Tag Archives: parenting

Should we all be Tiger Mothers?

Amy Chua, (CC) Larry D. Moore

By now you’ve heard of the “Tiger Mother”, both the hero and villain of all mothers here in America.  Amy Chua wrote her autobiographical story about Chinese parenting in contrast to “Western” parenting, using references to her own way of parenting her children from stories from the homefront, and placing them all in the book titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  And when an excerpt of her story appeared in the Wall Street Journal (Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior), the whole thing went viral and mothers everywhere questioned her brand of parenting – and even questioned their “weaker” Western methods of raising their children.

Amy Chua raised her daughters in America, having been brought up here herself from the age of 4.  Her own parents had raised her with a firm hand, accepting nothing less than perfection from their Chinese daughter.  And so it was only natural that Amy would raise her daughters the same way.  As it was, this caused some tension between Amy and her non-Chinese husband, the parent who would never be deemed the bad guy.  Several instances were cited of Amy cracking down on her daughters, and her husband fighting her on the issue.  But in the end it was Amy that won the upper hand.

As a result of Amy’s Chinese style of parenting, her daughters never attended a sleepover and are never allowed to date before they graduate high school.  They each took on a musical instrument (of their mother’s choice) and were forced to practice 3 or more hours a day, even while on vacation.  Any grade less than a solid “A” was unacceptable, and considered a punishable offense as well as reason for hours of study and practice tests to bring that grade up.  They weren’t allowed to choose their own extracurricular activities because, after all, they were children and their parents knew better about what their interests should be.  Besides gym or drama (unimportant interests in Chinese culture), they were not allowed to be anything less than Number 1 in every school subject, recital, or contest.  If they failed to meet this expectation, they were considered a disgrace. And if the child was dishonorable to their parents by failing to be the best or by rebelling against the rules, they were strictly punished.

 “I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.”**

Amy Chua goes on to criticize Western ways of parenting.  Or rather, it’s a description of the differences between her style of parenting and the way she views the American way.  According to Amy, Westerners are too concerned with the feelings and self-esteem of their children. 

“The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.”**

And I can’t help but feel that maybe Amy Chua is right.

We have “Participant” ribbons for every child who competes in an event so that those who don’t receive a placing award won’t feel bad.  We encourage our children to do their best, many of us still congratulating our children for the grade of a “C” that they worked their butts off for.  In fact, instead of putting the blame on our children for not getting a good enough grade, we blame the teacher for not teaching it right.  And we don’t call our children fat, even those that are grossly obese and are in need of a major intervention to keep them away from sodas, greasy snacks, fast food, huge portions, and dessert that is served to them every night for finishing most of their dinner.  We reward our children for doing as told, through allowance and praise, even when what we ask of them isn’t really that much – even when we are the ones doing most of the work to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, as well as a clean place for them to lay their heads down at night.  We thank THEM, being sure to point out how proud we are of them for doing what is expected of them.  And we are to expect nothing in return – not showing gratitude or going the extra mile to do what isn’t required – all because we are the parents, and they are the children, and that’s the way it just is.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not about to take sleepovers or eventual dating away from my children.  I am proud of my children’s “B”s, just as proud as I am of the “A”s they receive.  I am not about to make them take on a musical instrument and practice for hours at a time every single day.  And if they grow up to become the manager of Starbucks, I will be just as proud of them as I would if they became a brain surgeon.

But I also don’t believe that Amy’s way of parenting her daughters is as evil as some people are making it out to be.  It’s just….culturally different.  And just like every good parent out there, she is parenting her children with the goal of the best future possible for them.

Amy does admit that she made mistakes along the way.  She regrets some of the ways she pushed her daughters, admitting that she may have gone too far in some ways.  She has doubted herself, and worried about her daughters hating her.  In essence, she is just like all of us who have wondered if our intentions really are the best for our children, or are bound to ruin them in the end. 

