Lately American way of parenting has been challenged by Hymn of a Tiger Mom by Amy Chua and more recently by Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman.
It is a good thing to question our own habits once a while, but as usual, the media reduces the perspective by fueling the polemic.
The truth is that there is not one American way of raising children: in addition to the fact that the social background implies many differences in the upbringing of children, there is no way you can compare parenting in the Midwest, in California south and north and in New-York city. Similarly, do you seriously think that kids are raised in Paris the way they are in the rest of France?
If Chinese parenting as described by Amy Chua has some merit, it certainly does not reflect the way Chinese are brought up from what I have seen in Hong Kong. Besides, if Chinese are remarkable in their perseverance and hard working abilities, so far they have not impressed with their creativity and the magical inventions they came up with. So there might be some flaws in the Tiger Mom approach too.
As far as the French is concerned, being a French parent myself, I guess I can talk more about that. Let me tell you first that I don’t think that French parents are superior.
Parenting has everything to do with your environment and what is acceptable socially in the culture you live in. In France everybody is extremely proud about the fact that you can drop off your three months old baby in a childcare facility called crèche, where he will socialize with twenty other babies between three months old and two years old. And if you try to object that socializing before the age of three years old might not make sense, arrow-throwing eyes are directed to you. This is France.
So before you, American people, start feeling insecure about your parenting skills, you should keep things in perspective. And maybe you might learn other ways to improve your own parenting technique.
Remember that only in America twenty something year old Mark Zuckerberg was given the chance to make history with a startup that defies all economic laws, and before him, there was Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs and many others in other fields.
So there is nothing to be ashamed of regarding American parenting.
What I believe though, is that today, we are all overwhelmed by the invasive technology in our children’s lives that limit considerably the leverage we have on parenting. And that is true wherever you live in the world as long as you have enough financial means to own a television, a computer, an Ipad, a smart phone, a Wii, a PSP and/or an Xbox.
I will add that the more money you have the worse it gets. I live in an affluent neighborhood and what I see sometimes is truly astonishing: some kids are driving their parents around like puppets. And as Pamela Druckerman says in the Wall Street Journal Live chat held in February 2012, we don’t know what the outcome will be for these generations of children raised with media and technology.
Once again I call upon common sense. We have enough information on a child brain development to know that a child before twenty plus does not a have a mature brain. The direct consequence of this, reflected by every western legal system, is that children are irresponsible until they are eighteen. In France it used to be twenty-one and considering what we know about the brain, twenty-one might be the right age to officially be an adult.
Funnily what is said above seems to stop at the doorstep of most households. Here in particular in the name of the new age philosophy of creativity and trauma avoidance, we gasp in delight to any creation of our toddler. We respectfully ask that same child what he would like to eat, what he would like to do, etc… As a result the child being in his own development stage enters this dictatorship phase that goes beyond the household with no limits and guidance that would give him clues about himself.
If there is one thing I believe is true about parenting: clear limits are the only way for a child to grow with a sense of self because boundaries are the necessary reference point for him to understand the world. What confirms that is that children raised without limits in their family look for those limits in the outer world usually to their detriment.
This is why it is so difficult to be a responsible parent. Drawing limits and boundaries goes against the flow of the growing child who is deeply self-centered and who constantly wants more. And very often you feel on a battlefield instead of being in the glamorous loving relationship all parenting books claim you should be living.
I have three children and I wanted to do far better than what my mother did. I am no exception in that matter. Lacking a good role model at hand, I read and read as many books as I could on all sorts of parenting techniques for every age, for every stage. I tried them all and they all failed, more or less. I started by feeling guilty about that. I was unable to apply the principles taught. Today I am extremely critical about these techniques, many proclaimed by PhDs who don’t even have children. A degree will never replace the true experience of having a child.
The truth is that raising a child is a unique experience that is challenging for any of us, and we are all in a search of help and advices when we enter parenthood just because it is overwhelming and deeply unsettling.
The western world is doing the same mistake with parenting as it has done with medicine: compartmenting. Just like a person is not a compilation of organs and cells organized by system as taught in medical books, but a much more complex being where energy is at the root of the entire system with chemical reactions interdependent that we barely understand, a child can’t be isolated from his parents.
Parents well being is therefore essential to raise a balanced happy child.
The parenting techniques I have read about all take the child priorities and revolve parenting around that. In theory it may not seem as a bad idea. But in reality it is delusional: a parent who is at his wits end can no longer focus on his child priority because his own survival mode takes over.
Any parent knows that there is a time of the day when patience tank is totally empty. Unfortunately that usually coincides with an amazing energy children have before bedtime. In my case my ability then to apply any other technique than shouting is reduced to none. Even if I know it is wrong, what can I do?
