Tag Archives: parenting

Tiger Moms

I read Amy Chua’s book BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER and loved it as much as a Chinese mother loves torturing her children. I kid. I loved it way more than that!

If you have kids, read this book. And if you have parents, read this book.

You’ll remember the hoopla recently about this book because it was mistakenly reported that Ms Chua wrote a book saying Chinese mothers were better than the rest of us. In reality though, this is what she says:

“All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

We should all be such Chinese parents.

I loved so many things about it, but the most fabulous just might be the serendipitous Wall Street Journal article title that caused so much buzz. As a writer, I’m truly jealous. Someday I hope to write something that gets banned in the schools or where I’m misquoted enough to sell a gazillion books.

In the meantime, though, I guess I’ll just tell you why I liked it.

First, it’s laugh out loud funny.

The passages about her using her Chinese mothering skillz on their dog had me in stitches. “I had heard of dogs who can count and do the Heimlich maneuver.” Finally she realized, “Although it is true that some dogs are on bomb squads or drug-sniffing teams, it is perfectly fine for most dogs not to have a profession or even any special skills.”

Second, she said a lot of stuff I truly believe.

“I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”

As a mother who argued with my son’s stupid kindergarten teacher about this very issue, I can relate. Self esteem comes from achievement. You can’t give it to kids; they must earn it. When we set the bar so low and we give everyone a participation ribbon, it dumbs down everyone.

Third, she doesn’t take herself too seriously.

“Do one small thing for me, Lulu,” I’d say reasonably. “One small thing: Play the line again, but this time keep your vibrato perfectly even. And make sure you shift smoothly from first position to third. And remember to use your whole bow, because it’s fortissimo, with a little more bow speed at the end. Also, don’t forget to keep your right thumb bent and your left pinkie curved. Go ahead — play.”

Fourth, she’s insightful.

“Children can be horribly cruel. ‘Never make fun of foreign accents,’ I’ve exhorted them on many occasions. ‘Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery.’ “

Fifth, she’s very self-aware.

“The truth is I’m not good at enjoying life. It’s not one of my strengths. I keep a lot of to-do lists and hate massages and Caribbean vacations. Florence [her MIL] saw childhood as something fleeting to be enjoyed. I saw childhood as a training period, a time to build character and invest for the future.”

Sixth, she made me think.

“When I look around at all the Western families that fall apart …. I have a hard time believing that Western parenting does a better job with happiness. It’s amazing how many older Western parents I’ve met who’ve said, shaking their heads sadly, ‘As a parent you just can’t win. No matter what you do, your kids will grow up resenting you.’ By contrast, I can’t tell you how many Asian kids I’ve met who, while acknowledging how oppressively strict and brutally demanding their parents were, happily describe themselves as devoted to their parents and unbelievably grateful to them …. I’m really not sure why this is. Maybe it’s brainwashing. Or maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome.”

Seventh, she related conversations I’ve had with my own kids.

“This time, however, Sophia exploded back. ‘Mommy! I’ll clean it up, okay? You’re acting like I just robbed a bank. Do you know what a good daughter I am? Everyone else I know parties all the time, and they drink and do drugs. And do you know what I do? Every day I run straight home from school.’ “

Okay, I could go on, but I’ll stop now, because you probably understand that I really enjoyed this book. She made me laugh and she broke my heart, just like a good book is supposed to do.

Have you read it? What did you think? Will you read it now? What were your parents like? What kind of parent were/are you?

Rules of Discipline, Part Three

If you missed them, read Part One and Part Two.

14. Accept that you are just like your mother or father and get on with your life. Whether their style of discipline worked or not, whether you liked it or not . . . it’s a done deal. If it makes it easier, know that your children will be just like you. For example, growing up I vowed never to say “Because I said so, that’s why!” The first time I said it, I was in labor and the kid WOULD NOT GET OUT OF ME. It helps a bit knowing I will pass that legacy on to my children.

15. Always set a curfew you can live with. Don’t tell them they can stay out till midnight if you want to be in bed by nine. It just makes everyone cranky.

16. Make sure they know “no means no.” Whether it’s your answer to their request for just one more ice cream cone, or your daughter’s answer when her date turns into an octopus … know that you have done your job well.

