Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mother Load

When I was pregnant with my first child I was a sponge for advice. Every mother I met would be inundated with questions about labor, best diapers, breast feeding or formula, best car seat, and on and on. I am sure many of those poor mothers were glad to see me waddle away.

Now on the other end of the spectrum I find myself giving advice to pregnant moms to be about child rearing and discipline. I am discussing with older parents how to teach kids to respect parental authority, deal with teens who are sexually active, kids being bullied, kids on drugs and often how to communicate with their children. It seems many parents these days are either afraid to discipline their children for fear of “not being their friend or hurting their feelings” or are indifferent to their behavior. I find this very concerning. Am I the only one noticing this trend in America?

I recently read some reviews of Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." It is a memoir written by an American born Chinese mother of two teen girls. Tiger Mother is Amy Chua's own assessment of herself as she was born in the Chinese year of the tiger. She is a strict disciplinarian who micromanages all aspects of her children's lives which may include calling them "garbage", rejecting hand crafted birthday cards or forcing a 7 year-old child to practice at the piano hour upon hour without a bathroom break. She states that this was how she was raised by her Chinese immigrant parents. Her goal is to prepare her children for the harsh world reality. It is tough out there and you need to be prepared.

I certainly do not agree with her harsh and humiliating tactics but she does point out that in our western culture we are raising a generation of weak children who are indulged for the sake of their self esteem. We have lost sight of the fact that children need to learn from failures, solve difficult problems, that there are rules, and that they will be held responsible for their actions. America is back sliding but are we helpless to stop it?

I would hope not. I can only challenge each of us as mothers and physicians who can influence parents and children alike to put forth the energy to change the culture we have developed. Do we want to put our future into hands of adults who expect life to be handed to them on a fluffy pillow to soften their falls? We are doing ourselves, our children and country a disservice if we don’t encourage families to focus on staying together, push parenting with the goal of responsible adults even if it means some discomfort now, and being honest with our children that our country needs strong, creative, hard-working adults to fix the many problems we have created. Will you join me?


  1. I might say that children these days are victims of low expectations rather than being indulged, which is a related idea. My friends who are teachers complain about this sort of thing all the time. Not sure why this happens, but I think it's a real problem.

  2. I agree, the education system is not good. The child is the "king/queen" and has somehow too much freedom. Children have no respect for their teachers and parents, no gratitude for anything.
    My kids are still young, and I was not raised in America, so maybe there is a culture shock, but by talking to some of my teachers friends, they all feel the same.
    The kids have no rules, and the teachers are not allowed and not given any tools to "punish" them. In other words, without clear cut limits the kids are lost...
    Everything is done to "protect their feelings", but we learn by making mistakes, don't we? We sometimes learn out of frustrations?
    We don't want our kids not to be able to function in this harsh world, because we are doing everything FOR them! We need to give them the right tools to be able to be responsible, thinking adults!
    When a baby starts walking, yes, he is going to fall dozens times and won't be happy about it, but if we don't let him fall, he will never learn how to walk.
    Same thing with the older children, if we don't let them make mistakes, they will never be able to learn!!!
    We need to protect our kids - yes - but it is also our job as parents and educators not to overprotect them in the fear to "hurt their feelings"... They are also asking from us to show them the limits, to raise them! We are not their friends, we are their PARENTS!!!

  3. Thank you, laughing doc. Great topic is back. We discussed it before from the standpoint of Tigermother being wrong. Now you point out that there is a problem with current parenting culture. So true. I somehow see that most parents fall into comfortable zone of not pushing for discipline, or academic performance. Thus, I argue that this culture is failing and will be outperformed very soon by the rest of the world. Thoughtful parents are very few, they have to even hide their strict involvement with child's academic success. It is not OK to discuss you make your child to do their assignment, or do a little extra math on the weekend. Parents whose children do well academically always shrug that their child is just somehow doing it on their own. I know that schools are not expecting chilren to do excellent flawless work. Kids grades are smiley faces, stamps "keep doing great work", check marks, etc. My granmother is approaching 90 yo and is visiting. She is shocked at poor academic curriculum, and small quantity/poor quality of my kids school work. My friend MD is from my former country. Her daughter was already left behind one year. Still does poorly in math. After screaming matches at home my friend took her to weekend prep course. The young girl said even if her mother takes her to these classes, she is not going to participate. Mother gave up, and now says she has great relationship with the daughter the weeks mother is too busy to check/talk about homework. There is gut wrenching feeling something is worng with our ed system.