And in a lot of ways, I actually find that Amy Chua is a hero in my book.  It’s not necessarily the way she parented her children.  It’s more because she was brave enough to put her story out there even when she knew it wouldn’t be warmly received in our Western culture. Even in a world where mothers are so quick to ridicule other mothers for their style of parenting. Self-describing her book as anything BUT a how-to guide, Amy was brutally honest about her Chinese parenting that many are now describing as barbaric, mean-spirited, and even abusive.  There are cries out there that she is fighting the creativity and free-thinking that might exist in her children.  But Amy, raised under these Chinese conditions, has just written a book that is probably against everything her Chinese parents believe in, possibly even shaming them.  And she did so with creativity and free-thinking.  And the liberal Western parent in me commends her for that – and also believes that her daughters, just like any of our children who are raised with our best intentions at heart, will be capable of just as much greatness – because of and in spite of the way they were raised.

**excerpts from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

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Getting to know Taz

With DQ gone at her dad’s house, the Taz and I were left to our own devices. For one week, I was a mom to an only child. And let me tell you, it was very odd at first. For one thing, it was now up to me to make sure that the Taz was waking up on time in the morning. I know, that sounds strange. I’m his mom, I should be waking him up. And in the mornings, I do. I turn off the blaring radio on the alarm and shake each child awake, letting them know that breakfast is on the table. And eventually both kids stumble down the stairs, waking up as they eat. But in between my wake up time and their venture down the stairs, DQ is in the room kicking her brother every time that he falls back asleep. Because of her diligence, the kids are able to get ready in a timely manner and leave the house on time. But this week, after wondering what was taking the Taz so long to get ready, I’d find him still asleep 20 minutes after I shut off his alarm.

Another thing is that I didn’t have my little truth teller (aka “tattle tale”) letting me know when the Taz “forgot” to brush his teeth, or when he fibbed at times that I asked if he had. I didn’t have my obedient child cleaning beside me, picking up the slack as the Taz lazily picked up, well, nothing. I was his entertainment since his sister wasn’t there to pick fights with him, and he was forced to stick by my side every time we left the house since my built-in babysitter was gone.

But most of all, this week I got a chance to get to know my kid better, and to appreciate him for who he is rather than who I have expected him to be.

Without his sister there, the Taz was a whole different kid. Suddenly, he had all the attention he needed, and wasn’t fighting to be seen or heard. He was more serious, and we had deeper conversations this week – real conversations. Without his sister there to take over for him, he quickly turned the corner from being a dependent child to being a responsible kid. I also realized just how easygoing the kid is. Whenever I needed to stop what he was doing so we could take care of yet another errand, he didn’t fight me on it. And while in the car, we’d chat about just about everything.

In a perfect world, parents would be able to give their kids a significant amount of their undivided attention, getting to know each child as a separate human being with different goals and dreams and interests than their brothers and sisters. In the real world, time has a way of slipping past us. The daily grind of everyday life takes precedence over slowing down and enjoying a soul to soul conversation with each child, one on one. With more than one kid, the time spent with each child individually grows significantly smaller.

But we still have expectations for our children. And we expect them to be fulfilled. Good grades, a clean room, telling the truth, toeing the line… And when they disappoint us, when they make dumb decisions or do stupid things, we get mad and tell them so – that we expect better from them. Perhaps sometimes we are expecting too much. Perhaps we are missing the point on loving our children for who they really are. Perhaps we are expecting them to be someone they aren’t. And perhaps who they are as their own person is being drowned out by who they are as a younger sibling.

This week I was able to see past the kid I had been pegging him out to be. And I was able to see this intelligent being that was perfectly capable of acting 9 years old – and beyond. He didn’t have an older sister bossing him around and telling him what to do, therefore he could make his own decisions for himself. And I also got the chance to be reintroduced to the Taz – a kid who likes long talks in the car, racing to the other end of the block, reading up on the scores of the latest ball game, creating Lego masterpieces, skateboarding with his friends, any electronic gadget that has games on it, and being the only kid getting his mother’s attention.

