Marketing Parenting

containing-814579_640Over-praising.

Special snowflakes.

Attachment parenting.

Ferber.

Tiger moms.

Resilience.

Parenting buzz-words are heard on the playground, read on the front pages of newspapers and discussed over lattes and text messages.  You’d best be aware of the latest trend or your child is in danger of winding up on a therapist’s couch at 28 years old unable to zip up her own coat, completely incapable of having a meaningful relationship and an absolute super-star at everything from singing acapella to sewing Christmas stockings and roasting a leg of lamb.

Really?

Keeping up with the latest parenting methodology is a little like keeping up with those Joneses.  The pendulum is in constant motion, swinging liberally from latchkey to helicopter.  We praise too much, we encourage too little.  We hold the reins too tight; we let them grow up too fast.  There is always something that we are doing wrong and there is always someone quick to point out the error of our ways.

We’re suckers for it.

Sadly parenting, like everything else from yoga to book clubs, has been expertly packaged, merchandized and publicized.  Smiling experts with more letters after their names than we can decipher, look down at us from their glossy book covers and claim to have all of the answers.

And for the most part guilt-ridden parents eat it up because no one wants to fuck-up raising their kids.  No one.

And marketers know this.

In my paltry six years of parenting, I have learned a lot, mostly that I won’t know all of the answers but I am not helpless.

In those early years, before making any decision, I would consult “the books”, and scan the Internet.  Terrified of making the wrong decision and being on the receiving end of furtive glances from the other moms in the playgroup, I would appease my anxiety with research.

And the beauty of the bookshelves brimming over with those parenting experts?  If you’re thorough enough you can always find someone to agree with you.

Danusia Lapinski, a Montreal-based parenting coach, suggests that when it comes to parenting ideology parents “have to decide if it’s right for you.  If it resonates with your values and needs.  Everyone’s different and you have to question the ideas you hear.”  (globe and mail)

There are a handful of parenting experts whom I turn to when I am seeking guidance or a helpful suggestion and these experts do echo the values and beliefs that my husband and I hold as our gold standard.

Whenever I am in doubt, I think about my sons as grown men.  I think about the character traits that I believe make up good men: persistence, worth ethic, curiosity, compassion, passion, self-control and kindness and I ask myself, am I helping or hurting their chances of growing up to be the best men that they have the potential to become?

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The Playground Is A Classroom

On the third day of school I picked up my newly minted SKer from the dismissal line.  While I was waiting for him to run into my arms, a mother of one of his classmates turned to me and said the kids had been to the playground and with a roll of her eyes said, “I can take her to the slide.  What about learning some letters?”

Crap.  I didn’t know that our 4 and 5 year olds were applying to Ivy League schools tomorrow.  Why am I always the last to know?

My SKer inverts his letters, skips numbers when he counts to thirty and thinks that Terry Fox lives in the forest behind his grandparents’ house.  My pre-schooler would rather pick his nose than pick up a pencil and I am fairly certain I will have a struggle on my hands getting him to read a book, unless of course, he’s on a toilet.

But what my kids do excel at is, being kids.  They have wild imaginations that leave me eavesdropping from behind a wall, wishing that I had the video camera recording every sound that they make.

Sometimes the baby bathtub is a speedboat, and an old belt is the water ski rope.  Other times it is a racecar whizzing around the perimeter of the playroom.  One time it was a bobsled shooting down the stairs (I put a stop to that one).  Their new favourite game is playing dogcatcher.  The toddling baby* is the stray dog and the older two are “dog nappers” who surprise the unwitting mongrel and toss a net (blanket) over their capture.

The comment from the schoolyard mother made me bristle.  Sure anyone can take their own kid to the playground but would any sane person take them with 19 of their peers?  It’s on the playground where kids learn social skills.  They learn how to take turns, wait in line, and show compassion for others.

They create a bond outside of the classroom that can’t be replicated within the confines of four walls.  The way I see it, it’s like a company retreat.  Except the company is school and the employees are students.

What’s the point of good grades if a student lacks the social skills to apply them?  Furthermore, creativity and imagination need to be nurtured as they are born organically from childhood and simply cannot be taught by an instructor.

In terms of homework, I balance on the fence.  In the younger grades homework can actually be a communication tool between parent-teacher and parent-child.  Parents can reinforce what was learned in the classroom by engaging in discussions and enhance what is being taught by expanding the classroom walls to include the greater community.

We spent many hours this summer in the garden watching the tomatoes and cucumbers grow.  My son explained to me how root systems work and how tomatoes get their red colour.  We looked up answers to his questions on the Internet about what vegetables grow in Ontario during the summer months.  The seed, pardon the pun, for this learning was a school unit on plants.

I am sure that there will come a time when homework becomes a laborious chore for both of us, but for now and I hope for the future, I continue to look at it as an opportunity to enrich what he is learning.

And here is where I slide to the other side of that fence.  Homework that is rote and has no real application is dull.  Dull for everyone – student, parent and teacher.  Not only is it uninspiring but also it serves no real purpose.  In our face-paced society where parents are struggling to get dinner on the table, fighting with kids to complete tedious assignments does not sound like quality time spent – for anyone.

