Is There A Free Choice To Raising Children? (Part 2)

With two gifted daughters, Chua is determined to reverse one of her fears: “A remarkably common pattern among Chinese immigrants fortunate enough to come to the United States as graduate students or skilled workers over the last fifty years” (p. 25). A perfect example of a parent doing what she is supposed to do: “Saving your children from your fears and to get them to turn out the way you want them to turn out.” Chua went on to say that the first immigrant generation (like her parents) sacrifices all for children’s education, and extremely strict and rabidly thrifty; the second generation (like herself) will “typically high-achieving” but less strict; the third generation (like her two daughters) is “the one I spend nights lying awake worrying about”, Chua says, “they will feel that they have individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and therefore be much more likely to disobey their parents”–leading to disrespect and generational decline. “Well, not on my watch”, she claims. “From the moment Sophia was born and I looked into her cute and knowing face I was determined not to let it happen to her, not to raise a soft, entitled child–not to let my family fall”; “The Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” (p. 26). So, off she goes… “Working hard [exerting effort (intense force)] to avoid what you are afraid of, to instill and perpetuate your personal beliefs, opinions and points of view in your offspring, including the need to be well thought of”.

Such default condition doesn’t just impact immigrant families. All the rules and the punishments they had in place were simply a demonstration of what every parent would do: arming me with disciplines, skills and work ethics, so their first-born-daughter would turn out.

We can judge and assess what Chua or my parents should do, or shouldn’t do all we want. It would’t change that very default condition of parenting or make it go away. Tiger Mothers or love-unconditionally-with-logic-mothers, rich or poor, Chinese, or Caucasian, as long as you are a parent, you are going to be affected by it. No parent is immune from it.

Does that mean being a parent is a bad deal? Doomed? A green light for anyone hitting a child, or calling a child “garbage” (Although, I found it strange and disrespectful at first to call a child “little monkey”, “weed”, “stinker”, or “pumpkin”–but we do it, even myself after 14 years of cultural assimilation, in American-kind-of-everyday-conversation)?

It is rather to uncover the prevailing notion that shapes our thoughts, actions, and experiences of being a parent. I have since developed a sense of compassion for all parents–yes, even for those behave abusively that I used to point finger at. It allows me to appreciate how any culture (or anyone) sees the world, and not quick to judge. Please don’t mistaken this as a permission or an endorsement for any parenting strategy. What parents do to their children, for them, the bitter sweet, the good-bad-and the-ugly are not personal phenomenon at all. Maybe they are a function of the default ordinary way that we have been related to parenting for thousand years. Maybe it is an unexamined everyday of thinking about parenting we have been unwittingly entrapped.

How about that question of is there the right way to parenting?

I don’t know if there is THE right way. Parenting is not a subject of Math. It is BEING in a relationship with another person. And relationship is not a cookie-cutter, cause-effect, linear-matter. I invite you instead of looking for an answer, creating opportunities for you to explore your relationship to parenting:

ex.plore (ik splor”) vt. [L. explore, to search out : ex-, out + plore, to cry out, wail] 1. to look into closely 2. to travel in (a region previously unknown or little known) in order to learn about its natural features, inhabitants, etc.

I like the number two definition!!  You?

Something to consider:

In our “I-based world”, we often forget that every matter consists of at least two points of view, and that they cannot be exactly the same. We see/hear things differently from each other. To simply listen to the other’s point of view, and even to ask them to share more of it, without trying to get them to have your point of view, takes you beyond the ordinary and into extraordinary relationships (Taken from CONNECTED! January, 2011, e-newsletter).

Is There A Free Choice To Raising Children? (Part 1)

It has been three weeks since an excerpt article  from the the book by Amy Chua titled, “Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother” published.

At first, I felt “obligated” to weigh in on the matter. After all, I am Taiwanese (No, it doesn’t mean I am a Chinese if that’s what you are wondering. Most Asian countries are culturally-Chinese-influenced). Many commenters (well over 7542 comments through WSJ at the writing of this) and bloggers—in fact, the vast majority of the ones I have read—are aghast. Some are appalled at Chua’s parenting techniques. Others are angry because they have no desire to be lumped into Chua’s “Chinese mothers” categorization, and feel that the Wall Street Journal is simply perpetuating harmful stereotypes. A lot of hateful language directed at Chua. Just to share a few:  “This was appalling and reprehensible. Anyone viewed treating a child as she describes should be prosecuted for child abuse. Anyone who could construe that this type of behavior might be “motivation” need psychiatric evaluation. This is not a cultural issue. I am so sorry for her daughters. The woman clearly hates herself”; “I grew up in America, in a white family, with a psycho mom much like Amy, and boy do I feel bad for her kids! If I were her husband I’d divorce her”; “Chinese Mothers Are Nothing”.

