Enough is enough!
I keep reading comparisons of parenting approaches like the Tiger Mom, Wolf Dad, and the “mean” French way (They’re not the only ones who are “mean” by the way). They all use children’s “good behavior” and “accomplishments” as benchmarks for judging their adequacy as parents and their parenting style.
The parents validate their own ego and self–gratification that they have controlled their child without questioning the abusive and/or inadequate parenting methods handed down from their parents’ or their cultures’ fears. Indeed every parent and every culture needs to reflect on whether their choice of parenting style has evolved out of fear rather than love for children.
I am sure parents will also justify their parenting style by saying “I love my child” and I do this in their best interest. My question is whether this love is conditional upon what the children do or based upon unconditionally loving children for whom they are. For more on this subject,t I suggest reading Alfie Kohn’s book Unconditional Parenting.
What about the children? Methods of parenting that punish, force, humiliate, betray, shame or hurt children. This is cruelty to an innocent. The result is children have to learn to get over their childhood. The loving connection with their parents is missing, and is instead compensated for in adulthood by anti-depressants, addictions, material things, relationships with other hurt adults or never really feeling at peace with oneself.
Parenting is a lesson in life and a mirror to our fears and inadequacies. We can choose to grow and change and as one friend put it “choose to be terminators” of parenting methods that harm. I agree.
We can also choose to have parenting power. Not the power that is controlling of others but the power with knowledge that supports and generates growth, is imbued with wisdom, is open to change, self-reflection and opportunities to learn alongside our children.
Our children are precious people, not objects to be manipulated. If we want our child to learn to play a musical instrument, must we force her to practice three hours a day from early childhood? What is our real motivation here?A love and joy of music and learning a skill OR is it about being better than anyone else at a cost to the child’s inner peace and soul?
A parent I know was forced this way. She became a brilliant pianist and went to the equivalent of an Ivy League school on the west coast of the US. But she also developed chronic tendonitis as early as 11, was burnt out about playing piano at age 18, and went through another decade and a half of depression and a severe eating disorder before she finally recovered. She is not alone. The high rates of depression and suicide in Asian countries where tiger parenting dominates attest to this. More on that here.
Were the costs of Tiger Parenting in her case worth it? Of course not! Could she have been parented another way for her to truly be her best? Of course! This same parent believes that parents are driven by the fear that “If I don’t force my child to practice or do homework they won’t, and then they’ll end up as failures and it’ll be my fault.”
We do not force our children to learn to speak or to walk. We trust they will do so. How can we not trust our children to learn in other ways through their play, their interests, their innate curiosity and because of our love and trust and faith in their unique capacity? We do not honor our children through forcing and shaming. Hurting our children does not make them “behave better” out of respect and empathy; it does so through fear.
If we want emotionally healthy and well–adjusted children, it is well–known that children learn best when they are relaxed and interested. Today many people suffer from chronic stress, which is linked to heart disease, depression, diabetes, and countless other health problems leading to early death. Scientists believe our ability to manage stress as adults is formed in childhood. As parents, we have the power to help, not hinder.
Ask yourself this question: Has your child concluded that your love depends on performance and achievement or does your child feel loved for who s/he is? The latter allows your child to flourish holistically, accepting themselves mistakes and all and allowing them to have healthy relationships with others.
We then will not need books like, Free From Lies: discovering your true needs by Alice Miller, to help adults break free from the destructive cycle of ineffective and abusive parenting. Miller states that when children are small this is “exactly the time when the human brain builds up its structure and should thus learn kindness, truthfulness, and love but never, never cruelty and lies.”
Parent Effectiveness Training provides a clear step–by–step model that brings out the best in you and your child and shows you how to most effectively transmit your important values so children are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically.
I encourage you to use your power as a parent to make an informed parenting choice.
Kathryn Tonges is a teacher, Beijing-based PET parenting expert, a beijingkids board member, and the co-author of Slurping Soup and Other Confusions: True Stories and Activities to Help Third Culture Kids During Transition.
Photo by vharjadi of Flickr.