Monday, July 11, 2011

why that tiger mom hoo ha is a bunch of bee poop.

This weekend I read a most wonderfully fabulous book called Parenting with Love and Logic, by Foster Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay. Several teachers at work are using these authors' teaching edition (Teaching with Love and Logic) and have said it's decreased their stress/behavior management load by only about 10,000%. So I picked up the parenting version and immediately deployed strategy #1: Let the kid make choices (based on the adult's preferences). It works like a beautiful, beautiful charm with a stubborn and opinionated 2 year old. An example from yesterday:

ME: Do you want me to put your shoes on or do you want to do it?
MELISSA: I do it. minute goes by and no shoes have been put on feet....
ME: Okay. It's been 1 minute and you haven't put your shoes on. You just chose for me to do it.

There was much screaming and angry toddler flailing about and the phrase "No I do it! No I do it!" being thrown at me. But I just wrestled her into a submissive floor lock and did it for her. Much crying and pouting and Woe is me! ensued. And trying to take off shoes.

ME: You can leave your shoes on so we can go to the water fountains or you can take them off and we'll stay home. What do you want to do?
MELISSA (pathetic, drama queen voice): Go to the fountains.
ME: Then leave your shoes on so we can go.

And she did.

Here's the beauty part: the next time I needed her to get her shoes on and she chose, as toddlers all invariably do, to do it herself? No dawdling. No arguing. Did it in record time, shoes stayed on.

High five, Foster Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay. High stinkin' five.

Next Strategy that works with Toddlers #2: The Uh-Oh song. (Which is not really a song as much as it's turning yourself into a sing-songy broken record.)

ME: You can't have a popsicle right now. We're eating dinner in 30 minutes.
MELISSA: No! I don't WANT to eat dinner. I want a popsicle. NOW!
ME: I said no.
ME: No m'am. Go watch your show. Dinner will be ready soon.
(2 1/2 year old tantrum begins here. This is where The Uh-Oh song comes in.)
ME: Uh oh! Looks like someone needs some time to calm down. Do you want to sit on the stairs by yourself or do you want me to take you there?
MELISSA: You take me.
We proceed to stairs.
ME: Okay, you sit here and calm down. Come back whenever you're ready to use a nice voice again.
Five seconds later: Melissa appears in kitchen.
ME: Hi, sweet girl! Are you ready to be nice again?
MELISSA shakes head.
ME: Uh oh. Guess it's time to go up to your bedroom and calm down.

This continued for several minutes and ended with me letting her have a tantrum in her bedroom while I stood outside holding the door shut. After that, she was okay. Now all I have to do when tantrums loom on the horizon is say: "Uh oh! Looks like you might need to calm down. Do you want to do that on the stairs or in your bedroom?" So far, she's been choosing stairs and calms down.

This is frickin' magic, people. Magic!

Although, not to brag or anything, but I did get a kid with a genius I.Q. Obviously, she recognizes the correct and wiser choices to make when confronted with daunting Life disasters. (Start 'em young, I say.)

This book (and its magic) plus one trip to McDonald's Playland over the weekend got me to thinking about the Tiger Mom drama. Have you heard about this? "Tiger Mom" is actually a lady named Amy Chua, who is all kinds of professorial smart and degreed. She's raised two very lovely and accomplished daughters, and she says she did it the old-fashioned, Asian (specifically: Chinese)-style way.

If you don't read the whole story or really do some investigating, on the surface the Asian style of child rearing appears to be: drive your children like work horses, beat them if they disobey, yell at them, cuss them out, and tell them they're garbage until they cry "Uncle! Uncle!"or, "JiuJiu! JiuJiu!" {if you'd prefer to get really exact and old-fashioned}).

Did Amy Chua do this to her daughters? Did she drive them like work horses, scream and cuss at them, call them garbage? Yes. Yes, she did drive them like work horses, scream at them, and she called one of her daughters a piece of garbage. And she threw away a hand made card from another daughter because it just wasn't up to what she felt that girl's standards could have been (her daughter was in 1st grade at the time, by the way).

Amy says this type of parenting is way better than the American type, which involves coddling and way too many trips to Chuck E. Cheese. (And I really agree on that Chuck E. Cheese part--one trip there is one too many.) But I would like to note to Ms. Chua and those who think this is it, THIS is the way all parents need to be with kids: you can see this type of parenting in action on any Jerry Springer episode, and we're all painfully aware of what kind of adults appear on Jerry Springer.

I'm also not sure why we need to go and make this a cultural and parenting war between China and the U.S. as it appears we're doing just fine on the outsourcing of jobs vs. world financial domination power struggles. In fact, if I were in charge of US foreign policy (something I highly doubt anyone wants, because I'd be in Tahiti 90% of the time), my state department's motto would be: When throwing ego-ic a-hole boasts around that could start international conflicts, pick one theme only.