This summer it is my goal to spend more individual quality time with each of my kids, letting them have a chance to take a break from being a sibling and getting to know them as just DQ or just Taz. I urge you to make it your goal, as well, with each of your children.

Why are you doing this?

I want to ask you a question. Why are you doing this? You know, this parenting thing? Why are you busting your butt to do everything for this child who, at this point, really doesn’t appreciate (or even fully understand) the sacrifices you are making for them every single moment of the day?

I know the answer seems really obvious right now. But this is the very question that you need to ask yourself, and know the answer to, when being a parent feels like the hardest thing in the world.

There are going to be times when your child will yell at you. They will refuse to eat the food you just bought with your hard-earned dollars and made just for them. They are going to make your work harder. They will make a mess of your once spotless home. They will break your belongings, even cherished items that you have held on to for years. They may hit their sister or pick on their brother. They are going to tell you that such and such present you got them for their birthday wasn’t what they wanted. They will complain when they don’t have the latest gadget that some other kid has, even though they have more than you ever had as a child. Your child, the one who looked at you once like you were the biggest thing in their world, is going to tell you that they HATE you. They are going to make you feel like the worst parent in the world. They are going to lie to you, they may steal from you, they may dapple in things that you never raised them to be around. They will deliberately defy you. They are going to make choices that you never would have made for them – choices when they are young, choices when they are teens, and choices when they are grown men and women – choices that you warned them against and they made them anyway, changing the course of their life forever.

So now, why are you doing this?

Love. That’s why. The biggest love you have ever experienced in your whole entire life. Before you even meet them, when they are safe inside the sanctuary of their mother’s womb, you love them. And when they meet your gaze with those wide, curious eyes, you know that you would die for them. Here is this perfect being that depends completely on you, and loves you right back. As they grow, it is apparent that they will follow you to the ends of the earth. They believe every word you say. They question the world with a torrent of “Why”s, wanting to know what it all means. And in that moment, you see the world through them, as something fresh and new and full of wonder. They grow even older and suddenly the “Why”s are replaced with reason. They can formulate ideas about how things work. And they can share conversations of brilliance with you. They get to their teen years, and in between their constant search for their own independence, you will find snippets of time when you share a laugh with them, soothe their broken hearts, witness their first steps of spreading their wings, and see the beauty in the adult they are becoming. In their lifetime they will make you proud.  They will be the biggest reason you smile some days.  They will be your comfort.  And one day, a moment that comes way too soon, they will be gone – flying the coop to create adventures of their own, and one day, a family. And just as it was before you brought your sweet smelling bundle home from the hospital, your house will be empty once again.

Times are going to be tough, parents. There are many times when you are going to question this whole parenting thing. Why are you doing this? Why, exactly, is it worth all the heartache?  Because you are their very first love. And in many ways, they are yours too. Because of all the good times that come with the difficult.  Because much of this turmoil is actually helping them (and you) grow.  Because these fleeting moments, the good and the bad, will be gone in a blink of an eye. And because one day, years from now, you will look at these moments that seemed so hard as they were growing up…and you will miss them.

Education – Who's in charge here?

Over the past several months, I have written several articles on kids in school, mainly because of the troubles I’ve been having with the Taz – a bright kid who has a hard time not being a distraction in class or staying focused on the lessons he is being taught.

Mark Alton, a teacher at Rancho Cotate, wrote to me after I wrote “When Teachers are Great”, an article on the lengths my son’s teacher has gone to ensure that my son was working to his fullest potential, and to tackle the problems he was having in school. He wrote:

“Is it necessary for teachers to work harder and spend more of their own personal time in order to “prove” they truly care about their students? I wonder if this is an unspoken assumption by the public. Would this teacher be an “uncaring” teacher if he had not necessarily been able or willing to meet each and every week outside of class to help this child, but simply did his very professional best in class to meet the needs of his students? I think not.”

