PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

Power Couple Coaches: Jen and Eli

Jen and Eli are a Canadian professional coaching team specializing in working with clients who come from toxic / dysfunctional / abusive families. They work with parents to heal childhood trauma so they don’t continue the cycle of abuse with their own children. Such important work. Join me as I chat with them today.

Parents to two teens, this husband and wife team decided shortly after their first child was born that they were going to raise their children differently than their parents did. With years of training, they are certified by the World Coaching Institute as Child, Youth, Parent and Family Coaches. They are dedicated to teaching “Respectful Parenting for Generational Transformation,” and specialize in providing a flexible, fully customized family coaching experience.

Power Couple Coaches: Jen and Eli

We talked about how:

  • Growing up in an authoritarian household (“Do as I say, or else!”), both knew that they wanted to parent differently.
  • Jen has had a lot of experience working with children with behavioural challenges. She learned early on how to build a connective relationship through sitting with them and listening deeply. She started by sharing these approaches with Eli.
  • They felt it important not only to heal their family intergenerational trauma, but what they learned can work was something they wanted to share with the world.
  • A lot of their clients like that there is both a mom and a dad to talk to.
  • Many clients have difficult emotional triggers to work through. A lot of time they don’t even know why. Children are so good at accidentally setting off these triggers.
  • Our job is to guide, teach, or mentor. But children can’t learn if they are in flight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode.
  • We always want to start with, “How do we control our kids?” but the real question is “How do we control ourselves?” It’s more about you and how you will manage things when someone steps on your landmine.
  • A lot of clients are afraid that their children will want to be estranged from them just as they are estranged from their own parents.
  • Having inappropriate expectations of children based on where they are developmentally will always lead to disappointment and frustrations.
  • Childhood traumas lead to addictions.
  • They have a Facebook community for people who grew up in toxic family environments and don’t want to set up similar dynamics in their own families. They even have people join BEFORE they have kids, they are so petrified of messing up!
  • Jen shared a very personal moment that forced her to confront the question of whether or not to go ‘no contact’ with her parents.
  • We have to decide the message we are sending to our children. Are we providing proper safety for our children? We have to teach our children to be strong in their convictions and that they will still be loved by us even if those contradict ours.
  • Remember that we are human. It’s so important to have rupture and repair moments. To model apologizing and having two-way conversations.
  • Jen and Eli will be launching an online step-by-step program to teach people how to bring about behavioural changes in their daily family lives.

Eli’s final message: Don’t ever give up on your journey. It’s not about the mistakes but how you deal with them that counts.

Jen’s final message: This is a transformational journey and it takes time. it’s not about being a perfect parent, but being human. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Connect with Jen & Eli via their website Respect Coaching & Consulting – Parent Coaching, on Facebook Respect Coaching & Consulting, and Instagram: @respect_cc.

BOOK REVIEW, LOVE FIRST, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

There is a Better Way

The subtitle explains the book quite clearly: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason.

So many of us have grown up with the stick and the carrot as deterrents against and incentives for behaviour, so this can seem like a rational way to treat our children. Kohn argues that there is a better way.

When my kids were very little, I parented them that way: withholding approval until my kids behaved the way I wanted them to. 90% of my communications with them was to criticize them so that they could improve. However, something about it seemed off, even as I justified my punitive approach to correcting their behaviours. I became more aware that I was raging rather than disciplining.

Choosing to Parent Differently

When I finally realized that my children deeply feared me, I knew I had to change the way I parented. I started by verbally telling my kids all the time that I loved them no matter what. 

When we disagreed, we would often toss out to each other a reminder “I love you [Mommy/Kiddo]” as if the unspoken part was, “despite our disagreement or your poophead move just now”. 

Then I started shifting a higher percentage of our communication into conversations that built our relationship and trust, rather than me just doing parental “duties,” like nagging, reminding, cajoling and ordering, I watched the kiddie shows they liked to watch, we talked about their video games, etc. And slowly they stopped tensing up when I would come into the room, knowing that I wasn’t going to yell at them to do something they SHOULD be doing.