17. Require them to practice their instrument thirty minutes every day. Don’t you wish your parents had?

18. Avoid taking your toddler into men’s restrooms. During a trip to the hardware store, my husband had to take one of the kids to the restroom. Before his horrified eyes, this inquisitive child grabbed the rim of the urinal, pulled their cute widdle nose within millimeters of it and asked, “What’s this thing, Daddy?”  As God is my witness, I could not touch this child for several days.  Someone should invent “bleach mittens.”

19. If you laugh at bad behavior once, you’re a goner. The first time your toddler mimics vulgar language they picked up on the street, leave the room to laugh. Pretend you’re coughing. Jump up and say, “I’ve got to call Time and Temperature immediately!” Do anything, but do NOT let them see you laugh. If your fourteen-year-old swears, it’s easy not to laugh. But when an innocent, cherub-faced toddler hollers out something he might have learned, oh, maybe when you were trying to fix the disposal, or maybe when you dropped a carton of eggs, or maybe when that SUV cut you off — that’s something so startling it demands a big fat guffaw. Avoid this guffaw at all costs. A momentary lapse on your part will prime the pump for your innocent, cherub-faced toddler to holler this expletive anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Like in church. Or when Grandma is holding him. Trust me on this. They will. Instead, laugh yourself silly after they go to bed, regale your friends with the story the next day, and file the episode away into family folklore, to be trotted out at all holiday gatherings.

20. Don’t get all hung up on the whole “sharing” thing. It’s a nice sentiment, really it is, but how often do you do it? How many paychecks do you give away? Do you lend your car out willy nilly? I know you have candy stashed away in your underwear drawer. All adults do. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask kids to do what you aren’t willing to do.

There. Twenty reasons why my kids are perfect in every way. Why are YOUR kids perfect in every way?

Rules of Discipline, Part Two

Here’s Part One, if you missed it.

8. If you want to stop some undesirable behavior, start doing it yourself. If you don’t like their choice in music, get a couple of their favorite CDs and start boppin’ around the house with the stereo on full blast. Women, wear hoochie clothes as necessary. Men, drop those drawers down around your butt crack. After all, how cool can it be if you like it?

9. Draw your line in the sand and stick to it. But choose wisely. Not everything is going to be of the utmost importance. Don’t be influenced by other parents; peer pressure isn’t just for kids.  My friend was stunned when she found out I allow my children to go hungry rather than make them something that “wasn’t gross” for dinner.  And I was stunned when she listed the television shows she allows her kids to watch. Decide what you can live with and what makes you crazy.

10. Teach the difference between tattling and telling. “Tattling” is when you’re trying to get someone in trouble. “Telling” is when someone is bleeding, burning, or exploding.

11. Understand and never underestimate the differences between kids. During their formative years, if I looked cross-eyed at my daughter, she’d be upset for a week. If I wanted my middle son to pay attention to what I said, I had to turn off the television, cradle his chin gently in my hand, look him in the eye, then drop a brick on him. My youngest would fly off the handle, sometimes with no real provocation, shrieking like a violin gone sour. Five minutes later he’d be smiling sweetly, ready to listen to what I wanted to say to him. About the time I figured out what worked, they’d change. Don’t ever expect the strategy that works for one child to work for another child. And don’t expect the strategy that works for one child to work on that same child thirty minutes later.

12. Every once in a while, bewilder your children. After dinner ask, “Who is doing dishes tonight?” If one of them volunteers, thank them but pick someone else. Tomorrow, when someone volunteers, thank them and let them do the dishes. Be completely random about it. But, if anyone ever says “Not me” or volunteers someone else, they always do the dishes. You’ve gotta have some consistency. Sometimes the bewilderment is unplanned, but still effective. I was very pregnant and my husband wasn’t home. For some reason I felt compelled to discipline my full-figured three-year-old which involved, of all things, lugging him to his room. However, when we got to the stairway, he grabbed on to the railing and held on like a pit bull on a porterhouse. I absolutely couldn’t budge this freakishly strong child. Accepting the ridiculous situation, I collapsed in helpless laughter on the bottom step. He was totally bewildered and to this day does not understand why the punishment ended in gales of laughter on that bottom step.

13. Keep your sense of humor at all times. If you don’t, they’ll tattle to your mother that you threatened to leave and never come back. Trust me on this. They will.

Part Three continues tomorrow ….

When did you figure out that other people’s discipline was weird and yours was perfectly logical?