Frankly, I am more curious about the blistering reactions than Chua’s methods. Why are people enraged about how one woman chooses to raise her children as if there is “the right” way to parenting.

Well, is there?!

I decided to read the book to get the whole story before judging by its cover. Reading Chua’s book was like reading documentation of my own father’s child rearing techniques. It hits home: Growing up, we were never allowed to have a playdate, nor sleepover, or video games. There were no snacks between meals–“Three meals a day is plenty”–my father would say, and he decided what two TV programs to watch per week. We were required to speak Taiwanese when we were at home, or my parents would not speak to us. The scene about fighting over practicing the piano with Chua’s daughter is also all too familiar; though, I didn’t have the gall to rip up music sheets, but at one point in protest, I played piano with my feet, and paid for it later with a fierce spanking, plus an hour of grueling squat. Comic books were prohibited. I was once caught reading them when I was in 9th grade. Six hours of kneeling on an abacus with a Bible in hand to read out loud was the punishment. My father sat across from me throughout the night till dawn. I went to school with both bruised bleeding knees.

Some would say without a doubt my parents are strict, and even abusive. During teenage years, I wrote in my journal about escaping my parents “mad house”, so they could no longer damage my spirit. I vowed I would never spank my children when I become a parent. I would reason and give choices to my children. I would praise, encourage them and never yell or punish them physically. I questioned their parenting skills, and blamed them for my failures. I fact, I know I will be an American-family-TV-shows-type-of-parent (you know a few of them, don’t you), a better kind than my parents.

What I didn’t know then was this very thing about parenting I discovered several years ago. I will call it, “default condition.” It’s like once you take on the role, “Parent”, you are immediately inherited certain thinkings, ideas, behaviors, beliefs about what being a parent is, and is not. You play the role accordingly without knowing. It acts as gatekeeper for what you can think, and do as a parent. You thought YOU can do better than, or do the opposite (as like I used to think), but the challenge is that you don’t know that you don’t know (yes, it’s mouthful) the kind of parent you become is not given by your aspiration, but the default condition, which is: “Children are property, and they belong to you. To save your children from your fears and to get them to turn out the way you want them to turn out by working hard [exerting effort (intense force)] to avoid what you are afraid of, to instill and perpetuate your personal beliefs, opinions and points of view in your offspring, including the need to be well thought of” (Taken from the workshop: Parents: Outside the Trap).

Do I have any evidence for that? Sure, I do. It is well illustrated in Chua’s story……

(To be continued…)

A Nanny Who Doesn’t Believe in Santa Claus

Yes, I am that Nanny who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.

I assure you, I am not anti-Santa.

I just don’t believe in a Santa Claus whose only concern is to find out if you are naughty or nice. I don’t believe in a Santa Claus that sees you and knows you whenever, wherever you are.

Yes, we want children to be good, and well-behaved. It is not wrong having such an expectation of them. But, have we ever thought about the message we are portraying?

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas. … Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes.” (From Wikipedia)

The original story of Saint Nicholas, A.K.A. “Santa Claus”, was one of loving, selfless giving, mercy, compassionate, and accepting. However, we, culturally as a whole, have given Santa a bad name. He has become a judgmental, conditional, and manipulative jolly old man, burdened with materialism, and domination by the media. Here, Santa carries more in his baggage than toys alone!

I am not anti-miracle either.

I just don’t believe in fairy tales, or say, fantasies. Fairy tales and fantasies are made-up stories to illuminate moral values, and sometimes, to manipulate certain points of view.

Telling children there IS a Santa Claus like a “truth” discourages healthy skepticism in children. This is how my father delivered who Santa Claus is:

“Santa Claus, and everything you heard about him are fairy tales people made up. Though, there WAS once a person named Saint Nicolas, who was generous and loving. He gave his fortune to those in need. After he died, people continue to do what he did–an active love and generosity.”

Did my father’s straight-fact-Santa-Claus make me less of a believer in miracles and magic? No. I hear magic in children’s giggles. I am present to magic every time when a plane is in the sky. I experience miracles in relationship with others. I encounter miracles when I am moved to tears by community goodness. Magic and miracles exist in real life, not in fairy tales.

As you go on with preparing the holidays, I invite you to explore and ponder:

Who is Santa for you?

Who are you for Santa?

What is Santa for?

What single (new) practice could you take on for the holidays that would transform them for you and those around you?

Have a magically vibrant holiday season!!

Family Holiday Traditions

(Taken from “Connected e-newsletter, By FamilyBy Design)

We have noticed that when we think of the holiday season we think of traditions and traditional activities. And it is not because we have holiday traditions. It is because holidays are traditions. No tradition, no holiday. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, et al, are traditions, as are all the activities associated with them.