Now they say things like, “Mommy, you’re not going to like this, but…” and proceed to talk to me honestly. This change is a huge win for us because it means they aren’t trying to hide things from me but rather feel safe enough to share something that might have in the past made me very angry.

Why Unconditional Parenting is Important

The most striking long-term effect of love withdrawal is fear. Even as young adults, people who were treated that way by their parents are still likely to be unusually anxious. They may be afraid to show anger. Then tend to display a significant fear of failure. And their adult relationships may be warped by a need to avoid attachment—perhaps because they live in dread of being abandoned all over again.

Fundamentally Alfie Kohn’s argument is that behavioural scientists developed positive reinforcement as a way to control animal behaviour. Using this technique to influence children without taking the time to understand their thoughts, feelings, or intentions ends up being counterproductive for the longer-term goals we have for their success as self-sufficient and confident, resilient adults.

Parenting through fear may seem like it works in the short run, but a child experiences that as love that is conditional upon their behaviour. Because children fear the withdrawal of that love, they will often do whatever they can to stay in the good graces of their parents. They will be obedient regardless of their own feelings, perspectives, and ultimately what is actually right or wrong.

Creating obedient kids controlled by their fear of parents means that they may be easily controlled by others as well, like peers or authority figures and less able to fight for their needs or protect their boundaries.

Do we want to raise our kids to make decisions based on fear? Do we want them to have challenges with their relationships!? Do we want them to be easily manipulated by others? Or do we want them to know how they feel? To trust their own judgment about what is the morally right thing to do?

If I always tell my children that “they are wrong and I am right,” how are they to develop their judgment? If I dictate how they SHOULD feel, how can they learn how they DO feel, and to trust that? 

It’s about the Why

Shouldn’t our goal be for the children to refrain from doing certain things not because we’ve forbidden them, but just because they’re wrong? We want them to ask “How will doing x make that other kid feel?”not “Am I allowed to do x?” or “Will I get in trouble for doing x?” We want our children to understand the impact of their actions and intrinsically make good decisions.

In other words, we want to raise moral human beings, people who make decisions based on logical reasoning and empathy for those around them, not because they were told that something is right or wrong. 

The world is a complex place with many moving parts. The more we help them find their own way to interpret the multiple pieces of information, the more they will be able to live their lives the way they want to—with integrity and confidence.

We cannot just raise our kids based on how we see the world, but how they will need to see the world when they become adults.

Our Own Childhood

By the way, Kohn points out: “It’s pointless to talk about what holds you back from being a better parent without reflecting on how the way you were raised shapes your internal architecture. It affects not only what you do with your kids, but what you don’t do.” 

We must do the work to figure out where our parental playbook came from, how that impacted us, and which parts we want to change as we parent the next generation.

Just a gentle warning: For many of us, doing this work can be triggering. Understanding the past can help us connect the dots to why we behave in ways we don’t want to behave now as parents and lead to positive change. At the same time, it can be incredibly difficult to live through the fears from our childhood.

But we are all doing the best we can and change takes time, not measured in days or months, but years. We start where we start. 

LOVE FIRST, PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS

Future-Proofing Our Children

Wealth is an Advantage

The rich invest in their legacy for beyond their own death. They believe in it so much, they often sacrifice precious present time with their loved ones to create financial advantage for their descendants because they know that in any competition, an advantage better positions them to succeed.

Wealth is about creating a safety net for the future of our children. It increases opportunities and reduces hardships. Wealth gives a person more choices, allows them to make riskier decisions, and gives them a cushion to land on in times of failure or hard times. In other words, wealth is an advantage, it is future-proofing our children!

What Does That Have To Do with Parenting?

As parents, we want to give our children stability, safety, freedom from suffering, advantage, and wealth. We want to give them tools to control more of their lives so that they can be strategic and intentional, rather than reactive or defensive. However, what if the very act to provide them the best ends up impacting them negatively as well?

