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.

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

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.

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS

The Perfection of Mediocracy

“Mommy,” my 11-year old gravely starts off, “Mommy, I know that you probably won’t be too happy about this, but I think I have to tell you anyway.”

As a parent, you are always worried about your children, their safety, their happiness, their future… As I braced myself for his confession, I tried to guess what this was about, predict how I might react, manage how I should not over-react, and keep my mind from getting carried away with what he could possibly tell me that I might not be “too happy about”…

“Mommy, I know you want me to be a straight A student, but I think I’m going to be a B+ student. I might be able to get some As, but I’ll probably get mostly Bs… maybe even a C or two…”

The Tiger Mom in me just wanted to roar at him and indignantly state why he should strive for better and how important grades are, but the calm mom in me marvelled at his self awareness as we proceeded to have a conversation about why he felt this way.

I quickly admitted to him that I had mixed feelings, that I admired him for knowing himself but that I hoped he had confidence in himself to achieve anything he set his mind to. We discovered that he wasn’t sure the additional effort to get the As were worth it to him. It sounded like he was practicing self care and managing his resources based on his goals of learning and getting enough sleep to be healthy.

It got me thinking about how much we celebrate success, strive for perfection, and encourage achievement. For some, this is absolutely appropriate and they go on to do great things. But how many people are struggling every day, feeling like failures because they did not live up to some lofty goals they set and constantly compare themselves to? For some, overcoming obstacles and barriers to reach their goals makes them happy. But is that true for everyone? Are others comfortable achieving what they think is good enough so they can focus on aspects of life that make truly them happy? Maybe they are content being content.

My son got me thinking about happiness. You don’t have to be successful to be happy. You don’t have to be perfect to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy. You have to want what you have to be happy. You have to appreciate what you have to be happy. You have to enjoy what you have to be happy.

So he wants to get good enough grades that accurately reflect his ability and still have enough time and energy to enjoy his life. He knows what makes him happy. I’m good with that.