    I do not see any solutions except parents educating their kids themselves or through expensive prep courses. And sadly that is IF child agrees.

  4. Definitely with you on this one. I actually read the book you mention, and wrote an Amazon review, and then turned off my notifications for comments because of the caustic comments left on my review. But in any case, I do agree with you, and as parents we can definitely do better in terms of setting high expectations for our kids and giving them the time and attention they need to fulfill them.

  5. This is a systematic problem. Parents are not the ones who write textbooks or design school curricula. There has been a systematic degradation in the quality and quantity of knowledge that is expected to be delivered to schoolchildren in the US. At the same time there have also been significant reductions in support for parents raising children.

    More and more families have both parents working outside the home, many by necessity and not choice, yet there is no infrastructure or social support WHATSOEVER to help fill in the significant void created by the reduction in parental contact time. Schools have had to fill in some of this void, by default.

    The lack of support for maternity leave and breastfeeding tells you EXACTLY how much we value our children and their primary caretakers.

    Children are NOT a priority in US culture, but we are not willing to face this reality and do anything substantial to change it. We lie to ourselves and pretend that we are very "child-centric" by applying absurd window-dressing such as making sure all children are "winners" and everybody gets a "trophy" or a "star". This gives the impression that we, as a society, are so concerned about and attuned to the needs and development of our children.

    If you walk into any public school cafeteria in any city in any state of our country and examine the food choices offered there, you will know exactly how much we "prioritize" our children.

    Children do not have money and children do not vote. Unfortunately, these two facts make them the least important group within our society. That's just our reality.

    IMHO, in order to change this reality, we as individuals within our society have to be willing to give more than we may receive, to think of the well being of others almost as frequently as we think of our own. We have to be willing to CONTRIBUTE our time, our money, or talents to others without expecting direct personal gain. We have to evolve beyond the "Why should I pay taxes to support schools, I don't have kids?" mentality. We have to make teaching as prestigious and coveted a career as doctoring, so that we may get the best and the brightest competing tooth and nail for the PRIVILEGE of teaching our children. We should support parents, new and old, by offering classes, social support networks, maternity leave without the threat of job or career loss, etc. Instead we spend our money, time and energy on buying and building missiles, worshiping adults playing with balls, obsessing about the lives of the rich (and mostly vapid), etc.

    Has this been intentional? Is this a systematic plan that is being guided by the forces that have power over the direction in which our society evolves (for example, those who decide which shows will go on TV or what books will be published, or what will be marketed and popularized) or is it the natural (d)evolution of our soceity? Neither possibility can be dismissed with prejudice.

    What I do know, based on centuries of human history, is that an uneducated populace with a "herd mentality" is far easier to manipulate than a society of thinkers committed to a common good.

    And as far as the children of today, I conclude with the following quote attributed to Socrates (5th century BC):
    "Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers."

  6. I think the issue isn't so much indulgence as 1) micromanagement and 2) definition of success as getting good grades and getting into the right school (with the school as an ultimate goal rather than a starting point) rather than learning and accomplishing something. Our daughter is a responsible, self-starter. Maybe she would have been that way anyway, but we like to think putting her in charge of her own homework in 5th grade helped. A few glitches along the way, but she learned from them. She sets higher academic goals than we would and is even doing extra math problems on the weekend of her own accord.

  7. I am thinking I just got lucky with my son. He is so much like me in the fact that it's not okay with him to get a B and he wants to really excel at what he's doing. He is respectful. Of course he has his 10 year old moments. But I don't have to micromanage him and I rarely have to correct him. I was never overly harsh, although I let him know what my expectations are and they are high. I don't think parents have to be rigid and harsh to achieve results, but there have to be expectations and rules.