During this time of year, we celebrate Christmas. And we cannot think of Christmas without thinking of traditions, mostly family traditions. Even if we tried, we cannot help but think of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, Christmas Eve church service, carols and other Christmas music, decorating our home with a lighted fir tree and garlands, dolls and other keepsakes, and having our family, neighbors and friends to our home for holiday food and drink. As Ray Charland said during one of our Families and the Holidays teleconversations, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without those things.”

Family holiday traditions seem to be a source of warmth and joy and also stress and upset, both of which seem to increase during the holidays. How can that be?

Well, the family part of family holiday traditions is relationship … warm and joyful.

The holi part calls for the day(s) to be sacred, pure and perfect – uh oh!

The traditions part is “long-established customs and practices that have the effect of unwritten law” (dictionary definition). And law is agreements/promises transmuted into expectations. And since our expectations are rooted in fantasies (i.e. purity and perfection), stress, upset and disappointment are unavoidable – built into the notion of The Holiday Season.

You may ask, ‘how did this tradition get started?’ I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof

While traditions may tell us who we are and what is expected of us, they cannot be counted on to deliver happiness and joy.

So when you and/or members of your family find yourselves upset during the holidays, there’s nothing wrong with you. It comes with the package. It’s normal and ordinary.

What may be extraordinary is being aware that traditions and traditional activities do not guarantee joy and fulfillment in your holidays. However, you can use traditions as a reminder that you can bring warmth and joy to life in your relationships and families. You can bring your unabashed expression of love and appreciation to the people you hold so dear.

We wish you a wonderful Holiday Season and a happy entry into 2011.

Parenthood In The Middle

When asked how the workshop went last weekend, “It was amazing,” I said.

It was amazing not because parents now would have angelic little children await when they get home.

It was amazing not because parents now have the instructions to fix and change their children or their parenting styles–the workshop did not, and will never intend to fix or change people, or families.

It was amazing to see people in the workshop experience being free, peaceful, and at ease about being parents.

It was amazing because I did not have to have the answers to what parents are dealing with. Through generous and authentic sharing, they saw answers for themselves, and realized the upset, frustration, worries, and overwhelmed they have been experiencing from time to time as parents is nothing more than the desire of wanting their children to turn out. Somehow that desire turned into unfulfilled expectation. Love and joy of parenting had gone out of the window.

A friend of ours, Leah Siegel, mother of three young children, passed away last Monday due to breast cancer. The journey of fighting the illness was “haunted by the idea that her children would grow up without any memory of her.As I read the tribute Sunday morning, tears streamed down on my face. Leah said, It breaks my heart that they may not get to know me… That’s half the reason I keep fighting, damn it. I’m going to stay alive long enough for them to have some kind of memory of me. My heart ached for what Leah had to go through–the physical pain and emotional turmoil–all of it for loving her children. I wondered…

Where did the burden and fear of not having to do an impeccable job in protecting and raising our children come from? We expect we SHOULD provide our children a perfect life, a life without set backs and tragedies, because one mistake may ruin them.

Maybe we have assumed too much as parents–too much responsibility, too much seriousness, too much burden. Maybe we have assumed too much about ourselves and our children. Maybe as a society, we don’t even know what a parent is, not to mention what a parent’s job is.

Perhaps it’s time to unburden yourself. Allow yourself to put those nagging questions “Have I done my job?” “Would my children be OK/turn out without me?” to rest, and never have to rustle with them any more. Peace and freedom is just a conversation away. Join us in the next Familying Workshop in which you regain the experience of joy and wonder of being parents.

Familying Workshop Is Coming To Texas!!

It is with joy and excitement to announce that I will be leading the very first Familying Workshop in July!!

The journey of creating “Familying” started in 2009. Through your generous contribution and support, I was able to use the structure and the distinctions of Power and Contribution Course to discover many hidden discourses of being a parent, and how they unknowingly impact the dynamic between parents children. Another thing I realized (which is nothing new to most of us) was that how we are in relationship with others can traced back to our own relationship with our parents. Simply say, family experience is life-defining: it shapes who you are, what is possible and not possible in every relationship and every aspect of your life.

In sharing with others about Familying Initiative, I was referred to Sandy and Lon Golnick, the owner of “Relationship and FamiliesBy Design.”  The work they have started six years ago paved the path for a new paradigm, called “Familying”. I am honored to be in partnership with them, create, produce, and conduct workshops and coaching for parents who have a commitment to experience a new peace, freedom, and ease in their roles as parents.

So, stay tune!!  More details to come!!!

