PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

Untigering Parent

Visit the Untigering website, preview a chapter of her new book, and listen to our interview below.

As a Chinese-American and daughter of a pastor, Iris Chen played by the rules and succeeded, but felt that those (impressive) achievements didn’t quite have meaning in her life. She is now on a journey of Untigering which she defines as Gentle Parenting and Unschooling. Always thoughtful and insightful, Iris has brought together a community of parents from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds to share with and learn from each other.

Untigering with Iris Chen

When I first realized that I was parenting my children in a way that *I* didn’t want to be parented, I went on a search at the University of Google. The concept of Untigering quickly jumped out at me and I immediately became a fan of Iris Chen’s and joined the community she was building on Facebook. What surprised me most was how many people related to what I was going through… and that they weren’t all Asian American! They came from all over. We really are more alike than different. While she writes and speaks from her own experience of being Asian American, there are common elements for all of us unlearning and unprogramming in order to build an approach that works for our own unique family. (You can access a preview of a chapter from her book: Redefining Success: An Untigering Parent’s Guide to Our Beliefs About Success, How We Came to Them, and How to Change Them.)

In our podcast, Iris touches on numerous topics:

  • Obedience: Coming from a cultural and religious background that meant strict rules and the expectation is that you’re do as your told, she knew that she was going to do things differently with her kids. It was difficult, because she defaulted to an authoritarian style of parenting and had a tendency to demand obedience.
  • Acknowledging Past Trauma: It is very important to explore our own wounds, our past trauma, not for blaming purposes, but to move forward. She could see that our personalities responded to our parenting and social conditioning and what she was doing was harmful to her children. She got back in touch and got to know herself. This is very hard! It is unnatural and there is a lot of work to be done.
  • Learning: The world is changing so rapidly. The content that kids learn in third grade become irrelevant. Instead of focusing on content, we should be giving them the skills for how to learn. She sees learning as a life process… learning in many different ways, not just in school. She points out: as adults, we are constantlyg learning new things in organic ways. We should allows kids to learn that way too.
  • Curating Own Lifestyle: Living in China for 16 years, they were able to curate their life and culture, not American, not Chinese, a Third Culture. They created the family and community culture they wanted. It gave her the freedom to say, this does not work for our family, can we create something new? It gave them the freedom not to fit in a box. We often don’t question things when we are in it, because ‘that’s just the way things are’.
  • Achievement and expectation: We shouldn’t focus on the outward markers of achievement to prove that we’ve made it. For her, those achievements didn’t end up meaning anything. When she no longer had anyone telling her what the standards and expectations were, she was at a loss… did not know how to manage time and what to do with life. As she got older, she had to get back in touch with what she loved to do.
  • Consent-based living: It’s not just about education. It’s about relationships and parenting. It’s about how to honour our children. Unschooling isn’t just about education. It’s consent-based. It’s not coercive, not about ‘sit down and pay attention to what I have to teach you’ says someone with authority and a lesson plan. It’s a way of living and relating with each other with respect and consent.

Her Key Message: Know and love yourself.  All the details will stem from that one place where we know who we are and can know and love and accept who we are.  Everything should come from a place of unconditional love.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Channeling John Krasinski

This has got to be the year of John Krasinski. He is Jack Ryan, he sold his very successful Some Good News that he started during COVID, he received well-deserved accolades for his directing in A Quiet Place and a second one is coming out… Go to his IMD or Wikipedia to see his long list of accomplishments. He’s not just a good actor, a lovely family man, adoring of his talented and beautiful wife… he brings positivity and fun to whatever he does.

However, what I wanted to point out was that I watched The Hollars… a movie in which he starred, directed and produced. And… it wasn’t great. There were good moments and some solid acting, but it wasn’t a super enjoyable movie where everything comes together. I thought to myself, gee, I always thought of John Krasinkski as attached to only really good productions. Whether it is because he is that good and only good project will seek him out or because he does such a good job in everything does that he single-handedly makes each project spectacular or maybe he and his agent are superb at only picking projects that will lead to huge success.

Really, that’s just not how life works. And yet, when we see someone go from being Being John Halpert to Being Jack Ryan, you think: wow, a lot of luck and insane amount of talent. Oh well, if I don’t have either, I’ll never be that successful. But we can’t forget the hustle. It doesn’t just take talent and luck. It also takes hustle and an outstanding work ethic, as well as the ability not to let one’s ego be destroyed by less than perfect performance or project. I can see that he ensures that he will do a great job no matter how big, how small, how important, how insignificant his role is. Again, look at the long list of roles he’s had.

While I don’t know him personally, he also seems like a really nice guy, who treats people well and knows how to have some fun with the people he works with, without compromising his professionalism. He seems to balance a humility in himself that balances really well with a quiet confidence in who he is. On top of all that, he is of course easy on the eye and doesn’t take himself too seriously, as evidenced by his over the top Tina Turner in Lip-Synch Battle against Anna Kendrick.

So to end my ramble, today, I channel John Krasinski: I will do my very best no matter what my job, I will find the fun and be kind to everyone, I will do my job no matter big or small, and if I get the chance to do something that can bring some joy to others, I’ll do it with all my heart and maybe even in a tutu.

Some days parenting can feel overwhelming, but if I keep focused on bringing my best to each job, one day I’ll be the Jack Ryan or host of SGN of parenting. At least to my boys! I can aspire.

