Archive for January, 2011

The Tiger Mother In Us

Guest post by Helen Lee

By now, you’ve surely heard about the infamous Wall Street Journal article entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” based on Amy Chua’s new book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. As I read the WSJ excerpt, I cringed at Chua’s methods of imposing her brand of perfect parenting on her two daughters, such as never letting her kids go on playdates or calling them “garbage” when they displeased her. I thought I was hard on my own kids by making them practice their instruments every day, but Chua astonished me with the lengths to which she does the same, as she forces her young daughters to practice well beyond five hours on their violin and piano, threatening to throw away their favorite toys when they refuse.

It’s easy to jump on the anti-Amy Chua bandwagon that has emerged, as evidenced by the nearly 7,000 comments on WSJ website, many of which lambast her. But I wonder if we are missing the real problem in all of this. As New York Times columnist David Brooks notes, “[Chua] is the logical extension of the prevailing elite practices. She does everything over-pressuring upper-middle-class parents are doing.” Whether your methods border on the madness of Chua’s more draconian efforts, or whether you embrace a kinder, gentler approach, the fact remains that a vast majority of today’s middle- to upper-class families define “success” in fairly limited ways, achieved in large part by heavy parental involvement to ensure that their children have every opportunity to reach those ideals.

I confess to having some Chua-likeness in me; when my eldest son was 5 years old, his piano teacher told me that her strongest students were all Chinese-American kids, and her theory was that the process of learning Mandarin, with all the memorization involved to grasp the thousands of characters, gave them a mental edge. My competitive side kicked in, and before long my son was enrolled in Chinese school. We are not Chinese, and so the effort involved in trying to help my kindergartener to grasp this completely foreign language was substantial. At first, he had fun. As the years went by, it became torture. I kept pushing him onward, until finally one day, our schedule and lives at the breaking point, I sensed God challenging me on my motivations for this decision, which were not God-honoring at the core. My son was so thrilled when I realized this, as it meant he no longer had to go to Chinese school anymore!

It’s so hard to carve a different path in our culture that promotes the idea that success comes from achievement, that acceptance to a great college is the ultimate goal to which we push our kids, and that it’s critical to be groomed in extra-curriculars even at a young age to be positioned for future greatness down the road. How often have we heard the proclamation that every American deserves “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? As parents, it’s hard not to want for our children to be happy. But painful though it is to embrace, for ourselves or for our kids, Jesus never promises his followers happiness.

“Tiger Moms” are not the only ones who believe that if we have children, they are to be our first priority, the recipient of our tireless efforts. Many parents, Christians included, believe that our kids are our future, our legacy, the proof and pudding of our careful parenting. It all sounds so noble, even spiritual, the sacrifice and effort required to demonstrate this kind of devotion to your kids. Amy Chua doesn’t mince words: “Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating, and spying on their kids…they would give up anything for their children,” she writes. But whether you are a Chinese mother or any other kind of parent who lives first and foremost for their children, make no mistake: doing so is still a false gospel.

The irony is that Christians ostensibly possess the secret to lifelong fulfillment, which is our relationship with Jesus and obeying the call to follow him. Instead of living through our children, I’m realizing that the question is less, “How do I help my kids succeed?”, but instead, “Am I modeling the kind of person that I want my children to be? Am I demonstrating that following Jesus is about letting go of my dreams, both for myself and for my children, and giving them all to God?”

We often forget a key truth about parenting; as author Gary Thomas wisely notes, it’s “a process through which God purifies us—the parents—even as he shapes our children.” Meanwhile, we are called to trust that God is the shaper of our kids, although he allows and encourages us to play a role. We have a biblical mandate to teach our children, as expressed in Deuteronomy 6 (“Talk about [these commandments] when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”). But let’s not mistake the mandate to teach spiritual truths for taking control over our children’s destinies.

And may we not be the kind of parents who misdirect our children to paths that God is not intending for them. If God should lead my kids one day to serve in a dangerous ministry, or to take a vow of poverty, my prayer is that I would have the courage and willingness to embrace the reality that the most “successful” parenting helps our children identify and embrace God’s calling in their life, whatever that call might be, whether it is to attain a well-paying job in a prestigious career or to serve the poorest of the poor in unfathomable conditions.

After the initial release of the Chua article, the Wall Street Journal polled readers with the question, “Which style of parenting is best for children? Permissive Western parenting or demanding Eastern parenting?” You might be surprised to discover that sixty-three percent of those who responded chose Amy Chua’s approach. For all the criticism the Tiger Mom has received, a majority of people still want the “successful” results that her children have demonstrated.