Everybody Loves Babies

My Husband and I saw the movie, Babies, a documentary film came out on Mother’s Day weekend that follows the first year in the life of four babies born in Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco.

I highly recommend putting aside any judgement and assessment you might have about what “good”/“right” parenting is and is not as you watch the movie.  As someone who was born and grew up in another country/culture, I can deeply relate to the life style of Mongolian and Namibian families. Not because I grew up in the village, or a yurt, but it reminded me my own childhood. For example, when I saw the Mongolian baby and his family all squeezed onto one motorcycle with no one wearing helmets, I remembered our family-of-five crowded on my father’s Vespa with no one wearing protective gear. Did my parents not care about safety? I wouldn’t think so, but a scene like this could get reported as a possible child abuse/neglect, or a crime of some sort in the U.S. if anything had happened to a child.

Another childhood wonderment was seeing the Mongolian and Namibian babies playing with rocks, sand, sticks, and pure imagination. My parents were not big on store bought toys, or children’s books. My mother would use a thread and tie around our wrists to a mobile she made–a wooden stick sewed with a few fabrics she got from the clothing factory she worked for. Kitchen utensils, cardboard  boxes, and that forever-fun toilet paper were my favorite toys. Green grass and tree leaves, red flower petals and black sticky mud were what’s-for-dinner-tonight at my tea party. And, yes, my mother would also tie us to the leg of a chair, and she would sing, or tell us a story as she working away at her sewing machine.

The movie also makes me look at how urban/suburban life style impacts the interaction and relationship between parents and children. It seems that in the Western world, parenting has gotten harder even though things have gotten a lot easier. I sometimes wonder does the technology itself makes our daily life safer, or more dangerous and toxic?  “Child-safe” environment is not a concern in the hills of Mongolia and mud-hut village of Namibia. I heard the sound of gasps from the audiences as the movie shown buzzing flies, cracked stones, dried up animal bones, live-stocks strolling next to the crawling babies. Though, they were never harmed physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. It’s almost like they are in harmony with nature. The babies in Japan and San Francisco, living in touchy-feely, hyperactive coddling, tightly high-tech-organized-and-crowed environment, child-proofed environment seems to be a must.

A Dad (Rufus Griscom, “Babies Movie Review from a Dad”) wrote in his review,

“… that we in the Western world are parenting against the grain. It’s harder than it should be. Most things have gotten a whole lot easier in the last 10,000 years, but I think it’s possible that parenting has gotten harder.

To put a finer point on it, I don’t think it’s natural for a grown up to be isolated in a white box with one or more small children. … In the traditional village environment… infants and toddlers receive constant stimulation from siblings, peers, animals, and the various nuances of the great outdoors; in the modern, urban/ suburban environment, in contrast, parents provide that stimulation — we get on our hands and knees with educational toys and pretend that we too are just discovering the mysteries of gravity, percussive acoustics, and the tensile strength of styrofoam. This, of course, can be a magical and lovely experience — I love nothing more than time in our white box with my kids, rolling around on the floor — but the reality is that my interest in kid stuff is exhausted before my kids’ interest in kids stuff is exhausted, and then I tend to feel guilty and frustrated.

Because of this tension, and the intensity of work and other interests, I all too frequently try to multi-task, sneaking in emails while lying inside the fort constructed out of coffee tables and armchairs, reading the newspaper in the tub while the kids splash about. … I have a general sense that I am doing too much and not enough at the same time.”

Of course, parents will and always want the best for their children. It is possible the commitment that our children turn out is reduced to expectation, one that seems to be a genuine hope, but is often based on grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side. Such unconscious comparison builds up frustration, pressure, stress, and guilt–looking for the best toys, schools, camps, extra-stimulation-curriculum-activities. Looking for something better, or best as if what we have, or what we do is not good enough. I don’t mean to invalidate all the opportunities and technologies we have. Yes, we are blessed with modern tools, but they are not what nurture our children. Tools can never replace the presence of and the interaction with another living-being (i.e., siblings, peers, animals), like those moments  portrayed within the scenes of the Namibian and Mongolian babies.

The movie powerfully echos a view that considering how varied our cultures and environments are, the human behaviors, i.e., how babies grow and develop, are surprisingly similar. It might look as if child rearing practices are very different around the world; though, as I looked beyond the obvious-dos during the 80-minutes-no-voice-over-and-no-narration-but-babbles-and-giggles, the universal truth about those four families is, as the director said himself: “These babies were all loved by their families, loved in different ways. A loved baby has all the advantages, no matter where [he/she] grows up.”

Check out more Babies movie reviews here:

Babies Movie Review from a Dad

Moments in Succession

Interview with Director