Ignore that “Tiger Mom” – She’d Eat Your Kids

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/12/elephant-mom-timeof-tigermother/383378/?single_page=true

– And here’s the text:

Being an ‘Elephant Mom’ in the Time of the Tiger Mother

It’s okay for parents to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re very young.

I still remember the first time someone spoke to me about grit. It wasn’t when I lost my dad and saw my mother fall apart.

It wasn’t when my mother died, and I felt like I was falling apart.

It wasn’t when people who I believed would invest in my business didn’t. It wasn’t when the great recession hit our advertisers and my business had to stop publishing a magazine.

It was when I was thinking of pulling my 3-year-old out of a preschool in which she clearly wasn’t thriving. She was anxious, frozen, a shadow of the child she used to be before she started there.

But it was a co-op preschool, meaning I couldn’t just turn around and leave. When you sign up to join a co-op, you also sign up to work various jobs around the school and to commit to being an active part of a larger community. In other words, I had to talk to the other parents at the co-op about my decision. One of them cautioned me: “What about grit?” she said. For a minute, I was taken aback. Was she talking about me or my 3-year-old?

She wasn’t talking about me.

It shouldn’t have shocked my system. I’ve often felt like a misfit around parents when they talk about how kids have it too easy these days or how important it is to inculcate a sense of independence in them as early as possible.

This is the story of my struggle to allow myself to be the kind of parent I want to be. I grew up in India, but moved to the U.S. in my 20s and became a mother here in my 30s. I had never felt like an outsider, ever—until I had a child.

I read a lot of books so that I would be the best mom I could be. And I suddenly found myself wondering, did the Indian parents I saw in my parents’ generation—and many in mine—get it wrong? My father was a big believer in the importance of a child’s first five years. I often heard him tell people how he couldn’t scold me until I was five. He reprimanded his younger brother for raising his voice at his kids before they turned five. Raised voices or not, we didn’t have any concept of time-outs anywhere around us. I can’t recall a time when I cried and a grown up didn’t come to console or hold me. They always did. I slept with my mother until I was five. My father would tease me and say I was my mother’s tail, but neither of them did anything to get me to sleep alone or in a different room with my siblings.

My parents weren’t the only ones with this kind of approach. The phrase I would hear in almost every home we visited during my childhood was some version of’Let the kids enjoy themselves.’ They have the rest of their lives to be grown up.And the social fabric of our world supported them. We would go to the fanciest of restaurants with our parents and run around and play tag. No one would stop us—not the managers, not the other diners. It was normal. Soon enough, the servers would join in. It was lovely.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that my parents and their friends necessarily had it right. Some of them produced kids who were happy, some of them didn’t; some of them raised CEOs, some of them raised stay-at-home moms. I’m justsaying that it’s okay to be an elephant mom, an elephant dad—an elephant parent.

If you’re wondering what ‘elephant parent’ means, it’s the kind of parent who does the exact opposite of what the tiger mom, the ultra-strict disciplinarian, does. Here’s a short video clip that shows how real elephants parent. And that’s what I’m writing about here—parents who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.

My elephant mom was a doctor with infinite patience. I failed a Hindi test when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and I remember going to her, teary-eyed, with my results—and hearing her tell me that it didn’t matter. There were many more tests ahead. As I sobbed in her lap, she stroked my hair, hugged me, and told me there would be another test, and I could pass that one. (I did get the annual proficiency prize for Hindi a year later at the same school.)

My grandparents were doting parents, too. On both sides, the families lost everything in the partition of India. They had to flee to India from what is now Pakistan. My naana (mother’s father), originally a doctor from a wealthy family, began saving every rupee to educate his girls. He stopped going to the movies, his favorite past time. Both he and his wife stopped buying new clothes and began stitching them at home instead.

My father knew grit. He came to Punjab in India on a train with bullets flying around him—and people dying in front of his eyes. (Riots accompanied the 1947 partition that divided India and Pakistan.)

After his father died suddenly, he looked after his mother and brought up his four siblings in India. He and my mother paid for them to study in school and college and funded their weddings. Yet, my father never talked to me about grit. If anything, my parents protected me from pain; perhaps they knew that life would eventually have some pain in store for me, sooner or later. They learned how to raise their kids from their parents. And I learned how to raise my kid from them.

But my husband, who is also Indian, and I are raising our daughter thousands of miles away from where we were grew up. There aren’t any families of Indian origin at my daughter’s preschool or even in our immediate neighborhood. “Our way” isn’t a way that everyone around us understands. When she was a baby, we wouldn’t let her cry herself to sleep. It wasn’t a judgment on those who followed the sleep expert Marc Weissbluth’s advice. It was and is a cultural belief. Even now, our four-year-old will often ask us to put her shoes on, and feed her, much to the consternation of many fellow parents. But we do it because it connects us to our uncles and aunts who would have said she has the rest of her life to do it herself.