Do I agree with any of this Tiger Mom type of parenting? Abso-frickin'-lutely not. Would Foster Cline, M.D. or Jim Fay agree with it? Heck to the NO. In fact, I'm sure those two guys would looooove to have about 8 hours alone in a room with Amy and any other parent who thinks child raising with the running theme of "You're still not good enough" is a good idea. All this will do is produce adults who look and act fine with successful careers and a family, but are actually melting, quivering masses of pain caused by constant parental rejection and resentment on the inside. And/or they may appear on Jerry Springer. More than once. Naked.

However. When you listen to Chua actually go into more detail about her book and parenting experiences, she recognizes that calling her daughter a piece of garbage was probably one of her Bad Parenting Decisions. Ditto the hand made card stuff. In addition, when her young kittens got big enough and grew their full-sized claws, they began using them against her and she openly admits this and understands why. Good for them. And her.

So what she says she's really trying to communicate (in a highly controversial, book-selling, bad-publicity-is-good-publicity-too kind of way) is that American (and our world counterparts outside of the Asian continent, I've noticed--I know the world likes to pick on Americans because we make it so easy, but you houses are pretty breakable) 21st century parents have become way too soft on their children. She thinks there's way too much helicoptering going on in America.

Because I teach, I do see this, she's right. And because I'm now a parent, I do feel the need to do this at some times. (Okay fine, 98% of the time I really have to consciously stop myself from rescuing my child from the world at large.) This is where I agree with her: in the 21st century, it's obnoxiously easy to consistently rescue our children from themselves, from others, from necessary Life Experience in general, 100% of the time.

The authors of the new book I'm in love with say this bad. This is very, very bad. By helicopter-rescuing kids, we're teaching them (a) they're not smart enough to figure it out for themselves, (b) because WE think they're not smart enough, and (c) we don't trust them and they shouldn't trust themselves either. This sets them up for all kinds of disasters as adults. And self-centered entitlement attitudes and such. And not knowing how to cook an egg. Sometimes they also might almost burn down their house by sticking a big cardboard pizza box in their ovens which have been turned up to 300 degrees which is hot enough to cause a cardboard fire.

But drill sargeanting (see Tiger Mom Style, above) them is no better. This teaches kids (a) they're not smart enough to figure it out for themselves, (b) we don't trust them to do much of anything, and (c) be afraid, be very afraid (of all authority figures, even the grocery store clerk who's incredibly condescending for no good reason whatsoever.{ cough.}).

I was the product of a combination of helicoptering and drill sargeanting, with a dash of what Cline and Fay encourage...and that dash was only because it was the 80's and 90's, and the Internet Grim Reaper had yet to appear (I believe).

I'm okay with how I was raised. My parents did the best they knew how to do with the skill sets they were given, and I was raised knowing that--no matter how much my dad yelled at us or whatever--we were loved deeply and unconditionally. That alone created a very large well of trust within me for both my parents. I also know for a fact they made conscious choices to do certain things very differently from what their parents had done to them (no name-calling, as one example, not even in teasing jest).

Which is why I'm looking for "how to raise a confident, independent child" kind of parenting tips/guides/books/gurus/etc. I was a late bloomer to the Self-Confidence Circus, and I still struggle with it under certain circumstances. I can be wishy washy with decision-making. I worry way too much about what others' think or may think or are thinking. I don't always trust my gut instincts (which are only wrong 0.2% on average). When not struggling with weak boundaries, I'm erecting Fort Knox-like walls at inappropriate times. These are things I'm self-aware of now at the ripe old age of 39, but it's taken me a long (looooong) time and many side-splitting prat falls to get to where I am today.

I expect it to be much of the same for Melissa, but I want to make the pavement less bumpy for her. I guess?

Anyway, here's where I finally get to the reason behind this blog's title:

Yesterday, I took Melissa to a local park that has water fountains kids can splash around in. It was a humid, 98 degrees, so we stopped that after about 40 minutes and went to a McDonald's for ice cream and their indoor playground. There was a large group of Korean families in the playland area having fun. This was good, because I like the opportunities for Melissa to interact with other kids outside of school, and to interact with other kids of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In fact, I get quite nervous when I'm in a place that's too much of one culture/ethnicity; I think it's an unnatural state for humans to exist in.

So we sit down and one very cute, way-too-old-to-be-acting-this-way little boy comes right up to our table.

"Hi!" I said to him. "Watcha doing?"

And he proceeds to stick his fingers into Melissa's hot fudge sundae.

I had no idea what to do. The teacher in me is screaming to get out and write his name on the board (with a check beside it, just so his inappropriateness is driven home good and hard). But I'm not there to teacher, or to parent someone else's kid. I look around and say, "Honey, where are your mommy and daddy?" (Here, I'm hoping at this point it's a case of ESOL...he doesn't speak English...he's newly arrived to America and doesn't know that, in America, we don't stick our fingers into strangers' food.)

He points to a large group of adults in a corner laughing away, totally ignoring all of their children (who are now running around like uncaged tigers at a farm). Great, nice. Stay classy other parents not watching their kids at all.

