One morning, Day 6 of our Walkout, one of my teenage daughters told me she was going out to breakfast with her boyfriend. She’d been out a lot that week: There were pre-prom activities, “The Prom,” and then post-prom outings.
As a recovering Tiger Mom, I’ve bitten my tongue when I want to ask about tell her to do her schoolwork. I’ve backed off (been over a year now), because I wanted to go from Tiger (ferocious and unforgiving) to Owl (wise and patient).
Since my own transformation, her grades have improved dramatically (4.1 GPA), she’s obtained her driving permit license, played violin at All-State and she’s noticeably happier.
But that morning, I voiced concern about her responsibilities. Inwardly, I judged her social calendar. She’s going out too much. She’s not working hard enough. How will she get a college scholarship?
Do you hear the fear?
Her smiling face turned dark. “I’m communicating to you my plans. Why do you want to pick a fight?”
And I answered confessed, “I am struggling inwardly. I know I should not say this. You know what? I trust that you know what you need to do and that you will do it.” Ah! Good catch!
And we were fine.
I chose love over fear.
People (who are “people” anyway?) might argue: “You are her parent. It’s your job to get on her about her responsibilities. You can’t let her run all over you like that.” But she’s not running all over me. She’s living her life. She is her own person and she knows what she’s doing. She’s not putting herself in danger. She’s not putting others in danger. I would say (and do) something if that was the case.
Too many Tiger Parents make the same mistakes over and over again. They communicate to their children that the outside is more important than the inside: grades, colleges and achievements are more important than knowing who you really are…more important than having fun with friends and learning how to navigate social waters. I’ve had several 5th and 6th grade students cry and tell me that they are receiving oppressive pressure at home.
Thus, I continue to choose love over fear. It’s challenging at times. Fear can look like caring, or “good parenting” or “discipline.” But it doesn’t feel quite right. Love always feels true.
One of the biggest lessons in life I’ve had to unlearn is that my children are “mine.”
Gibran’s words are plain and true:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
Too many parents believe their children are a reflection of themselves. Our job as parents is to provide nourishment and safety for these souls. But they are whole people already – we do not – SHOULD not – impose our dreams on them.
Writing prompt: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Student: This prompt makes me sad. Because I don’t know. My parents tell me I must be either be an engineer or a doctor. I cannot have a job that pays less than that.
Teacher: Well, let’s say your parents tell you that you can pursue ANY profession that you want. What would it be?
Student: I don’t know…I don’t know, because I’ve never even thought of it.
Why do parents tell their kids how to live your lives when they have their own?
By the way, Gibran never had children. Maybe he could be this wise because he had the distance necessary to see the whole picture.
This post is designed mainly to hold myself accountable for research. I hope you can glean something from it at the same time. The following are my notes from Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed”:
Simon p. 19
Data has shown (for a long time) that executive function correlates with family income
Childhood poverty affects executive function (Cornell Univ., Gary Evans, Michelle Schamberg)
Working memory – ability to keep a bunch of facts in your head at the same time
“Simon” – children’s game
Kids in poverty for 10 years did worse than kids in poverty for 5
Evans and Schamberg also measured biological stress (They created their own allostatic load data) – BP, cortisol levels, body mass index, etc). Of kids when they were nine and then thirteen
When they factored out the allostatic load, poverty factor disappeared. Thus, it is not POVERTY that compromises exec-function abilities, it’s the STRESS that went with it!
Why is this important? Because in high school, college, and the workplace, life is filled with tasks where working memory is crucial to success.
Prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts – stays flexible into early adulthood.
Early childhood – bodies and brains are most sensitive to effects of stress and trauma
Adolescence – can lead to most serious and long-lasting problems
The reason teenage years are most perilous: incentive processing system reaches full power while the cognitive control system isn’t matured until early 20s.
Thomas Gaston (“Mush”) kicked out and sent to Vivian E. Summers Alternative HS
He didn’t like it, but he did well
Until he carjacked someone
Potential sentence of 21 years was changed to 8 months of boot camp
Mush took his allostatic load and turned outward with violence (fighting, acting up in class). Some kids turn it inward (fear, anxiety, sadness, self-doubt).
Mush decided to “not care” after his 14 year old brother was shot and killed.
Social, economic and neurochemical factors are at play. A 10 year old vs. a 14 year old: we sympathize with the 10 year old.
There is an antidote to the ill effects of childhood stress!
It is biochemical.
Michael Meaney (McGill University)
Rats and mothering – some were nurturing, others not.
“LG” – Licking and Grooming (High vs. Low)
It is not necessarily the biological mother, but the REARING mother’s behavior that counts.
“Methylation” – the way certain chemicals are affixed to certain sequences on DNA
Showed that subtle parenting behaviors had predictable and long-lasting DNA-related effects
Researchers studied brains of suicide victims – some had childhood abuse, some did not
Showed that childhood abuse affected DNA
Clancy Blair (NYU) is reinforcing the finding that high-quality mothering can act as a powerful buffer to abuse
Regular good parenting – being helpful and attentive – can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.
