After their daily training sessions, they were thirsty, so he started selling the prepared cola. He sold them at the original price of 3 yuan but people bought them for 6 yuan because “there was demand.” After a single trip, he earned 600 yuan.
Li Qi feels that her son’s actions are impractical and unrelated to reality. She believes that one should focus on the tasks relevant to each stage of life, and at the present stage, it means studying hard. Her goal is for Xiao Shuai to grow up and find a decent job, achieve financial independence, and financial freedom.
Even though she may not fully understand her son’s quirky nature, she does not excessively intervene and respects his ideas, appreciating his uniqueness. Her respect for Xiao Shuai is reflected in the details of their daily lives. When he presents a problem to her, Li Qi knows that the solution is incorrect, but she does not immediately refute it. Li Qi says that this is a personal requirement she has set for herself, to never dismiss him as a person regardless of the situation.
While Xiao Shuai may struggle to keep up with his parents’ pace and footsteps in academics, his mother Li Qi has not given up on providing them with a deeper education. She discusses social security and China’s industrial structure with her children at the dinner table, emphasizing that “the most crucial things have to rely on oneself, and advanced technology is not something others will sell to you.”
Li Qi, for a period of time, took her family to the planetarium, museums, and open areas of renowned universities around the world to learn about the achievements of great individuals and celebrities. She wanted her children to understand how these remarkable figures achieved spiritual independence, creativity, and solved many human challenges. This was her way of instilling in her children a spirit of gazing at the stars: that one should always have goals that are “a little better than just getting by” and understand greater responsibilities.
Li Qi’s light-hearted attitude towards her son has garnered much praise. She remains rational and calm, rejecting anxiety and vanity. There is no criticism or arguing. In the daily details of life, she imparts valuable knowledge and good habits to her son.
Discontinued tuition Leads to Withdrawal from International School
Another mother, Tina, is a single mother who runs a shop and lives in Kunming, Yunnan Province, with her two children. She partnered with a friend to open a community coffee shop. Her son, Bin Bin Long, has a mixed-race appearance, with his father being Pakistani. Tina met him during her early years in Guangdong while conducting foreign trade business.
Due to differences in their lives, their marriage ended, and Tina returned to the mainland with Bin Bin Long to pursue other business opportunities. She later remarried and settled in Dali, where she had a daughter with her ex-husband. Despite her efforts to make her second marriage work for 10 years, it eventually came to an end without any clear reason.
Tina, in an effort to move past her pain, brought her two children to live in Kunming.
Thanks to the financial support from Bin Bin Long’s biological father, he was able to attend high school at Kunming Qingmiao International School. However, a week before capturing Bin Bin Long’s life on camera, his father’s business was affected by the pandemic, making it impossible for him to continue paying the exorbitant fees of an international school. Consequently, Bin Bin Long had to withdraw from his studies.
Tina was unwilling to let 17-year-old Bin Bin Long, like herself, enter society without any educational foundation solely for the sake of survival. After discussing the matter, they decided that he would enroll in a vocational technical school in Kunming to study computer science, embarking on a path that relies on technical skills for a living.
After attending the vocational school for only one week, Bin Bin Long refused to continue his studies, opting to stay at home and engage in activities such as playing games, painting, and playing the piano.
Bin Bin Long has reached a crucial point in his life. He does not want to attend vocational school and hopes to participate in the national college entrance examination as a social candidate, just like ordinary students, in order to receive education, pursue higher studies, and find a job. Taking the path of vocational education in software means that he would be confined to relying on technical skills for a lifetime, leading an ordinary life.
However, he is unable to overcome this reality. Since he has been attending a private primary school, he has not been exposed to the curriculum based on the national education standards. The content of his courses has been too basic and does not align with the curriculum of Chinese public schools. As a result, he no longer has the opportunity to return to a formal and mature educational system.
As a social candidate, attempting to participate in the college entrance examination through self-study is nothing more than wishful thinking. Bin Bin Long, who rejects entering a vocational school, has been “lying flat” at home for almost a month, ignoring his mother’s nagging and persuasion, persistently holding onto his dream of taking the college entrance examination.
After consulting with experienced teachers from various sources, the mother has requested that Bin Bin Long stay with his father until February next year to make a decision. Alternatively, if he chooses not to pursue further education, he can join his business friends in selling crayfish, which would provide him with food, shelter, and the ability to support himself. This is because their family does not support idleness. Although Bin Bin Long strongly resists communication with his mother, after much contemplation, he compromises for the sake of his livelihood and chooses to work at his mother’s coffee shop as a waiter, relying on his own efforts.