“Ultimately, the primary person who needs to care is the student — care enough to get a good night’s sleep prior to a school day, care enough to come every day to school, care enough that he/she values an education for what it will do for his/her future, care enough to behave respectfully and responsibly in class, care enough to pay careful attention to instruction, and care enough to actually do the schoolwork assigned (because education is an active process requiring the actual involvement of each student).”

(Read the rest of the article he wrote called “Teachers Can’t be Alone in the Learning Process”.)

I confess, I had to re-read his article twice to get what he was saying without jumping to the defensive for the teacher who has changed my son’s life.  And I had to admit, he brought up a lot of good points that were not mentioned in the first article. As a follow-up, I wrote the article “Parents, the First Line of Defense”, an article about the fact that while a teacher is there to teach, it is the student’s responsibility to want to be present and learn what is being taught to him. And because that passion may not come naturally, it is our job, as parents, to help instill the importance of learning and being a productive part of the class, and to not let our job end as soon as our child enters the classroom door.

This last article inspired Kate Sholl to write this letter to the editor:

“Tenth paragraph, first sentence: “Students need to want to be present.”
Children are born with a deep and abiding curiosity; a love of learning. During the collective total of 33 years my children spent in school, they had a total of six teachers who inspired them to be present and learn. During the other years, my children hated school. A teacher’s job is to make learning a fascinating experience. I learned this by homeschooling my youngest two for a collective total of nineteen years. Those two children not only love learning still, but reached the age of 18 with their self-esteem in tact, something the older two did not. Crissi Dillon should look broadly for answers to the issue of her son’s easy distractibility; possibly he is too smart of the teacher he has and is, well, bored to distraction.”

Obviously, these are very different views on the same subject, which leads me to believe that there are many worthy ideas as to what makes a successful student.  So these are my questions for you:

Where does the responsibility lie in keeping a student working to his full potential: the parent, the student, or the teacher?
As a parent, what are some ways to ensure that your child understands the importance of school?
As a teacher, how do you keep your students motivated to stay present in the classroom?
What kind of steps need to be taken to encourage a flailing student to pull himself up from potential failure?

The difference between moms and dads

Growing up, I was fortunate to have both my parents in the home. My dad is a real estate appraiser, and though he worked a lot, we were often able to accompany him on local road trips when he went to look at houses. Sometimes we’d ride along with him, fascinated by the beauty of some areas that we never would have seen otherwise. Other times he would drop my mom and us three girls off at the park so we could have a picnic. He’d join us when his appointment was done.

Dad was the one who had the ideas for fun places to go and things to see. Who knew that sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, as if we were guests, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire could be so much fun. But with Dad, it was his way of instilling make-believe in us. It wasn’t because we were poor, mind you. But because my dad was so busy all the time, he was sharing with us his way of coping – a one hour vacation from reality. Our favorite place to go was to the Sonoma Mission Inn (now the Fairmont) in Sonoma. The waitresses knew him by name, he visited so often. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom,” he’d whisper to us. “The soap is amazing!” And we would. (note: he’d offer us vacations in a bottle every year for Christmas by presenting us with our very own Sonoma Mission Inn Soap to use in our bathroom. It was one of our favorite gifts) Without fail, we’d all order hot chocolate and Crème Brule, taking the smallest bites possible after breaking through the caramelized crust of the pudding, mulling it over our tongues as we tried to make it last as long as possible.

In the winter we’d take weekend trips up to the Sierras. The 4 hour drive was broken up in two parts, always a stop in Lodi. We were creatures of habit. We had our favorite Carl’s Jr. that we stopped at in the evening. And whenever we hit the town in the morning, we had our favorite little diner, ordering our breakfasts by the number. And thanks to my dad, I can’t even think of the town of Lodi without humming a few bars from “Stuck in Lodi Again”. The drive was also peppered with us girls taking turns singing our favorite songs in the backseat as if no one were listening, then making each other giggle uncontrollably, and my dad yelling to keep it down – every 5 minutes. We’d argue with him, thinking that he was being ridiculous since we were having a good time and not fighting. Now with my own kids giggling in the backseat of a small vehicle, I think I understand. Once up on the mountain, it was dad who went skiing with us, putting us in a ski class while he ventured out to the more experienced slopes, and then joining us later to take a few easy runs with us. When we graduated to snowboarding, he stayed with his skis. But he took pictures with us and our snowboards just to be a part of the fad.

