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.

STORYTELLING

Finding My Political Voice

Parenting is political.

Iris Chen

Noooooooooooooooo! Say it isn’t so, Iris! Please don’t tell me that I have to pick a side, have a voice, and be political!

One of my favourite voices is Iris Chen, founder of Untigering. I refer to her a lot and will continue to do so. She manages to write about topics that scare me. Topics where I haven’t quite formed my own opinion yet.

Well, no, let me hold myself accountable. I do have strong thoughts. I don’t know that I can back them up all the way, because I have worked so hard to ‘see things from another perspective’ and I often can ‘get it’ from the other side.

Again, let me stop myself. I do have thoughts, but the people-pleasing side of me doesn’t really want to get into arguments with people where one or both us will start thinking things like “Really?! You’ve got to be joking.” or “I thought you were educated; how could you POSSIBLY think this way?!” or “I think that is totally illogical and stupid.” I don’t want to say the other person is dumb and I’m not too keen to have someone think that way of me.

Politics, like religion, is super tricky. It’s about beliefs, values, and loyalty. Us vs Them. People are “brainwashed” by powers using the subtle but strong messages.

In any case, as I’ve seen more and more parenting sites get political or maybe just more vocal about their beliefs, I’m tentatively trying out my own political voice. It’s difficult, because so many topics are really complicated and very, very emotional. Vaccines. Masks. Trump. Black Lives Matter. Hong Kong Protests. Amazon. Terrorism. (I could go on.)

Is there really a right way to think?

Is progressive better than traditional or conservative?

Why do so many people support someone who only cares about his own vanity and wealth?

Why do people believe that poor people deserve their lot?

Why are there people who think that LGBTQ is a lifestyle?

Why do people think that scientists are always wrong?

How do I help my kids be critical thinkers and be the change they want to see? Ah ha. Parenting IS political!

Parenting is Political post on Untigering: “Election Day in the U.S. is almost here. “If you haven’t already, get out there and VOTE! This is my first time voting for a presidential election in decades.” [Keep Reading…]

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.