John Krasinski with Tutu in SGN

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

A Parent’s Job is to Be a Better Adult!

The other day I saw a meme on Facebook: “Our job as parents is not to train children to act like adults. Our job is to be better adults.”

Something about having (or even being around) children forces us to look at ourselves more closely and critically. Children are at once 1) mirrors, reflecting us back to us, 2) sponges, soaking up and learning everything, and 3) little drunk people, who cannot control their emotions and behaviours.

When we yell in frustration “STOP YELLING, BE QUIET OR ELSE!” they will copy our approach to dealing with things that don’t go their  way. 

When we tell them that their work is just not good enough, their brains internalize our voice and they learn to tell themselves they are not good enough.

When we force them to do things they are not developmentally ready to do, we undermine their growth and maturity.

They hear every negative thing we say about others; they see every reaction we have under stress; they internalize our messages…

We must be our best selves as we help them develop their own navigation system for the world: they need a sense of right and wrong, judgment to know the difference, wisdom to make good decisions, and strength to stick to the right choices. 

Children watch our every word and deed, learning from every breath we take and every move we make. It is imperative for us to strive to be better adults. We must model for them good behaviour.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

A Tiger Mom Roaring

In 2011, Amy Chua published the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother book, sharing her style of Asian-American parenting style that many of us grew up around (whether our own family or those of our friends).  It’s all about having high expectations and rigorously working towards meeting them. It’s about aiming for perfection and not settling for less than perfection.  It’s about squashing all that is not good enough.  It’s about practicing until we perform with excellence at all times.

Except we’re talking about our children.  Who are human.  Who have their own personalities.  Their own interests.  And who… well… don’t always meet those expectations in the time frame we want them to.

When my first son was born, I fluctuated between Attachment Parenting and Tiger Mother Parenting.  It was a frustrating experience for me and probably very stressful for him.  I was all over him.  He had to do everything correctly – and he did, or at least he tried.  My second son did not respond very well to Tiger Mom at all. This one had to do things his way or not at all.  I spent evenings and weekends hovering, worried about everything that they couldn’t do.  I watched them at classes and critiqued them as soon as they walked over after class.  I hovered over my husband to hover over them.  They got it from both of us.

What I came to realize is that more than anything, I want them to grow up confident, able to problem solve and willing to do what it takes to achieve what they want.  What THEY WANT.  Not what I WANT.  All that takes abilities, discipline, perseverance, motivation, curiosity and patience. I also want them to make the world a better place than they found it, which takes ethics, humour, empathy, love, hope, humility and respect.

My Tiger Mom approach involved a lot of criticism about what they weren’t doing and should be doing.  It involved strict rules and little room for enjoying each other. I was angry a lot because they were never quite perfect. There was so much room for improvement.  There was a lot of, well, roaring going on in my household. At my children. By me.  I wasn’t being empathetic, loving… or respectful.

One day I saw the pain I was causing them, reflecting from their eyes, when I yelled about something. Another day I watched them yelling at each other. My interpretation of Tiger Momming was not working for us. Something had to change.

I was looking for an approach that helped me guide my children through this crazy world with wisdom and love, not with fear and anger, with calm and thought, not with obedience and stress.

It was time for this Tiger Mom to stop roaring.  It was time for a new approach.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

I’m Proud of You, Mommy

This morning my 11-year old son comes to me and smiles in a weird (but positive) way.  He says, “You know, I’m really proud of you.  It’s not easy to NOT yell at kids – not a lot of parents can do that. And now we hardly have a day when you yell at us.”

I look back at him and reply, “I’ve worked really hard on that over the past few years.”

He hugs me, then leans back and looks me in the eyes as he maturely and confidently says “I know. I’m really proud of you. It’s not easy and I know I’m a really lucky kid. I love you!”

“I love you too, kiddo.” I kiss him and he goes back upstairs.

You bring tears to my eyes kid.  To be appreciated for something I’ve worked very hard on, that in our society gets no real recognition, means the absolute world to me.

If I were to be perfectly honest with myself, at times, being a yelly mommy felt somehow justifiable.  But… one day, when you about 3 feet tall, the look on your face, the fear in your eyes got me… it got through my anger, my frustrations, my fears, my insecurities, my beliefs about how to end up with a well behaved kid.

You made me question everything about the relationship a mother is supposed to have with her kids. It cut through the lack of sleep, the stress at work, the dissatisfaction I had with life in general… You made me realize in that moment that no one, especially an innocent child, deserves to be yelled at, even when it’s for “bad or naughty behaviour”.  From then on, I was determined to be the kind of mother you deserved to have.

I have good days, I have bad days.  I am human.  You’ve accepted me for who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Thank you for being proud of me.  Thank you for telling me.  Thank you for seeing my efforts, appreciating me, and celebrating my accomplishments! I love you!

That was a 5-minute exchange, but it was profoundly nourishing.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Aargh, Homework!

Somehow whenever I ask them if they have homework and it’s still light out, the answer is ‘no mommy’ and yet somehow 2 minutes before bed, someone panics about homework that is due tomorrow.

I don’t get it!

I have to balance between ensuring that I firmly show my disapproval with ensuring my patience in actually working with them to get it done.

Then I have to balance between letting then try and fail versus eagerly telling them how to do it.

Finally I have to balance the encouragement of them actually doing good work with the fact I’m as annoyed as heck that we are doing all this at the last minute.

Aargh.

Homework.

!