But there was more to Dad than just offering us a fun time. He was also the heavy hand in the family. If we got in trouble, sooner or later we were going to have to face Dad. And there is nothing worse than being the brunt of Dad’s anger. And let me tell you, as the oldest, I was there quite often. If I stepped out of line, my Dad was right there to pull me back in. “We didn’t raise you this way,” he’d glower, as I suffered the repercussions of sneaking out at night, or being caught with a cigarette, or when I’d “borrow” the car and not return until the wee hours of the morning. Wash my mouth out with soap? Time outs in the corner? Bah! Dad wouldn’t bother with that. In my younger years, every infraction was met with a couple hard swats on the bottom. And it was worse to be spanked by my dad than by my mom because Dad made sure we remembered it. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all my mom would have to say for us girls to stop in our tracks. And even though our infractions were committed hours earlier, Dad would stop by our rooms and let us know that our misbehavior was not going to be ignored. As I got older, there were times when he’d be so angry that he’d offer up the silent treatment. There was nothing worse than knowing I had stepped out of my dad’s graces, that he was so disappointed in me that he couldn’t even speak to me. Every morning we had a ritual of waking up early and reading the paper over coffee while everyone else still slept. During the silent treatment, he’d be in his office, avoiding me at all costs. But inevitably, one morning he’d just be there. We’d sit for an eternity of minutes in silence, both mulling over what we want to say in our minds, but afraid to speak first. At least I was. But the silence would eventually be too much to bear, and I was most likely the one who would offer up my apology first for being such an ass. And he’d accept my apology graciously, and would then talk about why it was so upsetting when I acted a certain way. There would be tears and frustration on my part and a level emotion on his as we worked it out. And then he’d invite me over for a big hug that he knew I needed more than anything. Once again I was Dad’s girl.

I had a different relationship with my mom than I had with my dad. With Dad, I was able to share things at face value – favorite songs on the radio, places I’d like to go one day, how much fun we had doing something or other, how I was doing with my studies, needing $20 for the movies with my friends… With my mom, I was able to confess the contents of my heart. A boy at school likes me, and I’m nervous about going to the school dance with him. A different boy, who I had liked for 3 years, kissed another girl in front of me and I am heartbroken. My friend just had to go through something really traumatic, and I don’t know how to be there for her. All the kids are wearing this certain kind of style, and I don’t think I’ll look good in it. There’s something wrong with my body and I don’t know what’s going on. It was mom who talked to us about the birds and the bees, and who told us that we could come to her if we became sexually active so that she could get us on some birth control. And when we did, she kept our confidences, much to my father’s disappointment in later years, never telling him what was going on. With her, the things that we couldn’t speak out loud to many people could be told to her. And she made it safe to do so, even bringing up certain things that might be too embarrassing for us to talk about first. If we just couldn’t talk about it, Mom always knew the right book we could look through to answer our questions, and maybe spur some dialogue once we became more comfortable. When I experienced the first dealings of mortality after a childhood friend died of brain cancer in 7th grade, it was Mom who held me when I could finally cry three days later. And she was the one who went with me to the wake so I could say my goodbyes. When my own infant son died of a stillbirth, my mom held my other hand as I gave birth, not leaving my side once even as scary as the situation was. And it was my mom who taught me how to attack the ground and make 6 inch holes in rock hard dirt so I could plant a daffodil garden in his honor. She knew I needed to get the aggression out on a life that is so full of things that aren’t fair. She knew I needed to do something for him since to everyone else he never even existed. And she knew that I needed to get some sunshine and fresh air instead of laying on the couch day in and day out, as I would have rather done. She got me to open up to grieving, and to eventually be able to see the day as something new, rather than just life after my baby died.