To make sense of the world where I was raising my child, I went to meet Angela Jernigan, who runs Parent Connect East Bay in Berkeley. She helps people find and build a support structure in their parenting journey. “We don’t have the village anymore,” she said. “It’s very hard for parents to be connected (to their kids), to give their kids the experience of being felt and heard.” For that to happen, parents need to feel connected and supported themselves, which in our fragmented world can be hard to do, she explained.

Jernigan has heard words like grit and resilience thrown around in her own child’s elementary school. “I explain that us having adult-like standards for children is the wrong way to build resilience. Parents have to be nurturing to build a core of strength with children,” she said.

Nurturing. Vulnerable. Empathetic. That’s how parents need to be, she suggests, when kids are having a “big feeling” (in other words, a meltdown).

I heard something similar in a TED talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, who studies the human connection. “You can’t selectively numb those hard feelings,” Brown said. She was referring to emotions like guilt, vulnerability, and shame—emotions kids and adults feel. In an uncertain world, Brown said, we like to make things certain. “We perfect, most dangerously, our children.”

And why we do that probably warrants an entirely different discussion about our cultural fears and insecurities. Have we failed as parents if our kids aren’t the most well-behaved, toughest, and smartest kids in the neighborhood? Jernigan’s clients are more often than not people who are trying to be the perfect parents, raising perfect kids.

Literature, discussions and forums about parenting abound. As we look for the best ways to raise our kids, we gravitate toward what makes sense to us. After meeting Jernigan, I couldn’t help but think that if there were so many parents flocking to her group to learn how to better connect with their kids, maybe many of the differences I’d noticed weren’t as fundamental and deep-rooted as I’d believed. Perhaps parents, regardless of where they’re from, have more in common than not. The mom who spoke to me about grit also, on a separate occasion, spoke to me about wanting a slow separation from her child.

Studies and facts indicate that, regardless of what parents might say about being tough with their kids, they are spending more time and money on them than previous generations have done. A 2012 study by sociologists Sabino Kornrich and Frank Furstenberg that was published in Demography found that parentsspent more on their children’s education and care than on consumer goods from 1972 to 2007. Studies out of the University of California at San Diego show that college-educated parents in the U.S. have dramatically increased the time they spend with their kids over the past twenty years.

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A Conflicted Society – the Dreamer, Part #2

My family was always involved peripherally or otherwise, in psychology. My mother was a great reader, we always had copies of “Psycho-cybernetics,” “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and such around the house, “I’m OK, You’re OK” – self-help classics. In my late teens and when I returned home in my early twenties, it had gone to Alice Miller, Jon Bradshaw, ACOA. This was the early 1980s. My brother was working in an emergency shelter for teens and getting his degrees, and one sister did that sort of work as well. Both of my sisters were big readers and were on voracious journeys of psychological self-discovery. I’d say the elder was more based in the classics, Freud, Jung and R.D. Laing, and the younger loved Alice Miller during that period – I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know who she’s been reading since. So this is what all the conversation was about in that time, around Mom’s house. Suffice to say, I came by this obsession honestly.

Mom had been taking in foster kids, teens. Screwed up kids were our world, either we worked with them, or we were still busy being one, like me. Or both, I guess. We’d also had some sexual abuse in the family.

During this period, talking Bradshaw, ACOA (would invoking Suzanne Summers’ name help or hurt here? She was the voice for Adult Children of Alcoholics, wasn’t she?), and Miller, it seemed that there were many sorts of abuse, and that almost no-one escaped them all. After all, we all have problems, and this whole survivor movement was based in the idea that it was childhood trauma that caused our disorders. Physical, sexual, verbal, emotional abuse, abandonment, alcohol and substance abuse, divorce, there were books, support groups and movements for all of these traumas . . .

. . . and it was starting to look to me that lines were being drawn between them all, I had a creeping feeling that everybody, despite the support, was somehow on their own, fighting their parents’ particular brand of abuse. It began to look to me like all parents were abusing their kids, and yet no-one was saying that, no-one would say all parents were abusive. It was starting to feel apologist in that way. Most parents are good, they all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are violent. They all mean well, but a certain percentage of them are drunks. They’re mostly OK, but some are child rapists. Mostly, they’re good folks, they’re doing the best they can, but some abandon their kids, and some are emotional blackmailers. Parents are good and selfless, but many are verbally abusive. Now, I know this is to some degree the ranting of a developmentally arrested person, but it’s all adding up, isn’t it? I was starting to sense the presence of a common denominator.