Unintended Consequences

Focusing only on financial advantages (money, education, houses, and cars) may backfire. Why? Because too much emphasis on achievement over connection may result in high pressure, relational conflict, self-esteem issues, etc. We want to give our children advantages, but if the way we do that creates intense and ongoing conflict with our children, we may be harming our connection with them instead and negatively impacting their emotional health.

When conflicts with our children put a dent in their confidence about what they like, what they are good at, what they would like to experiment with, what they think they can build, how they see themselves, etc., etc., they stop thinking about how to enjoy themselves, they are no longer curious to learn, and they focus on how to either please or escape us. 

Another Way

Success in life is not just measured by financial wealth. Success is when a person is resilient enough to overcome challenges. A person can only be resilient if they have had the chance to try and fail, learn and practice, and then do and improve. They need the opportunity to develop their own judgment and test their own theories. They need to be okay with not being perfect — they need to know that mistakes are part of the learning process. 

They need to know that they are accepted by their parents no matter what, win or lose, so that they learn to accept themselves regardless of what they achieve. The voices of their parents become the internal voices they hear as adults. So the voices need to help them get through challenges rather than berate them for not being good enough.

Future-proofing our children also includes what voices we leave in their heads — not just the house or money in their bank accounts!

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.

PARENTAL ASPIRATIONS, PODCAST INTERVIEW

A Chin-dian Parent in Singapore

Visit the Learning Parent SG Facebook page, check out Chapter Zero, and listen to our interview below.

Joline Lim comes from both a Chinese and Indian background (Chin-dian!). Living in Singapore, which is a very competitive environment with a huge focus on academic achievement, Joline has embraced Gentle Parenting, but felt that there is much to learn from a variety of experts and approaches. As she embarked on her learning journey to be the kind of parent she wants to be for her kids, she launched The Learning Parent SG to advocate for respectful parenting with a Singaporean representation! She is also an active volunteer for Chapter Zero in Singapore, a social enterprise promoting mindful parenting in Singapore.

The Learning Parent SG with Joline Lim

I had the joy of chatting with Joline and learning more about her very cool background and what brought her to setting up The Learning Parent SG (Facebook Community Page and Instagram). She was a delight to converse with and I know I’m going to have more conversations with her as I continue to learn more about how I can be better parent, more in tune with what my kids need to grow up with resilience and patience. Her intention to share resources, inspiration, comfort and encouragement is a beautiful light, especially during difficult times in the world nowadays.

She recently joined social enterprise Chapter Zero, running their social media, because she benefited from their workshops and now wants to help the outreach to help other Singaporean parents. This is an exciting organization doing important work in Singapore. The future of our children depend on this kind of support for parents.

In our podcast, Jolene touches on numerous topics:

  • Growing up with intense pressure to conform to social expectations, like each generation improving achieving more success over previous generations, can create a lot of anger, shame, guilt, and fear in our lives.
  • Expectations vs Reality! Parenting is like a test, but we really have no idea what it is and what we are doing! Prior to doing it, we may have preconceived notions that get tossed out as we deal with challenges we never knew we would have to deal with!
  • That ‘ah ha’ moment when we know that what we are doing just isn’t working. And it’s not about ‘controlling behaviour’ anymore but meeting the emotional needs of children.
  • A gradual implementation of respectful parenting changed everything. The more she connected with her child through understanding underlying reasons for his behaviours, the more he was willing to cooperate.
  • Parenting, and respectful parenting in particular, is playing the long game. It’s like running a marathon – it can be overwhelming so we need to be kind to ourselves and take care of ourselves so we can do the important work. They then can see what it looks like to value ourselves, so that it becomes the norm that they should value themselves.

Her Key Message: Parenting is hard. Respectful parenting is especially hard because of the all the unlearning we have to do. It is both a privilege and a huge responsibility to break the cycle of behaviour.