Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Taming Tiger Mom

Discipline is derived from the Latin word, "discipulus" which means "learner".  That makes you, the parent  their "teacher". 

Before I go on to speak about discipline let's clarify that I am referring  to children over 2.5 years old.  Discipline and babies should never be used in the same sentence!  At that age it's more about distraction than discipline.

"The truth is, no matter how trying they become, babies two and under don't have the ability to make moral choices, so they can't be bad.  That category only exists in the adult mind."
- Anne Cassidy

 How many times have I heard?: "She's a bad sleeper." "He's a bad burper."  "She's a bad nurser." "He's lazy." "She hates my right breast."  "He hates my left." "She is using me as a human pacifier!" "He is killing me!"  "She refuses the bottle." "He won't  sleep on his own."  "She is spoiled" 

Honestly, people!  Listen to the language we are using in reference to our little babies who come into this world pure, loving and trusting!   Sounds silly now, doesn't it?   Babies are not villains, out to manipulate, outsmart us and ruin our lives yet we tend to refer to them as such. (whose the baby here?)    

Disciplining a child is a delicate process and is probably the thing that we feel most uncomfortable about, because why?  it's about power imbalance!  Not all of us are good at handling or managing power, probably because we didn't have the best role models ourselves. Discipline is woven into the fabric of who we are, it's a way of relating to the world, it is not a separate experience of parenting. It creeps into every aspect of the parent-child relationship and is reflected in every interaction. 
When asked what the chief differences between the western style of parenting and the Chinese style of parenting Amy Chua Yale law professor and self-described "tiger mother," answered: 
"I think the biggest difference is that I've noticed Western parents seem much more concerned about their children's psyches, their self-esteem, whereas tough immigrant parents assume strength rather than fragility in their children and therefore behave completely differently. … I think it goes without saying that love and understanding have to come first, without that it's nothing."
Frankly, it was difficult to find the "love and understanding" in most of her book which I felt was quite to the contrary -harsh.
Discipline is really about helping a child learn about the meaning of balance. When balance has not been integrated into a child's upbringing, disciplining methods are used to bring a situation gone awry back into a state of harmony. What we realize later is that poor discipline or introducing discipline too late in the day could send the situation into a serious mess. The root of all confusion is broken communication and lack of understanding.

Parents adopt different styles of discipline and punishment based on what they have learned in their childhood, or as a reaction to what they were exposed to. If one's parent was extremely authoritarian, inflexible and used physical punishment, then as a parent one might imitate that.  

For instance, the "Little White Donkey" incident that pushed many readers over the edge.  That was the name of the piano tune that Amy Chua, forced her 7-year-old daughter Lulu to practice for hours on end — "right through dinner into the night," with no breaks for water or even the bathroom, until at last Lulu learned to play the piece.01.20.11 Time Magazine  
In contrast, parenting can rebound the other way to become extremely lenient. Either way, you are not responding in a productive way to creating balance in your child's upbringing, or your parenting style. The art of discipline is something you can learn only by being able to discipline yourself in a wholesome, healthy, and compassionate manner; every style of parenting is a reflection of one's own self-perception. 
So is Amy Chua's style of parenting a reflection of her own self-perception?  I'm sure it is.
 "At its best I think it's not about achievement, but about trying to help your child be the best they can be and it's usually more than they think. It's saying “I believe in you so much that I know you can be excellent, and I'm going to sacrifice everything and be in the trenches with you and I don't care if you hate me while you're a kid and I'm just not going to let you give up.” That's, I think, a positive message. Amy Chua (Chew-Ah), Time Magazine interview 01.11.11

Most of us can agree that parents need to be firm and strict at times.  Children actually need to feel that you are in charge, it gives them a sense of security.  But discipline with love means to be caring, kind and considerate.  In the same respect, parenting with love doesn't mean crippling, enabling or co-dependency.  

The successful child is one who has learned how to overcome the inevitable losses and move on, not one who has been protected from all difficulties.  Resilience is a much better measure of a child's ability to thrive than a lack of bumps in the road.   

Just to "break it up a little" some comic relief from some famous people about parenting and kids. 
The truth is that parents are not really interested in justice. They just want quiet.
- Bill Cosby

It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire to beget children is a natural urge.
- Phyllis Diller

There comes a time when a woman needs to stop thinking about her looks and focus her energies on raising her children.  This time comes at the moment of conception.  A child needs a role model, not a supermodel. 
- Astrid Alauda (author, Pippi Longstocking)

"When a child turns 13 you should put him in a barrel, nail the lid down and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug the hole!" 
- Mark Twain

"When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen. When they're finished, I climb out.

If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent
- Bette Davis

Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, and hold our breath, and hope we've set aside enough money to pay for our kids' therapy."
- Michelle Pfeiffer 

In all fairness to Amy Chua, I commend her honesty and integrity in explaining why she wrote her book: Tiger Mom. 
“I didn't write this book to tell people how to parent. In fact, I wrote this book in a moment of crisis. I was raised by extremely strict but extremely loving Chinese immigrant parents. To this day I adore them and I feel I owe them everything. I tried to raise my children the same way. My daughter rebelled against this kind of parenting and I felt like my family was falling apart.  So the book is about many of the strengths I see in that kind of parenting but it's also about the mistakes.”
Amy Chua (Chew-Ah), Time Magazine interview 01.11.11

We are all far from perfect and everyone has the right to voice their opinion and raise their family as they see fit.  I think we all learned something from the discussions that have taken place since her book came out.  It helped to  raise our awareness. Keeping us ever vigilant to pause and "check ourselves" from time to time. 

What did I come away with ?  Looking at discipline as simply instruction instead of punishment.  We are the teachers, they are the students.

"It is not your job to make your child happy; it is your job to teach your child appropriate behavior that will potentially foster his happiness." - Susan Merkel, MD