From my perch on the middle of the fence, I say that homework has it’s place but not at the expense of being a kid and bonding as a family.  There is so much more to life than grades and academics.  And I would say that I am not alone in my thinking.

Click here to read a great article from Science Daily and here for another from The Globe and Mail.

*(My guess is that boy #3 might make through school on a wrestling scholarship.  Just saying).

Not a tiger (yet), just a cub.

There are many ways to become famous.  There are the traditional means: write an epic novel, make a radical political contribution, explore the far corners of the earth, give an Oscar winning performance, etc.

Or do as Yale law professor and author Amy Chua who recently made a tidal wave with her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  It seems everyone from the Wall Street Journal to bloggers and even Oprah are taking time to comment on her wildly controversial memoir and subsequent interviews.

According to Chua there are some significant differences between “Chinese” parenting and Western parenting.  Among the differences Chua ascertains that a Chinese mother would never allow her child to do the following:

  • Have a play date or attend a sleepover
  • Be in a school play
  • Complain about not being in a school play
  • Not be the number one student/get an A in every subject (except gym and drama)
  • Play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • Not play the piano or violin
  • Watch T.V. or play computer games

These social activities aside, Chua goes on to state the basic principles of Chinese parenting.  In brief:

  • Nothing is fun unless you’re good at it. Therefore children must practice, practice, practice in order to attain a certain level of mastery.  Once this level is reached, the activity will then be fun.  Should the child resist, the parents must persist and use all means to ensure that their child attain mastery status including, if necessary, verbal threats and emotional torment.
  • Chinese parents are not concerned about their child’s psyche but instead want them to be strong for the real world.  In contrast, Chua believes that Western parenting is so caught up with instilling self-esteem in our children that we lie to them about their abilities and often accept mediocrity.
  • Chinese parents believe that their children owe them everything and in doing so must make them proud.
  • Chinese parents know what is best for their children and therefore can override all of their children’s wants and desires if they feel it is in their best interest.

Needless to say that Chua’s comments have enraged many parents and on-line discussion boards are overrun with comments.

At first read admittedly, I was incensed by her parenting practices but like with most things that I have a visceral reaction to, I reflected on why I had such strong feelings.  Is this another Octomom pulling some publicity crazed stunt to garner the attention of the world or is Chua calling attention to a discussion that needs to be had about parenting and by doing so, scratching open a wound?

Chua has stated that the context of her memoir is supposed to be deadpan humor but I am guessing that it must have been lost in translation. For many, calling your children “garbage” and making your love conditional on rigid (and in some cases unattainable) standards borders on abuse.  And in light of recent teen suicides that have awakened a nation it’s hard for many to see how this parenting model produces successful adults.

So why did I not just turn the page, roll my eyes and move on to the next piece of news for the day?  Why did I read several different articles and interviews with Chua?  Why did I feel the need to discuss “Chinese parenting” with pretty much anyone who mentioned they had read anything by Chua?

I have some tiger in me.  A cub if you will.

Let me start off with saying there is much of Chua’s beliefs that I vehemently disagree with.  I don’t agree with verbal putdowns of any kind or making my love conditional.  I don’t agree that my children owe me everything; I believe that they owe themselves everything.  I don’t agree with anything on Chua’s list of forbidden activities.

But here is what I do agree with.

I am not my child’s friend.  I don’t need to be friends with a four year old.  I am his mother and sometimes being a mother doesn’t win me any popularity contests.  When my four year old tells me that he’s not my friend anymore, I simply shrug my shoulders and say that he is my son, not my friend.

If my child signs up for something they must see it through.  Tears, tantrums, begging, – save it.  If I have spent my hard earned money on the lessons and the teacher has shown up to teach, I see it as disrespectful to either drop out or to give a half-hearted effort.  If at the end of the session my child never wants to play soccer again, I don’t really care but I will not tolerate a quitter’s mentality.

I know my child.  I know his capabilities and if he is putting forth less than his best, the tiger in me sharpens her claws.  He doesn’t owe it to me to be his best.  He owes it to himself.  If he doesn’t think that he owes it to himself to be the best, no one else will think he deserves it either.

Kids need to know the truth.  We are not all winners.  We are not all the best at everything.  Most of us aren’t even good at everything.  That’s just the way it is.

Chua relates a birthday story in her Globe and Mail interview.  Tralee Pearce calls her mean.  But I found myself championing for Chua and nodding my head in agreement.

My husband had forgotten my birthday and at the last minute had put together something at a very mediocre Italian restaurant and then he said, “Girls, we each have a little surprise for Mommy, right?” Lulu’s surprise turned out to be a piece of paper folded in half, that had a happy face on the front and said, Happy Birthday Mommy. Misspelled. I knew that it couldn’t have taken more than six seconds to make. I gave it back to Lulu and said, “I reject this. I want a better one. Think about it, I work so hard for you. Whenever you have a birthday I plan for months. I hand-make the invitations. I spend my salary on waterslides and magicians and party favours. And I deserve better than this.” It worked. She made a much better one.

Perhaps why this memoir is getting so much attention is because with parenting there are no clear answers.  Ultimately, it is hard to go against type and speak up against the masses but clearly Chua has touched a raw nerve in many.  People have either strongly opposed her or thanked her for giving them a voice.  And then there are people like me still left scratching their head.