I wish I could say when the exact moment was, when the crux of the matter occurred to me, that punishment was abuse, that punishment, despite its legitimate status was, uh . . . scientifically, functionally . . . made of the same stuff as abuse. I can’t, though. This wasn’t the moment, but maybe it was the catalyst: when I moved from my rooming house in the town where I took my trade school and home to Mom’s house, I was twenty-three, and I ran into a girl I’d known before, during my lost years. It was love at first sight, well, first sight after several years.

She was twenty or twenty-one, she was just separated from someone, and she had a little boy. He was around one year old. It wasn’t long before we had bought her parents’ condo and we lived together for three years, and I brashly, foolishly took the role of the boy’s father, as if he didn’t already have one. These are regrets, I look back on that time and I’m embarrassed and horrified, the whole period seems like a bad dream. Taking on the role of husband and father with that prefabricated family was like putting on a suit of clothes or something. It seemed to me that I knew everything about it, automatically; it felt like a programmed thing, like I was living on autopilot, and I barely remember it now. I don’t think I was actually conscious. But one episode I do remember.

She was emotional and kind of volatile, and I had come home from work one day and found her at critical mass, waiting for me at the front door. The toddler was driving her nuts, and it going to be my turn.

“He’s not doing” something, or “He won’t do” something else, she said. I don’t remember much, I’ll warn you. I wasn’t high or anything, I wasn’t smoking during my time with them, but drinking weekends. I was just unconscious. I wasn’t angry before, I don’t think it had been a bad day or anything, but as soon as she complained about her son, as soon as she gave me a target, it triggered me. I was instantly pissed off too, and I marched into the house, yanked that two or three year-old’s pants down and smacked him several times, hard. That is the end of that fragment of memory, I’m afraid, I can’t say how we got through that, what the rest of that evening was like, but I think the spell was broken. I think after that I realized that I was living someone else’s pre-programmed life. That was nearly thirty years ago, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never hit another kid.

His mother and I went our separate ways, and a few years later I met my present and only wife, the mother of my kids and by the time our girls were born in the mid-nineties, the thought had come. There would be no punishment, at all.

The lesson of my poor little rent-a-kid, the guilt of that beating, and the unconsciousness, the feeling of having been . . . used, there is no other way to say it, used by some generational repetitive process with a life of its own, that lesson stuck with me. I hated that feeling. It cropped up on other occasions while my girls were young, while my wife and I were fighting over our child-rearing (I mean, what were the odds my wife would come to all the same conclusions as me, and on the same schedule?), that feeling of repetition, that feeling of doing just what my parents had done. It was like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, or some evil Deja Vu experience. I hope it’s not necessarily true, but I worry that the feeling meant I was doing something terribly wrong. Of course I did. I was a full-time pothead through those years, always out in space, emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable for half an hour or more at a time, every three to four hours, for a smoke. The smoke was there to make that feeling go away, but of course it only operates on the feeling and doesn’t change anything concrete.

Still, though. Those are problems, things that will have their impacts on the kids, bad things that will leave some scars, but even so – most kids get stuff like that, and punishments and all that they mean as well.

You know, maybe addiction is a fractal sort of thing, a theme that runs all through the lives of folks like me and the people around us. I think maybe that feeling of unconscious repetition was the same one that made it so easy, and made it seem so natural to slide into that first family situation, with my live-in lady and her little boy. Feeling automatic, feeling that I could know how to do it, having never studied it, having never put conscious thought to it for a minute, it was like my first high, the free one, the best one, the one you end up losing the farm trying to recapture. Did I learn to associate that sense of comfort with a trauma, like a kid who gets wasted and crashes the car, killing a loved one? Was whooping that kid’s ass my car crash, and now the feeling of repetition and familiarity, that sense of life as it has always been fills me with terror and guilt?

Whatever it is, I have tried very hard to be a father and a husband consciously this time out, and that has had my wife and I swimming against the current since the kids were born, fighting the grandparents, at odds with our friends, the parents around us, and fighting our own urges for control, because we feel control requires force. If it weren’t for each other, meaning all four of us, which it always has been, it would have been a lonely journey.

It hasn’t been though.

My first experience as a father was a trauma, a horror. This time around has been the exact opposite.

There should be no punishment of children at all, period. Any questions?

I see a few folks are liking my posts here enough to want ot follow me, and that is terrific, but I must warn you – I’m running out of things to say already!

The title here states my position, and there is some elaboration in the posts, but I don’t see any comments, no questions or arguments. That surprises me a little . . . OK, a lot. On other sites, I get a lot of outraged comments and arguments.

