BOOK REVIEW, FOCUS ON YOU, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

Complex PTSD by Pete Walker

Without a properly functioning ego, you have no center for making healthy choices and decisions. All too often, your decisions are based on the fear of getting in trouble or getting abandoned, rather than on the principles of having meaningful and equitable interactions with the world.

How does one review a book that is so deeply personal, a book that shifted me from wandering around in despair to starting a healing journey? I know, I’ll write him a thank you note!

Dear Mr. Walker,

During the most difficult time of my life, I started searching the terms “depression,” “anxiety,” “panic attacks” etc. to try to figure out what was going on. I knew I needed help, but I couldn’t seem to find help that actually—well—helped. I also often seemed okay; I know how to fake it very well.

Needing anything from others can feel especially dangerous. The survivor’s innate capacity to experience comfort and support in relationship becomes very limited or non-existent. This is despite the fact that many high functioning survivors learn to socially function quite adequately.

It wasn’t until I found your website that I felt truly understood or even knew what kind of help I needed. I wrote to you and asked if you could take me on as a client. You very graciously answered me immediately with empathy for my suffering but also that you did not have room to take anyone else on. You suggested that I read your book, so I bought it right away and started reading.

That was a time in my life when I thought my brain was permanently damaged and that I would never be able to function normally again. Your book gave me hope and a path. It somehow normalized a lot of what I was struggling with and both reassured me that I wasn’t weak and gave me cautious optimism that it was fixable. Until I read your work, I couldn’t figure out what it actually was.

The inner critic commonly increases the intensity of a flashback via a barrage of… attacks… Flashbacks can devolve into increasingly painful levels of the abandonment depression. One attack can repetitively bleed into another and tumble us further down a spiral of hopelessness. It is awful enough to take a single punch in a fight, but when the punches keep coming, the victim is severely thrashed.

You named a condition that seemed to explain more to me than any other word or phrase. Most of the other terms I was searching just seemed to describe symptoms. Other books just wanted me to be more mindful, feel gratitude, or learn to think differently. None of them were wrong per se (and you make those suggestions too); however, the positive effects of doing those things didn’t seem to last and I couldn’t seem to get to the source of the nonstop triggering from so many potential situations, many of which seemed benign on the face of them. Why was I always so tense and ready to fight? Why did I always want to run away? Why do people scare me, especially if they pooh pooh me or, even worse, if they LIKE me and want to be my friend?

The person who never wrote in her textbooks could not stop writing notes in your book. The person who thought she could never sit through an entire book ever again read your book from cover to cover. The person who never reads the appendices in books pored over the toolboxes.

In summary, your book was exactly what I needed when I needed it and helped me heal and turn my life around. Thank you for what you do.

Sincerely,

Sherry

BOOK REVIEW, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Untigering by Iris Chen

Motherhood was ruining my straight-A reputation.

When I ‘met’ Iris Chen for my podcast earlier this year, I half-jokingly sang to her that she was “strumming my pain with her fingers, singing my pain with her words…” I knew of her from her website and her Facebook Community. I then joined the private Untigering Parenting Group. As I got to know her work better, I realized I had to interview her and hear her talk about her journey,  so I did. Imagine my delight when she told me that she had a book, Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent, coming out January 5, 2021.

You’ll notice that she calls it UntigerING, as in: it is a continuous effort. Chen encourages everyone to remember that we aren’t aiming for perfection. She reminds us that we are human. But she points out that how we choose to parent does have a huge impact on the health and happiness of our children, especially when we give them unconditional love regardless of their achievements. We can unlearn and unprogram our belief that to be a parent means we are the controlling authority on everything relating to our children. Ironically, if we don’t try to coerce them using fear and control tactics, they can more easily attain the agency to make great decisions that are suitable for them, which leads to more success as defined by them.

There’s no need to feel shame or frustration at an impossible ideal. We will fail. We won’t always live up to our principles. But we can continue to grow and move in the direction of our vision. There is no other choice for those of us to seek to parent without oppression. We must do the work.