  8. I do agree with all of you. I have a 17, 15, and 12 year-old who are respectful and make either all A or A-Bs. My middle child has severe dyslexia and never used it as an excuse. I think this is not luck it is how you raise them. My kids understand I absolutely support them in all endeavors but they better meet some expectations of mine or they lose all of their privileges. The cell phone, computer, ipod, etc are all luxuries. I will take a door off of the bedroom if need be, that thing called negotiable. I have never had to do this because my kids understand I don't bluff...I mean what I say and say what I mean. Our educations are what we make of them, our children should desire to succeed, to push themselves to be better. I'm just sayin'... :)

  9. Yup. My frustration this week is my high achieving first born has been given the impression by her "friends" that standing out academically is wrong. Aagh! She is sometimes not good pragmatically so she takes their words seriously. She is really caught in the middle because we have always had high expectations.

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  11. Sunnimom -
    Take your daughter to the local fast food restaurant and tell her this is where those who think standing out academically is wrong, end up. Is this where you want to be? Education gives you choices.

  12. Laughing Doc: we did the opposite. We took her to my college reunion and showed her what happens when you do stand out academically. We will see how that works. She was especially enamoured of an old friend who is a succesful architect: art and engineering combined. Hopefully she will hang on to that during the teasing.

  13. I agree with these points. But what would this proposed type of parenting look like practically?
    I've only got one child so far, and he's still a toddler. I am still trying to figure out how to properly dose accountability and guidance. Any specific examples of ways you've found the balance?

  14. Barefootmoses, that’s a great question. A lot of it has to do with the individual child, which is why advice from experts or other parents isn’t always useful. That said, I’ll offer our approach for our 13 year old daughter, who has so far turned out to be independent and responsible. I think the key is that, as a parent, your instinct is to protect your child, but that is often the wrong thing to do (outside of obvious things like seat belts and helmets and keeping them from running into traffic or falling down stairs).

    Examples. We had season tickets to Stanford Women’s Basketball, and our daughter went to her first game when she was 3 weeks old. When she was 5, we started giving her money and letting her go out by herself at the ten minute mark of the first half to buy herself a frozen lemonade. We were always anxious until she got back, but it was a safe, familiar environment and she loved feeling grown up. When she was fly, she flew by herself from San Francisco to Boston to visit her grandmother (non-stop flight and used miles to upgrade her to first). Safe and supervised, but again gave her a feeling of independence and self-confidence (note that by this point she had already flown to Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark, so she was comfortable with the routines of flying). When she was in first grade, we made it clear that her homework was her responsibility—we were happy to help, but we it wasn’t our job to offer it. There were some glitches and imperfections, but by the time she was in fifth grade, she announced that, as long as she was doing well, we weren’t allowed to even ask about her homework. Currently, we have privileges to look at her electronic grades on Fridays. If we abuse them, she will take them away.

    Our daughter might have been independent and responsible anyway (her first sentence was “No, me do it.”) but I think our approach of giving her some room to make mistakes and fail and learn contributed. The toughest part is letting them get themselves in a little trouble—think of the bumps and bruises (and a broken arm for our daughter) as badges of success rather than evidence of inadequate parenting. Sometimes I have to just go where I can’t watch so I don’t infect her with my anxiety. If you do choose to give your child some freedom to get in trouble, though, be prepared for some negative comments from other parents. When our daughter was in elementary school (thankfully, we moved away from the helicopter parenting of the Bay Area in fourth grade and found more like minded parents in Salt Lake City), a lot of parents raised their eyebrows or expressed concern because of the freedom / lack of supervision we provided our child. Many of those same parents said wistfully to us, “Your daughter is so responsible and independent. How did you manage that?”

    Best of luck. And remember that your child has his own personality and you can’t control everything.

  15. Thanks for the response and advice hh!

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