I would like to maybe hear from anyone who thinks my idea here needs some more explanation, perhaps there are aspects of child-rearing that need some clarification in terms of punishing or not. I’d love questions, objections, a chance to talk about my favourite topic, so feel free, please. Have at me.

The Hand that Rocks the Cradle Rules the World.

The ‘legitimate’ abuse that has a thousand names, punishment, correction, discipline, consequences, training, spanking, timeouts, quiet time, penance, detention, etc., this practice is done by nearly everyone. People of many races, religions, nationalities, creeds, sexualities, income levels, education levels, and both genders, most people hold with punishment’s basic, unquestioned, unacknowledged premise, that you can improve people, their behaviour, their development, their character – by hurting them. By somehow making life less pleasant for them when they stray from the caregivers’ idea of what is done and what is not.
Now, for me, this seems to contradict a great deal of psychological thinking, which developed, to some degree, by tracing suffering people’s lives to the unpleasantness that damaged them to the point of seeking a doctor’s help, in the early days, damaged them to the point of being committed to a sanatorium. For a dysfunctional patient, often after other causes had been explored, physical ailments, etc., often the next, or maybe last logical step might be the psychoanalyst, and psychoanalysis has had some success, making connections between mental trauma and social dysfunction.
Of these two apparently opposing ideas – punishment and psychology – the latter seems the more logical, dare I say, scientific. So with this argument, and the ones in the preceding chapters, I’m going to push on, taking as a given at least as my premise, that unpleasantness, only different from trauma by a matter of degree, damages people rather than improving them.
OK, the use of punishment has looked like it works, you punish someone and the unwanted behaviour appears to stop – but does it? Do we think a punished child becomes a model citizen forever afterwards? Do we think a punished adult ceases his criminal behaviour and goes on as a saint? I don’t think even the most energetic of my unconvinced audience thinks that, do they? So again, unpleasantness makes people worse, less functional, rather than improving them. Having said that, I want to extrapolate that whomsoever punishes a person the most, does the most damage.
If one’s parents are active participants in the practice, the culture of punishment, then I feel I must say, that the parent who does the more parenting, very often the most punishing, must be the parent causing the most unpleasantness, the most trauma, the most damage. And, sorry to say, in my world, probably in most of the world, it’s Mom doing most of the parenting. Certainly many fathers are responsible for horrible trauma, perhaps the more serious punishments are administered by the father in some families, but basically, day-to-day parenting and punishing, falls to mothers. This is especially true during the earliest years of the child’s life. Uninvolved fathers are bad in many ways, of course. Neglect is a form of abuse, there is the lack of male modelling, but there is the other side too: if parenting means punishing to the mother, and if she overdoes it, then Dad’s neglect is downright dangerous, he can be rightly accused of not protecting his kids from some hands-on abuse. Also, if he’s not helping, then the mother can become stressed out, also not a good thing for a parent who already thinks punishing kids, that is, hurting kids, is good for them. So yes, that is what I’m saying: in the culture of punishment, your mother is probably doing you more harm than your father. Dad’s no saint, don’t get me wrong, he’s letting her do it, often participating . . . but the myth that needs busting here, is Mom’s sainthood. Having said THAT, the other ramifications of this are the more important thing. Blame is even, one does it, one allows it, and sometimes they trade off. I don’t make this point to place blame; this isn’t about the trauma of children.
This principle, that mothers raise the children, that mothers punish the children, this is the root of misogyny, the root of violence against women. We love our mothers, we love our system of punishment, we all hold the family unit as a sacred, ancient tradition, but that is the surface of it all. That is only what we say, what we think we feel, but the dark side is this:
We all know who punished us, we know who damaged us. Violence against women is a trend, a tendency, it is far more prevalent than the incidence of extreme abuse would indicate, the expression of infantile rage against the one who hurt us, that is the great secret. This is another piece of the great puzzle of life that falls into place when you work from the premise that punishment is violence.
The culture of punishment in which we live has turned the most natural, organic beautiful thing in the world, mother love, into a violent act, and one which brings a terrible vengeance to the half of humanity we should all hold sacred, our mothers. Now to blame. Women, putting the blame for misogynist violence on men isn’t working; stop spanking your sons. Men, you’re not fixing it either. Stop making your women “correct” your sons. This is the issue. Violence breeds violence.
The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Women, your safety, the safety of your daughters and grand-daughters is in your hands. Hurting kids, dishing out unpleasantnesses, damages them, it doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help women. Help your kids, help yourselves, give up your punishing ways. Love looks like love, and it doesn’t invite revenge.