But God’s plans for our kids may not look the least bit desirable to a Tiger Mother’s eyes, or to anyone who pursues after a success narrative that is more culturally than biblically driven. The Christian approach is quite often the least attractive option, the narrow way, and it appears we still have a long way to go to stand apart and demonstrate that there is a different way to be a parent.

Helen Lee is the author of The Missional Mom: Living With Purpose in the Home and in the World. Visit her website at www.themissionalmom.com, or follow her on Twitter @HelenLeeAuthor and @TheMissionalMom.

(To read more of Helen’s perspective on the “Tiger Mother” debate, you can see her recent post at TheHighCalling.org.)

Good for the Guru! (And good for me!)

Caryn: So I’ve hardly been able to recognize myself lately. Something about me has really changed. Or, I should say, something has gone missing. Here’s the deal: as I’ve watched our dear guru Carla progress on her GMA Guru search competition (Top 4! Go, Carla!), what should be making me envious on some level is just not.

I’m happy—nay, ecstatic—for Carla without being jealous. Even when I try to make myself. Even when Carla reminds me that most of the stuff to be jealous of (the summer homes, the jetting around the globe, the clothes, the inevitable friendships with Oprah) is yet to come. I’m just not.

And this is what’s new. The non-jealous, purely-happy-for-a-friend’s-success me.

It’s perfect that I’m getting to experience this new me during Carla’s guru run—because I think what we do here at the Rev has everything (or, almost everything—I did just write a killer chapter on jealousy and envy in my forthcoming book, Grumble Hallelujah….) to do with this new me.

What allows this non-jealous happiness is being secure in who I am and what I was made to do—as a mom, a woman, a writer, whatever. It’s living free of others’ expectations (though, to be fair, no one expects me to be a guru….) that allows any of us to be happy for others in their successes and we work toward our own callings.

I can be thrilled watching Carla dispense wisdom on TV with her freshly styled “I wish I had straight hair like Caryn” straightened hair (watch for Carla to go blonde any day now) because I know that I’m just no good at that. I’m not made to offer advice in TV friendly snippets. It takes me a long, long time and about 12 stories about myself to get to any real semblance of advice. And then, it’s still maybe not all that helpful.

One of the best things about truly knowing who you are and who God made you to be is that you do get to rejoice (and again, I say, rejoice!) when you see friends doing their things, doing what they were made to do. And this is what I love about seeing Carla in all her guru-ness. If ever Carla were born to do something, it’s this. And I just can’t be jealous. Which is not to say I won’t be pissed if she fails to mention my books, as applicable. And it’s not to say I won’t be jealous when she writes another book and it debuts at #9 on Amazon while mine languishes at #42 zillion and when she gets all the cool speaking gigs I’ve longed for. But that’s a different can of worms. We’ll have to deal with those fellas later. For now, I’m just proud of myself–and Carla, of course.

Carla, since I’ve been talking about you this whole time, is there anything you’d like to add? Maybe just a word of appreciation for your supportive, non-jealous friend?

Carla: Outside of your husband, I don’t think anyone understands better what a triumph this is for you than I do. Not because I think of you as a jealous person, but because it’s an icky trait we share–and discuss with each other at length in the privacy of our inboxes. But I’m almost certain I’d feel the same way if the roles were reversed.

You’re absolutely right that the conversations we’ve had here have helped both of us grow (if this is starting to sound like a goodbye post, it’s not.) This whole Guru endeavor has been a test of my confidence if ever there was one. It’s strapping on my character shoes times a billion. But from the beginning, I’ve believed the only way to get through this was to be myself, to do what I know I do well, and to never try to be someone I’m not. As much as I hope I get this job, I’m pretty sure I won’t sink into a deep depression fueled by self-doubt if I don’t. I’ve been true to myself and it’s felt great.

It’s amazing how good it feels to let go of who I think I should be and embrace who I am. It sounds like that’s what you’re doing too. And that’s exactly what we’ve both hoped this blog would be–a place for moms to get that nudge to let go of other people’s ideas about what their lives should look like so they can find goodness and peace in the lives they have. Whether life is hard and confusing and sucky or humming along and lovely and sweet.

Caryn: Well said. P.S. Just before posting this, I saw “Carla Barnhill” and “Carla Barnhill blog” on the “Top Searches” section of the Mommy Revolution blog dashboard and felt a total rash of jealousy. My name’s not even on the search list! Curse you, Carla Barnhill….. ; )

3 New Year’s Resolutions Every Parent Needs to Make

Carla: Don’t you love titles like that? Commanding, demanding, shaming you into doing what someone else tells you to do? It’s that word needs. It carries so much condescension and know-it-all-ness. And it’s the stock in trade of parenting advice. It’s a way of letting you know that whatever it is you’re doing as a parent, you aren’t doing it right. There’s a secret something you don’t know and that article or that sermon or that friend is about to enlighten you. And that drives me bananas.