So I gently removed Melissa's sundae from his reach and waited for him to wander off, which he did when he realized his need for other people's ice cream would not be serviced.

Later, when Melissa went to play, I watched another little boy: block her from going up the inside of the climbing tree...prevent her from looking up the slide...stop her from using the baby-sized slide which he was much too big for to stop her from using any part of the playland area.

My helicopter mom poked her head up and started fuming and pawing at the ground, but I'd just finished reading Parenting with Love and Logic literally 2 hours prior, and so I reigned that 'Copter Mom in and just watched--was this a situation Melissa could handle herself? Or was she too young? After 3 minutes of watching that little butthead hog the equipment and refuse to let anyone else play, I decided: nope, she couldn't handle it herself because, yup, she was too young. So I wandered over and said, "Hey there, Melissa. You want to use the slide?" And then to the boy: "She can use this baby slide, can't she? I bet you're way too big for it anyway, right?"

And then he was nice to her. Weird.

Then I sat down and little ice cream finger boy came back over, saw my car keys and immediately stole them. I had to wrangle them out of his sticky little hands. Meanwhile, the large group of adults who'd brought him were all still sitting off in the corner, laughing loudly, enjoying coffee, and totally oblivious to the fact their kids were running around sticking their fingers in other people's food and stealing car keys.

That's when I realized: that Tiger Mom Parenting Style? Total bee. fricking. poop. Cat o' nine tails may have worked on Chua's kids, but it was clearly failing miserably with these kids. They were Korean, not Chinese, and maybe the Koreans are more indulgent with their kids. But I also think a lot of people suffer from the misconception that any given Asian kid works harder, studies harder, and is better behaved than all other kids from other cultures but especially American. Which is why stereotyping can be so misleading, unfair, and damaging: Those kids are in for a world of trouble with a capital T when school starts. And they were clearly being raised by Laissez Faire Tiger Moms, and Amy Chua would have been horrified and aghast. Ditto Cline and Fay. And most teachers I know.

As we left, I thought: Man. Am I going to have start carrying around extra copies of this Love and Logic book so I can hand them out to people in a most condescending, a-hole kind of way? (Actually, no. I think we're just going to find a new McDonald's Playland area.)


  1. So - I agree.... but I will say I don't think that intervening at the playland to be helicoptering.... :^) Perhaps its the teacher in me, but I have absolutely no problem stepping in when a kid is doing something innapropriate and/or dangerous with no parental supervision. My reasoning... if my child sees you doing it with no one to stop you, tomorrow they'll do and actually have consequences. So it's a teaching moment! Nicole just realized she can climb to the top of the playarea - and it's amazing how mean the kids are up there. And if their mama's aren't going to point out that she's a baby and they aren't being kind - I will. I've only had one mom "not appreciate" (her words) me stepping in... and that was at our neighborhood pool when I asked her son to stop squirting my 19 month old in the face with a watergun. When she said that really, it wasn't a big deal - I just pointed to the sign that said "no waterguns allowed" and said, actually for the girl who is crying because she got hit in the eye with his water cannon - it is." I dont want to be that helicopter parent... but I am mama.. .hear me roar! :^)

  2. OMG!!!!! You handled yourself much better than I would have. I would have been all over that little ice cream ruining, key stealing little brat!

  3. Val: I agree--definitely cannot say that rescuing a kid from an out of control bully is helicopter parenting. I'd say pushing, shoving, and spraying water guns into babies' faces counts as moments parents need to intervene and save their kid from out of control kid(s) (and in your case their parents, who swoop in and do the worst kind of helicoptering--the Black Hawk Down/Never My Kid's Fault Even When It Clearly Is helicopter parents. Wow. How entitled and obnoxious is THAT kid going to be in ten years? I wasn't even there, and I want to spit stink eyes at that mom.)

    The authors of this book say you really have to go with your gut instinct: know your kid and constantly talk so you're in the loop with what's going on with them, but it also really depends on their age--school age kids can learn put to use coping skills to handle the butthead kids (as long as they're not being endangered in any way); the 5 and under set, not so much. I realized that after watching that kid act like Napoleon of McDonald's Playland for a few minutes.

    Man. The 21st century is hard work, and wearying. I bet our forefathers would be aghast at it.

    Gayla: I'm bringing you with me on our next trip to that Playland! (There's one right by our school, but that one's under construction...probably some kid broke something and now they have to spend a million dollars to fix up the whole restaurant. I'll let you know when it's up and ready for us to take control of that situation. :-)

  4. well, you make a fantastic case for this love and logic bit! i will add this to my reading list. and the playground story is... oh my. i foresee having a problem with these situations. lord.

  5. I put this parenting book on my reserve list at the library, and just got it. I'm excited to read it. I also just finished "Thin is the New Happy" by Valerie Frankel, thanks to your recommendation, and found it life-changing. I could relate to it so much. Thanks for great book recommendations, Amy! :)


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