Most parenting books are written by white men and women. Mommy bloggers are primarily American stay-at-home moms or momtrepreneurs. In all my years of studying at the University of Google Parenting, until I read Chen’s book, I never came across someone who had had a similar experience to mine. This vacuum of Asian parenting support means that most of us get our parenting advice from white experts. Some of their advice and research is invaluable, but a lot of it doesn’t work in the context of our having Confucian/Asian backgrounds. Iris Chen’s Untigering voice is a beautiful and thoughtful response to the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Tiger parenting was idealized in that book, where the stereotypical Chinese parenting approach was shown to produce top notch academic and career results. But, at what cost? Untigering highlights a different journey that many of us have been on, with varying levels of success, prioritizing the respect our children deserve and would not normally have received based on the way we were raised.

What is particularly powerful is the balance she takes between being a strong advocate for this approach and being non-judgmental about it. Frankly, that’s not easy to achieve. You know how woke scolds can be particularly harsh critics. But Iris writes as though she’s a big sister who happens to have gone through adolescence earlier than me, and she’s giving some heartfelt advice that I can tell will help make my trip through that stage much easier.

She helps me understand that we don’t have to be a product of our environment. There is not some perfect score to strive for so much as a set of values to lean into, like connection over achievements and honouring the uniqueness of our children and family situations. She provides practical suggestions with lots of room to tailor them to our own needs. Her stories are relatable and eye opening.

Chen helps us see the impact of our trauma on our parenting. She reminds us that we do not live in a vacuum and that our society is the ecosystem we exist in and there are threats to our safety. Her brilliant analysis of the myth and paradox of meritocracy (which has the opposite of its intended effect) concludes that it’s never fair, but we keep pretending it is. She asks us to really understand the systems that are set up for us to ‘fight for the crumbs’. We are playing in a rigged system that favours those at the top and she wants us to fight it. Not just for our children, but for the children of others who have systemic barriers in their way, often for generations.

It’s a call to decolonize education and question the stories of white supremacy.

Many Chinese immigrants accept racism and condescension as part and parcel of the immigrant experience. There’s no use complaining about it. Instead, beat them at their own game. Outperform. Outshine. Outlast. But in doing so, we often end up tolerating injustice and becoming complicit in perpetuating oppression. We’re not interested in dismantling these systems; only in gaming them.

I got so caught up with the initial Untigering concept that I almost missed the second half of the real message: Untigering isn’t just about a parent changing the way they treat their child, but rather how they look at society as a whole, and the injustices and systemic issues that cause trauma for specific populations. It is deconstructing a white supremacist structure and the competitions we sign up for as human beings. Do we compete and win at the expense of others who are less privileged, hiding behind the myth of meritocracy? Or do we collaborate and work together as a community to support those who need it so that we can thrive as a whole?

[Untigering] is the process of unlearning and dismantling tiger parenting so that we can practice peaceful parenting. It requires us to look back and address our childhood wounds, consider the present and what cycles need to be broken, and look ahead for how we hope to change the narrative for our children. It calls for us to question societal and cultural norms that are rooted in trauma and oppression so that generations after us can walk in greater freedom.

Iris Chen asks a lot of us. But during and after reading her book, I am left with a burning desire to look at both how I can best parent my children and how we all can lift up the less privileged children in our society.  She wants us to think about the rules we are playing, the stories we tell ourselves, and the actions we can be taking to make the world a better place.

You can find links to buy her book on her website and listen to my interview with her on my podcast.

BOOK REVIEW, DEVELOPING ROUTINES

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous book.

James Clear’s book is all about how to build productive habits (make them easy, attractive, and enjoyable) and how to stop destructive habits (make them difficult and uncomfortable). He presents his case and breaks it down. I have actually already started developing better habit management due to reading his book!

Most people think that building better habits or changing your actions is all about willpower or motivation. But the more I learn, the more I believe that the number one driver of better habits and behavior change is the choice architecture of your environment.

–Excerpt from Atomic Habits by James

His book helps you understand WHY we end up with counterproductive habits that are difficult to change.  Through his research, he has developed simple structured ways for us to work with ourselves.  I like that it removes some of the self-bashing and turns it into better planning.

But wait… there’s more!

One of my all time favourite business models lately is the “freemium” model from writers and experts. They create content, but they give a lot of it away for free, whether on their website, via videos/webinars or by regular email messages. It’s like the great bands who would play in local pubs and bars. You feel like you get to know them well and you start to like them personally because you can feel them authentically sharing themselves. The author of this book engages with his readers in many ways and you get so much value that you feel GREAT about buying his book.