“Attachment Theory” (Bowlby and Ainsworth) 1960s and 70s – The Strange Situation: mothers would bring a child into a room, and then leave and then return. The children who greeted their mothers warmly and enthusiastically were “securely attached”. Those children who reacted with tears or anger were “anxiously attached.”
Ainsworth: Reactions were directly related to degree of responsiveness in first year of life.
“Early attachment created psychological effects that could last a lifetime.”
Waters and Sroufe – set up a Child Development Institute with Egeland
The Development of the Person – book is fullest evaluation of long-lasting effects of parental involvement on child’s development (2005)
Found: attachment theory was not absolute – sometimes anxious babies could overcome, BUT it is highly predictive of outcomes later in life
Anxiously attached children are more often labeled mean, antisocial and immature
Lieberman (Child Trauma Research Program at UCSF)
Believes two important ideas missing from Sroufe and Egeland study:
Plainly difficult for some mothers to provide secure attachments in overwhelming life circumstances (poverty, violence, mother’s own childhood history)
Parents can overcome their own histories of trauma and can change their approach but most will need help.
Lieberman’s work focuses on strengthening bond between parent and child
Dante Cicchetti used Lieberman’s work and took 137 families with histories of child maltreatment. Half were given a year of parent-child psychotherapy the other half given the standard community services. When children were 2, 61% of the children in psychotherapy formed secure attachment.
His study proves that attachment-promoting therapies work.
Dozier, of ABC, shows that even if just the parent receives the therapy, children benefit
Makayla – a study in focusing on mother/child attachment.
“There is a very direct correlation between family issues and what the kids present in school.” The focus on creating family attachments where there are none (in Roseland, for example), have many setbacks, but inspirations form and lead to success.
Father was a “player” and mother addicted to cocaine.
Sexually molested in sixth grade – didn’t tell mom, afraid mom would blame her
Got angrier and angrier and took it out at school – caused fights
Got a mentor in Lanita Reed, a hair salon owner
Developed a “big sister” bond with Keitha – teaching her about manicures, pedicures, hair…
“My whole outlook on life changed” Keitha said
Instead of fighting, asked Reed what to do about girls picking on her at school
They arranged a talk and it worked – everything was resolved.
Sexual molester started touching Keitha’s sister and Keitha felt guilt – did not want her sister to be removed from home.
Reed arranged to have the man removed from the home.
Mother was not supportive (lost $300 in rent)
Keitha: “I’m not going to let my past affect my future.”
Determined to graduate, she took night classes five days a week
June 2011, she graduated and attended Truman College, a community college
“Five years from now, I picture myself in my own apartment with my own money…and my little sisters, they can live with me.”
In a few of these, I was afraid of too much space and added graphics. The result was a non-uniform crowding of images, which is not pleasing to the eye.
In relationships, space is even more critical. “Caring” and “parenting” are not about invading space, but respecting our teenagers as their own people. Crowding and controlling them is not pleasing to them!
This is the exact opposite of how I was raised.
But I can choose to question that thinking and do better.
I volunteered tonight at my daughter’s symphony chair auditions. My task was to walk the children of the cello section from rehearsal to a small private room with a judge and back to rehearsal, one at a time. These kids’ ages ranged from 12 to 14 and there were eight of them.
They were nervous.
Six of them told me they didn’t practice enough. One of them told me he would fail.
I urged them to breathe deeply and think positively. But they weren’t having it!
Their pessimism surprised me. These kids attend rehearsal once a week, most coming from other cities 30 minutes away or more. They take private lessons.
It goes to show that two important factors necessary for confidence in performance: preparation and positivity.
Still, watching young kids work so hard to make beautiful music together warms the heart!
I love my friend’s reaction to her son when his audition was over.
He walked out of his audition, stretched his arms out and shouted, “I sucked!”
She said, “Well, let’s go out for ice cream then.”
I’ve mentioned a tense relationship between my daughter and me on this blog. It has gotten pretty distressing at times and when I decided to push my ego aside, I realized I had to surrender. Pestering was not working. I had reflected on my intention. Was my primary motive to help her be “successful” in life? Was hounding her to do homework and practice her violin most important? No. But that was what I was practicing.
I set my priorities clearly. First of all, she must know I love her unconditionally. Secondly, this is her life. I trust her with it. She knows what to do and if she doesn’t do it, she will have to face the consequences. That’s how she will grow. Throughout it all, I will love her, absolutely.
What I DO owe her is a happy mother. Every time I start to resort to my habit of nagging, I redirect my energies to what I want to do: plant lantana in the backyard (even in 100 degree heat), exercise, write, cook and so on.
Since I’ve put this practice in place, a magnificent event has occurred. We’ve become closer than ever. She wanted to get into shape. I took her to a fitness club. We signed her up for a four week membership (realizing there will be NO time for the gym once school starts). The club gave me a 2 week free pass. Organically…naturally…completely unplanned…I’ve become her trainer. We work out together and laugh and (sometimes) partake in junk food afterwards. There is ease and love where angst and friction once were. And if I ask her to do something, she does it. Most of the time. And that’s OK.
The intention came first. Space (a lot of it) came next. And then complete awareness and unconditional love. I’d say this works for all relationships.