The mother is relieved by Bin Bin Long’s maturity, but she cannot hide her guilt. She regrets not being able to let both of her children lead ordinary lives, with a stable family and sufficient income. In the past few years, they were always on the move with her, and now the coffee shop is facing the threat of being vandalized due to conflicts with business partners, leaving their future uncertain.
One month later, the mother made the decision not to sue her business partner, returned the shares, and made every effort to reopen the shop. The only waiter in the shop is Bin Bin Long.
He is busy like a bee in the shop, learning how to make coffee from his mother and packing orders for online customers. The mother sees her child becoming more diligent in their studies and hard work. The mother and the camera crew said that they are proud to have such a son who is intelligent and capable of understanding whatever he sets his mind to.
When he graduated from the international school’s middle school division, he was required to perform the Bohemian Rhapsody on the piano. He studied for three nights following the music tutorial on his phone, and he learned it all. He is not someone who relies on formal education to excel. He is independent and has his own ideas. As long as he perseveres and moves forward patiently, he can live a good life.
Unable to bear seeing Bin Bin Long wasting his youth in the coffee shop, two months later, his mother found a Japanese language school for him. He could exchange free English lessons for the opportunity to study Japanese. Six months later, he went to Japan for a semi-work, semi-study program at a school.
In the spring of 2022, his mother found a potential investor for a coffee shop, and his younger sister also enrolled in a regular private middle school in Kunming. Their lives were filled with hope.
Most of our children may be ordinary ,but they are not mediocre
In the documentary “Incredible Mothers,” there are many heartwarming moments that touched me.
For example, a full-time mother in Shanghai revolves her entire life around her daughter Wenwen, striving to help her get admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory Elementary School and taking the first step towards a top-tier artistic path.
Many other mothers, like Wenwen’s mother, share the same mindset of wanting their children to excel. However, the unavoidable reality is that most families may not have the financial and human resources to engage in intensive child-rearing practices. The majority of parents from ordinary families can only provide education support within their means.
Even though Tina, mentioned earlier, has taken many detours and faced a tangled mess in life, she undoubtedly appreciates her child’s resilient attitude. She continues to make maximum efforts to provide the most suitable path for her children and accompanies them in their growth.
Li Qi, a mother from Haidian District, respects the developmental changes of her children at every stage. Amid the anxieties of intensive child-rearing that can strain parent-child relationships, she chooses a calm approach, prioritizing the well-being of her children over their academic achievements and accolades.
Furthermore, the mother, Xuewen, from Inner Mongolia, moved to Taipei, China, due to marriage and runs a noodle shop. The noodle shop has been in operation for 12 years, supporting a family of three after her husband’s retirement six years ago. Despite modest financial conditions, Xuewen does her best to provide educational opportunities for her son Bocheng.
As Bocheng grew older, Xuewen realized that he was not a naturally gifted child, and no matter how hard she tried, it had no effect. The hope of seeing her child excel and achieve greatness left Xuewen feeling disappointed and disheartened.
A news story about a suicide by a boy from Jianzhong High School completely changed Xuewen’s perspective. The boy had been accepted into university and left a letter for his parents, placing the acceptance letter on the coffee table at home. The letter read, “I’ve given you what you wanted. Now I want to live my own life.” He then leaped from the 12th floor, ending his life.
This news had a profound impact on Xuewen. After struggling internally and weighing her options, she gradually came to a realization: she shouldn’t try to compensate for her own shortcomings through her child. Bocheng’s health and well-being were what truly mattered. A person’s childhood is crucial, and Xuewen wished for Bocheng to have a happy childhood, free from unhappiness caused by parental pressure. Even if they didn’t have the vast physical space of their hometown in Inner Mongolia to offer their son, they must provide him with a space for independent thinking and personal growth.
Later, due to the impact of the pandemic, the noodle shop faced a sharp decline in business. Bocheng made the decision to attend a culinary school to further develop his modest cooking skills, enabling him to take care of his family and support himself.
Bocheng understands gratitude and is willing to work hard, which should bring great comfort to Xuewen as a mother.
These three mothers’ children are not naturally talented in the academic race. The “tiger parenting” education, influenced by factors such as financial resources, opportunities, or individual talents, cannot change the course of their lives.
However, academic achievements are not the sole measure of a child’s worth.
Most of us come from ordinary families and often face various challenges in life, which can impact the environment in which our children grow and their educational experiences. It may not be a flawless journey.
But just like the spirit of looking up at the stars that Li Qi instills in her son, sometimes we need to broaden our perspective. He is not only her son, but also an individual with social attributes. Alongside achieving financial independence and personal growth, he can also create social value. That is something worthy of recognition.