Rules of Discipline, Part One

Clearly, I am now officially “of a certain age” because I was asked for parenting advice by someone who couldn’t possibly be old enough to drive, let alone have children. Based on the look in this poor girl’s eyes, she’ll never ask anyone anything ever again. I can talk longer than the shelf-life of Twinkies about the do’s and don’ts of parenthood. So I decided to write down some of my rules. You know, wisdom for the ages and everything.

It’s so important and I’m so very wise, in fact, this will be a 3-parter.

1.Make discipline logical, but expect it to backfire. When my kids were young, I got tired of them throwing clothes on the floor after I lovingly — but not cheerfully — washed, dried and folded them. So I laid down the law. Or maybe I put a curse on them, it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. “You’re doing your own laundry for the rest of your life!”  I had to accept that they’d wear dirty clothes, at least until the first time some kind soul pressed a quarter in their hand because it looked like they needed a hot meal and shelter for the night. When they finally confronted their mountain of laundry, I got great satisfaction in knowing they wished — just for an instant — that they had simply put away the laundry I did for them.

2. Which leads me to the next rule of parental discipline — you’re never too old to say “Neener neener” to your kids. Go ahead. Say it. It feels delicious. Regardless of what others might say, believe that it makes you a better parent. Maybe not a better human being, but definitely a better parent.

3. For every parental law, there is an inverse law as well. Your kids are never too old to say “Neener neener” to you, either.  My husband and I are both avid readers and when our children were very young, we heard all those scary stories about kids who don’t like to read. When they got old enough, I allowed them to stay up as late as they wanted as long as they were in bed reading. Some say bribe, I say incentive. Tomato, tomahto. At any rate, my son was always reading well into the wee hours. “Neener, neener, Mom.” His third grade teacher learned this lesson too. As punishment for not filling out his “reading log,” (even though he read many long hours beyond the requirement) she told him he had to stay inside to read during recess. When his eyes lit up, he may as well have said, “Neener neener, Teach.”

4. If you are too harsh, apologize immediately. If you don’t, they will remember it forever and hound you with the memory and never let it go. Trust me on this. They will.

5. If you are too lenient, apologize immediately and heap more punishment upon them. If you don’t, they will see your weak underbelly and exploit it forever. Trust me on this. They will.

6. Be a moral compass for your children. Never let them see you pick your nose, eat ice cream right out of the container, smoke, gossip, or double dip the celery right into the peanut butter jar. Do these things in private. And remember, always lie about your past. They weren’t there … how would they know?

7. Always feign interest in their passions. Even if it’s dirt-collecting. Even when they want to tell you every detail of their day. If you are horrified to think that you won’t always be interested in what your kids say, you probably don’t have kids saying anything yet. You’re still in the I-think-it’s-so-cute-that-you-poop stage. That’s fine. There will come a day when you hear your adorable offspring say, “Okay? So I was at … um … school today? And I’m like, in line for, y’know, lunch? And this, y’know, hottie like comes up? And I’m like just goin’ … whoa?” Trust me. Calculate square footage in your head, play the alphabet game, or construct a family tree from memory. But slap a silly grin on your face and pretend you’re interested. If you don’t, you won’t have any leverage when you’re telling the same story for the umpteenth time about how you and your pal in college dressed up like a two-headed monster and lurched around campus one Halloween trying to find a handicapped stall. (Or keep that part to yourself. See Rule #6).

Part Two continues tomorrow …. and Part Three the day after. Clever, eh?

What do you do when you’re pretending to be interested in what your children (or anyone else, for that matter) are saying?

Punishments That Backfire

• Taking the car keys away, forcing you to drive them everywhere.
• “One hour of violin practice every day, young lady!”
• “One hour of tuba practice every day, young man! And your brother too!”
• “You don’t like what I make for dinner?! Then YOU cook!”
• “That’s it. Time out.” [Allowing them to go to their room and read without you bothering them. The thing they crave the most.]
• “You are NOT too full to eat those lima beans. Make ‘em disappear, fella!” [Said lima beans to be found four days later dried and stuck in the pants pocket.]
• “No laughing at the dinner table!!” [Resulting in non-stop laughter from my sister and me at the dinner table. Sorry, Mom.]
• “If you don’t learn to take care of your own hair, we’ll have to get it cut.”

[“How’s this, Mommy? I did just like you said.”]

Have you ever momentarily lost your mind with your kids thus spawning some lame punishment? Ever been on the receiving end of ridiculous punishment?