We can discuss and debate over and over on what should or should not be done: the 24/7 parenting job can’t be flawless.
We all love dearly our children. We all want what is best for them. We all want to be the best parent we can be. We probably are.
More than anything else, what a child needs besides the basic material things for his survival, is a happy healthy and balanced parent to look after him. In fact he needs two parents to make sure that one stays calm and balanced when the other loses it.
Among the many things children do extremely well, is pushing their parents’ buttons. It takes to be a true hero to stay calm when your buttons are pressed over and over. Unless you take medication and have that screen that mellows down all negativity, I don’t see how you can be a “good parent” 100% of the time.
Is the goal to be a “good parent “ hundred percent of the time? Well first it might be a good idea to define what a good parent is. Since I believe the definition obeys to multifactor variables, being a good parent is quite meaningless.
We all do our best according to our beliefs system, and sometimes it is good enough and sometimes it is not.
Mrs. Druckerman’s enthusiasm over French parenting comes probably from the fact that in France a mother is before anything else a woman who has a life. As a result of that, a child does not stop her life but comes in addition to the rest. It is really important for French women to get back to their pre-pregnancy body as soon as possible after giving birth. It is equally important to keep their couple in good shape to make sure having a child does not equal end of sex and romance.
When you see the frightening ratio in the US of single mothers, it might be a good idea to follow the French in that.
The same way it is better to have two legs to walk, it is better to have two parents to grow. Human beings are not meant to be raised by one parent only. Although most single moms do an outstanding job, it is extremely difficult to be a single parent. In fact in most traditional cultures all over the world, kids are raised by a group of people that goes beyond the nuclear parent duo. As a result, the new mother does not become only a mother but she has time and space to get back on her feet as a woman. She has time for her and she has time for the father.
In western cultures new mothers have so little support that they have no choice but becoming full time mothers. And there is this underlying guilt for those who find childcare to go back to work. My understanding here in the US is that a so called good mother is the one who devotes all her time and energy to her children.
I strongly disagree with that. The primary reason is that a woman who devotes all her energy and time to her children has no time for her self and no time for her couple.
In wanting to give the best to their children, these mothers lose touch with themselves and eventually with their partner. They quickly start neglecting the way they look; their all world revolves around their children. And when children are grown and gone, depression is not far.
In addition, this kind of mothering teaches children that it is ok to selfneglect, that it is ok to have no personal space and time, and that being considerate of someone equals being consumed by. These mothers tend to be control freak with their children and they leave them very little space to experiment and fail in order to grow and become independent.
This is not good parenting to me and this is not love either. It is a suffocating relationship that does no good to anyone.
Like with everything else in life, the key is balance. Parents should never forget that their couple, the relationship between a man and a woman, has given birth to their offspring. Therefore the lead should always remain the couple.
That does not mean that the couple should not follow the first three years their baby’s rhythm. That means that one of the priorities for the new parents should be to organize their schedule, so on a regular basis, they save time for them, and them only.
Fathers should help mothers in setting boundaries to protect their own couple; kids, today can be a threat because social pressure orchestrated by marketing put them first. Children can’t and should never be first. A mother is first and foremost a woman who has her own life.
Parenting is positively the most difficult job because it challenges you in the depth of who you are. This is the reason why parents need breaks regularly to recover. Breaks used to be given on a daily basis by family and close community. This no longer applies for many reasons.
It is time to reconsider parenting in the light of modern life, aware of the fabulous marketing target our children are.
Wherever you look, no one, no parenting technique, is prepared to face the overwhelming role of technology in our children’s lives.
Two questions are critical today and remain to be answered: how do we protect our children when we control so little? How do we keep enough energy to nurture our relationship with our partner without going the easy route of giving into technologies? We all know how wonderful television can be when we are in search for a cheap babysitter!
I believe we need to be extra cautious and set new rules. In order to do that though, we must control the impact of marketing in our lives.
This is probably one of the biggest challenges twenty first century parents have to face. I will develop more on that interesting subject in another post.
In summary, I do not think there is one marvelous technique of parenting that we should all adopt. Everybody who has several children knows that parenting is different with each of their children; and this comes in addition to all the other variables (child gender, character, health state, etc…). So each case is different. Even when we don’t seem to be doing it right, well, we never know.
Wherever we come from we have our flaws, so do our children. Are we responsible for that? Not so sure. The most practical philosophy is to keep doing our best: remember that we are the first generation of parents who has to face a world where most previous rules don’t apply.
Let’s remember though that our duty is to guide our children until they no longer need us. Even if we don’t really know how, that role remains.