Valuable and Short Emails

I’m a sucker for subscribing to emails.  The website looks interesting and I hit ‘subscribe’ – and then after a month or so of ignoring and deleting the emails, I unsubscribe. I used to think, Maybe I’m just a loser, I pick bad emails. Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t read emails I should read. No, no, I’ve got it, I can’t commit to anything I should do. 

Then I decided to be kind to myself: I have a lot of curiosity and I like to give everyone a chance. So I subscribe and check them out, then I delete when they don’t delight me. And given that I’m still subscribed to his list 2 months later, you can guess what I think of James Clear’s emails–they are the BEST! My favourite is his weekly 3-2-1 newsletter: 3 ideas from him, 2 quotes from others and 1 question for you to ponder.  Easy read, but definitely a positive pick-me-upper.

Informative and Easy to Read Website

His website is also a great resource for information about better habits, better performance, better thinking, and optimal health. It’s simply organized and chock full of science-backed studies written in simple language. It gives you a taste of how his book is written and organized. I love how this is not one of those self-help sites that almost make you feel worse for not being able to do it. He actually explains WHY it’s hard to do the right thing.

Free Bonus Materials!

He even makes you feel really good for buying his book by immediately giving you bonus materials, like a chapter on how to apply it to parenting. It takes the structure that you learn from his book and gives you real life examples of how you can help your kids develop better habits. I’m excitedly starting to use this and fingers crossed the kids will not catch on too quickly. Shhh! Don’t tell them I’m testing his suggestions out on them! 

Summary

I don’t have to feel shame and guilt for having limited willpower and motivation. I can spend the time and headspace to design the architecture of my environment and make little adjustments.

In conclusion, one of the most impactful self-help books I’ve ever read.

BOOK REVIEW, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

How Children Learn by John Holt

This is a book that I wish all parents could read before they start getting stressed about their children’s education. The premise is that if you let kids be curious, they will be motivated to learn and they will know what they need and want to learn. What a novel concept for me, but wow, it really makes sense now. I want to share a few paragraphs from the book that left such a deep imprint in my mind:

For it seems to me a fact that, in our struggle to make sense out of life, the things we most need to learn are the things we most want to learn. To put this another way, curiosity is hardly ever idle. What we want to know, we want to know for a reason. The reason is that there is a hole, a gap, an empty space in our understanding of things, our mental model of the world. We feel that gap like a hole in a tooth and want to fill it up. It makes us ask How? When? Why? While the gap is there, we are in tension, in suspense. Listen to the anxiety in a person’s voice when he says, “This doesn’t make sense!” When the gap in our understanding is filled, we feel pleasure, satisfaction, relief. Things make sense again — or at any rate, they make more sense than they did.

When we learn this way, for these reasons, we learn both rapidly and permanently. The person who really needs to know something does not need to be told many times, drilled, tested. Once is enough. The new piece of knowledge fits into the gap ready for it, like a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle. Once in place, it is held in, it can’t fall out. We don’t forget the things that make the world a more reasonable or interesting place for us, that make our mental model more complete and accurate.

Therefore, we do not need to “motivate” children into learning, by wheedling, bribing, or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. What we need to do, and all we need to do, is bring as much of the world as we can into the school and the classroom; give children as much help and guidance as they need and ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest.

Really, this book should be called: How PEOPLE learn.

I always had problems with school; I got decent grades but never truly interacted with the content. Enough stayed in the brain to do okay on tests, but content disappeared pretty much immediately afterwards.

As an adult, it’s been difficult to finish a book from cover to cover. But this one got read in a few days, with the above paragraphs POPPING OUT. Now that I think about it, the voice in the head would often mumble, “Say, I really SHOULD read this. It’s on the best seller’s list and it is supposed to help me be more successful.” But maybe I don’t care much about being “successful” or good at [blah blah blah], so I often ended up reading the first chapter and then leaving the book lying around to gather dust. But this book was different. A “thirsty for water” kind interest in the topic developed.

Is this what it feels like to LOVE WHAT YOU DO? Is this what it feels like to learn what you are curious about?

Hm. Food for thought. Water to drink.

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.