So I’ve come up with 3 new year’s resolutions for parents that you can make or not make. Your choice.

1) Ignore sentences that include the words “you need to.” For all the reasons mentioned above, I’ve started to see this little phrase as the bane of nearly everything I do. For me, it is code for “you don’t know what you’re doing” and I’ve decided to reject that code. It’s not that I know what I’m doing all the time–or even most of the time–but I think I’m smart enough to get around most of the road blocks that stand between me and what I’m trying to do as a mom and a woman and a person. I’m also smart enough to ask for help when I get stuck. I vastly prefer advice that’s given as a suggestion, not a command, advice that is couched in confidence that I can sort through my options and figure out the best path forward.

“You need to” is a confidence killer for all of us, but particularly for parents. There is so much we truly need to do on any given day and when well-meaning experts and friends add to that list, it feels defeating and disheartening. But maybe that’s just me.

2) Stop multitasking. In the last year, I read something that has changed how I think about parenting. It was a short Q & A with a mom who said, “It’s not parenting that’s hard, it’s all the other things I have to do that get in the way of parenting.” I read that sentence about six times before I realized she was right. If all I had to do was spend time with my kids, I would be a fantastic mom. But I find I rarely just spend time with my kids, at least time where I’m not also thinking about work I need to finish or keeping an eye on dinner or writing up a grocery list or cleaning up or hacking through the jungle of laundry or what’s happening on Facebook. If I didn’t have all those other things on my mental plate, I would be so much more patient, so much more interested, so much more relaxed. It’s all the work of adulthood that get in the way!

The best moments I have as a mom are the ones where I am all in with whatever I’m doing with my kids, whether it’s putting a puzzle together or making cookies or even folding laundry. When I manage to shut off all the mental noise in my head and really focus on my kids, I can feel myself becoming more like the mom I want to be–kind, attentive, single-minded.

The trick here, of course, is that someone has to keep an eye on dinner and write up a grocery list and clean up and do the laundry. And in my case, someone has work to do, too. So I can’t just ignore those things and play Littlest Pet Shop all day. But I’m going to try me darndest to slow down my brain. I’m going to do a little more compartmentalizing and try to devote my attention to whatever is right in front of me and not all the other things tapping me on the shoulder. And I think I’m going to have to get my crap together and organize my time better so that when I’m working, I’m working and when I’m not, I’m not. There is nothing noble in being able to juggle an ever-growing list of demands. There’s no prize for being the busiest mom. I need to stop acting like there is.

3) Scare yourself. Those of you who have read this blog for a while might recall that I had a small part in a play a couple of years ago. I loved getting back into something that had been a huge part of my pre-parenthood life and it was truly good for my soul to do it. But I haven’t done it again. You know why? Because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid if I audition for something I won’t get a part. I’m afraid if I do get a part I won’t be very good. I’m afraid that my family would suffer if I were gone nearly every evening for 6 weeks. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

As much as Caryn and I talk about tapping into our passions and living out our dreams, I have to confess that this is something I really struggle with. I can always find an excuse for sticking with the life I have instead of double dog daring myself to step into something different. But when I have stepped out–whether onto a stage or into a classroom or even into a new friendship–the result has always been life-giving. So I’m going to try to scare myself a little more this year. Our friend Jennifer Grant recently shared this quote with me and it’s been hovering in the back of my mind ever since, reminding me that no one is made better when I am guided by fear.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”–Marianne Williamson

Wish me luck!

Caryn: Love this title. Reminds me so much of our magazine days. Even with the odd number. (Odd numbers are better than even for giving advice. Did you know that? Magazine editors do!)

But anyway, even though this year I resolved to make no resolutions, I concur with two and a half of yours. I think #2 is too much to ask. And I actually disagree with your premise that we could be better moms if we focused on our kids more attentively. I’m a better (meaning, saner) mom right now because I can add my 2 cents to this piece while eating reheated pizza snuggled next to my daughter watching SpongeBob while my older son gets Life set up for us to play.

That said, I take multi-tasking to the extreme and need to learn to take it easier. To undo some of the things that distract me.

Alas, #3 is my favorite. Love the phrasing. Love the idea. And since earlier this summer when I wrote a whole chapter in my upcoming book, Grumble Hallelujah, about living fearless as a solution to getting unstuck in life, I’ve been more committed to this than ever before. Especially as one who seeks to “live for Jesus” as they say, we need to put fear in its place. But, it’s scary to live fearless. We do need to scare ourselves. Even scare those around us….

Now I gotta go play Life.

So what do you think friends? Got any resolutions to share with the rest of us? Let’s hear ’em!