Category Archives: Family

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…)

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.

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

Out of The Trap

A mother I worked with once shared with me how guilty she felt about not been able to spend enough time with her new born and with her oldest child. She was also afraid she was beginning to resent her children. “I want to hold him, but I cannot… I don’t want him to start a bad habit of wanting to be held every time he cries… I need a break… I am a terrible mother. How could I say I need a break… how could I resent my children?… I shouldn’t even think that…”  Through her teary eyes, I saw a mother who loves her children deeply, and at the same time overwhelmed in her attempt to get her parenting job done.

Is it any easier for me who cares for other people’s children?  No, actually, it is not any easier.

“J.J. is crying. Hsiao-Ling fix it”. J.J’s two-year-old sister said to me with a frown. J.J. has been crying for ten minutes since I put him down for a nap. God knows, I really wanted to “fix” it. Hold him, rock him, give him a pacifier. Just do whatever I can to “fix” his cry so my heart could stop flinching. “It’s OK (who am I kidding, right?). J.J. is having a hard time going nite-nite. Let’s wait for another 5 minutes.”  Five minutes has gone by, and J.J. was still crying. “Fix it, Hsiao-Ling, fix it!!” Now the sister is starting to cry.  As I tip-toed to J.J.’s bedroom, he “magically” stopped crying. Whew!!

You would not believe the thoughts that went through my head during that didn’t-seem-to-end-5-minutes: I should go in there… no, I can’t… he just want some attention… if I go in there, I might spoil the baby… but just this one time… it’s ridiculous that I will spoil babies if I pick them up every time they cry… what if he doesn’t stop crying… I am going to ruin his life… is it time yet… I should know what to do…

Yes, I “should” have known, as a Professional Nanny, as someone who is trained in child development, and work with children most of my life, I should know better, right?

I am trapped in the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”, can you tell? I am “shoulding” myself all over…

What I should know is what the experts say about caring for babies, and raising children: do this, don’t do that; follow these tips, but not those. Of course, some instructions work, and some don’t. Regardless how effective they are, as a parent (or a caregiver), this is probably always in the back of your mind, “Is this the right thing to do?/Am I doing the RIGHT thing?/Am I doing enough?” (Though, I am not a parent, but I experience this with my father every time when I speak with him on the phone).

What if, the overwhelming, the frustration, and the upset of being parents is caused by traditional notions of what it is to be a parent (Ah, the trap of shoulds, and shouldn’t)? And what if, it is those notions, beliefs, ideas and points of view, not children’s behaviors, shape – often negatively – our experience of being parents?

My friend’s daughter, S, just turned seventeen. When she was four, she wondered off while her mother, M, was in the Best Buy store. M was panic at first, then became frustrated. “How could she do this TO me? I just told her to stay next to me… why can’t she just listen?”  By this time, M was upset, and mad. She thought, “I am going to teach her a lesson.” M slowly walked towards to the exit door as if she was going to leave. Just as M walked by a cashier counter, she saw S!!  S thought her mother was walking out, she cried, “Mommy! Mommy!”  As they both settled back in the car, M found herself telling S how scared and worried she was, and S should never do that again. M even drove to Walmart, and pointed out the “Missing Children” poster–doing all of it, to teach a four-year-old, and hoping she would understand what she had done. S did not say a word, just sobbing. Suddenly, M realized a distance was created between them. She stopped talking, looked into Sarah’s eyes, immediately, she knew S did not mean to misbehave. M asked S, “I really don’t know what to do right now. How could I be with you now that would make a difference?” (Mind you S was only four years old at the time) S looked at her Mommy, quietly said, “Unconditional love would make a difference now.”

The nature of the default roles and responsibilities of parents is often the driving force in relating to children, which is so automatic that we don’t know that we don’t know it limits us in relating to children as human beings. Trap, isn’t it?

The possible way (I say) out of the trap is to realize you are trapped, and that you are trapped in the trap that you are in. This realization could be the key to experience peace, freedom, and ease in the roles of being parents.

Do You Have Any Children, Ma’am?