Growing up, it was a lot easier to get into fights with my mom. My mom was a yeller. That was her main punishment. And we’d yell back. It would be World War 3 in our house as we fought back and forth at the top of our lungs. To this day, I wonder what the neighbors were thinking. Getting our mouth washed out with soap was her favorite way to discipline. And secretly, it was ours too. It tasted awful, but it was over in a moment. And it was nothing that a little toothpaste couldn’t fix. But sometimes she’d get so angry that she’d bring out the wooden spoon and paddle our behinds. We learned not to put our hands in the way to cushion the blow. A wooden spoon coming down hard hurts a lot more on the knuckles than it does on the soft cushion of our derrieres. But the thing with Mom, if she had to resort to a spanking she would feel awful about it later. A screaming and yelling match happened because Mom was so angry she could think of nothing else to do. If she got so angry that she had to take out the wooden spoon, the incident would be followed up an hour later with an apology.

Dads and moms are very different when it comes to raising kids. In general terms, dads are the ones who initiate all the fun things. They are the ones who come down hard, and teach us to mind our steps if we don’t want to suffer the consequences. And they are the ones who will be there if you need help. Moms are the ones who nurture us by making sure we are fed and bathed. They make sure we have the skills to take care of ourselves when we are older – teaching us the right way to wash a dish and load it in the dish rack so it dries, how to create buttermilk using only milk and vinegar, and how to fold the towels correctly so that they all fit in the cabinet. They get to our hearts by talking about the things we hold close to us. They are a lot gentler in their approach, and not as intimidating when they are screaming at us than our dads are when they throw down the gauntlet. Kids growing up in two parent homes get the benefit of both parents’ personalities. And where each parent is lacking, the other is able to pick up and be the strong suit.

So what does that mean for single parents who only have one side or the other?

I got an email today from a man who is in his own single parent household, raising an 11 year old boy. And because I have been having so much focus on my son lately as I deal with his behavioral issues, he offered to supply me with his own wisdom about raising boys from a male perspective. He hasn’t been the first male to offer such wisdom.  And it got me thinking about my role as a mother, and my lacking role as a father.

I have two kids – my almost 12 year old daughter, and my almost 9 year old son. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that not much is written about my daughter. Partly that is due to the fact that as a pre-teen, any mention about her would embarrass the living daylights out of her. But also it’s because I get her. A long time ago (no, not that long…), I WAS her. So when she gets mouth and sullen, or when she had a hard time saying anything without a heavy dose of attitude, I get it. And we give it back and forth to each other until we reach a “White Flag” moment, hug, and move on. But my son? I don’t get him. I am not a boy. I didn’t have brothers. The things and feelings he’s going through, I just don’t understand them. When he looks me in the eye and tells me that I obviously don’t care for him because he isn’t getting his way, and he tells me this after I’ve just spent the whole day working, doing errands on my lunch, grocery shopping, making sure his homework is done, fixing him his favorite food, making sure that his pajamas are clean by throwing in a quick wash, balancing my checkbook to find that I have nothing left after paying all of the bills and signing him up for baseball…. When he claims that I don’t care about him, after everything I do, because I’ve told him that it’s bedtime and he can’t play video games, I see RED. When he tells me that I’ve ruined his day, or that he wishes he had another family, or something else that he knows will go straight to my heart and leave a black hole, I am at a loss. And the way I deal with it when my emotion is on my sleeve does not strike fear in his heart. It only leaves him with more of a reason to insist that I don’t care about him. And being a single mom, it makes me wonder how I can do things differently so that he is raised up to be an extraordinary man – as if he had both parents in the house.

This last week, things came to a head between my son and me. And I want to get to that soon. But for now, I have several questions for you:

Were you raised in a single parent home, or a home with two parents?
What does your own family look like now?
Do you see differences in the way moms and dads raise their kids?
Is it possible for a single parent to be both the mom and the dad?