This question used to annoy me because what’s not being said is “If you don’t have one, you will not understand”, or “You will know when you have one, so wait till you have one, then you can say whatever you want.”  Basically, shut your mouth, and keep all the advice to yourself unless you are a parent yourself. 

I thought I was no longer hooked by that question till last week when two police officers came to my door because I reported our upstairs neighbor. The toddler had been crying for thirteen hours straight (Yes, you read it right, 13 hours) with thumping and yells. I finally called 911 and Child Protective Services.  Is it because I could not tolerate children’s crying, or tantrums? No, not at all. I have been in situations that tantrums lasted for more than an hour (or days—yup, the adult-style usually lasts longer, don’t you think?).  It was the strident noises with the child’s howling that had me concerned. I was concerned for the child’s and the parent’s safety and well-being. 

“Do you have any children Ma’am?” That was the question the police officers asked me after I told them what happened. Apparently, the police officers thought I was not being understandable—I would have IF I had any children. Explain to me, though, how could anyone being understandable, and not alarmed when heard a human crying for 13 hours straight (unless you are in a traditional Chinese funereal that hires people to cry for 24 hours)? “That is what toddlers do. They throw tantrums, you know, and the parent had to yell to stop the child”, the police officers stated.  

Really? Does that make it reasonable for anyone to yell because they are children?  

I started to think about the stuff that we, as adults, would say or do to children just because “they are children” (or “they are my children”). Don’t jump into the conclusion that I would not understand because I don’t have any children. What if, what’s driving the parent-child relationship is not the biological factor, but the ROLE?  As my friend, Robert Gold, a father of two, responded to an interview, How to teach your child respect,

“In the roles we take, what is being created isn’t respect, it is the roles …the “I” as a parent have something to teach “you” the child … “I know what is best!”  If you can hear yourself in this, then you are being the role, “parent”, and not being in relationship with your child, being an equal, not as a friend, rather someone who is deeply committed to the interests of another human being who happens to be young”. 

Regardless of the biological element, it is the roles that enforce us to say or do to a child, and we don’t even realize it.  What I love about Robert’s statement is that I don’t have to be a parent (to be in a role) to relate to a child, and I am moved by the possibility of relating to a human being free from the constraint of roles. 

Robert continued in his reply,

“My oldest son was probably around 8 or 9 years old.  We were over at a friend’s house and a sports event was on the TV. I was offered a beer.  I opened it, took a sip and Barrett (my eldest son) said, “Dad, you are driving!  You can’t drink and drive!” I looked at my son and started to have a conversation that we weren’t leaving for several hours. He shook his head, “Dad, you are not supposed to drink and drive!”  At which point, I took my beer, with only one sip taken, emptied it in the sink and threw it in the trash. 

Could I have had a conversation that the effects of alcohol wear off in one hour?  Sure I could.  Could I have said, oh don’t worry about it, you don’t understand what alcohol is? I could have had many conversations, all of which would have been in the role of “I am the parent and you are the child”, etc.  Instead, the beer wasn’t important.  My son telling me what I should or shouldn’t do was respected, regardless of the accuracy of his concern.  What happened was I respected his point of view.  I am not sure if I looked ahead in the future [that moment] to see how my actions would influence him in the future, maybe … [just because] as creating the opportunity of being related to my son, I often looked at how every conversation shapes his reality.  Did I have that foresight, maybe, but even if I didn’t, I respected his concerns. 

Move ahead ten years … Neither of my sons drive if they have been drinking.  In fact, the whole community of parents wanted/want my sons to be friends with their sons and daughters so that they can rely on them to be designated drivers.  How do they know?  They just do!  My youngest refrains from drinking, just so he can take care of his friends.  I didn’t have a conversation with him about drinking and driving, and yet, he, just like his brother, is sought after as a great influence by other parents. 

Did I plan on my sons becoming role models?  Of course not.  There is just something available when they have been dealt with in a primary relationship as a human being, equal in what is important to them.  Free from the constraint of being treated as a second class citizen, with nothing to rebel against”. 

Next time, when someone asks me, “Do you have any children, Ma’am?” I would be gleefully answer, “No”.  

What would your life be like when you honor and respect another human being from being IN relationship, rather than from the roles that you are?