Marketing Parenting


Special snowflakes.

Attachment parenting.


Tiger moms.


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.


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?


Leaving the Window Open

It may be because my kids are young (almost 5 and almost 3) that this feels like a relatively easy issue for me.  With respect to Tralee Pearce’s article, I feel no real compulsion to expose them to upsetting news at this time.  They can’t do much with the information – including process it well – so the news would likely to scare and sadden them without benefit.

My censored approach to what the children receive at this young stage is deliberate.  We don’t watch TV or have cable (just an antiquated box for the for the occasional video).  Radio commentary is sometimes on, but intentionally, so the kids don’t hear much scary stuff from that source either.  My husband and I don’t discuss difficult world affairs in front of the kids.

I believe in and try to implement a simple parenting approach, seeking to enrich childhood with the things we consider most valuable, in part by losing the distractions and complications that interfere with our fundamental goals.  In the book called Simplicity Parenting, author  Kim John Payne discusses the stress and overload that children experience when they are given too much, be it things or scheduling or adult worry and information.  I agree with this, but I didn’t have to read it to feel its truth intuitively.  I’m all for an informed and involved citizenry, and I wouldn’t shelter my children from world tragedy forever even if it were possible.  But for me, young childhood is not the right time for this transition.

My decisions are made easier to some degree because my older son seems to have an overtly sensitive temperament.  He’s the (only) kindergartener in the theatre who cried with fear at the ghost story scene of A Year With Frog and Toad, who didn’t want to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas video at school, who will refuse to read books (that I’ve already tried to filter) because of a depiction of someone or something unkind (and it doesn’t matter if there’s a happy ending).  It’s clear to me that certain things are just harder for him to absorb because he feels them more deeply.

It’s true that I sometimes gently try to expand my son’s tolerances, but for the most part I respect my son’s boundaries.  It’s not coddling; it’s not preventing him from being able to operate in society.  It’s respect – that there is a time and place for everything.  I’m motivated partly because I was a ‘sensitive’ child too (and not especially respected for it), partly because my love for him outweighs any social expectation of (boy) children, and partly because I think the world would be a distinctly better place if we all had weaker abilities to adapt to what ugliness we find there.

My son has had a little exposure to the news of Japan in school and all appears well.  When I baked brownies to help fundraise, we talked about why in terms like this:  There is a place called Japan, far away from here.  They had a very bad storm, and some people’s homes were damaged and they lost their things.  We’re baking to make money to give to those people, to help them buy food and other things so they can feel better.

I also like this blog post, where a fellow blogger discussed the topic of Japan through crafting, giving her children something tangible and positive to do along with recieving the news.

Nathalie’s post from earlier this week about her immobilizing fear of the Yorkshire Ripper also gave me pause.  I have no comparable memory of an external fear like that.  But when I was two years old, my father passed away and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the legacy of this event coloured my entire childhood.  The sadness of our home, the weight of his passing, was everywhere.

There are myriad ways to injure a childhood, and many of them are well beyond our control, whether they happen halfway across the world or in our own backyards.  For the few things within our grasp, I gratefully take the opportunity to protect the sanctity of childhood’s small window.  It will close soon enough.

Know Your Child

Tralee Pearce’s article deals with the question of how much, if any, media coverage about natural events we should share with our children. As a parent, naturally, I want to protect my children from anything that might do them harm or cause them pain. As a parent, again, I also want them to understand their world and have empathy for the people in it. When it comes to media portrayals of natural disasters, I am pretty sure that the “know your child” rule applies: I can’t, nor do I want to totally shield my children from knowledge of the events of this world, both good and bad; I just want them to learn in a way that is respectful of who they are and how much I think they can handle.  Letting my children watch the nightly news seems much like teaching them to swim by throwing them in the deep-end. I’d rather they ease into the water, myself.

But that’s not necessarily what they want. They are not isolated from the facts of what occurred in Japan. My children continue to ask questions about the earthquake and tsunami. Of course, they wanted to know whether what happened in Japan could happen here. They needed to know that they are safe.  They wanted to know what happened to the children in Japan. They even wanted to know the physics of  how tsunamis work.  At school, they collected loonies and folded paper cranes.  They pledged money from their piggy banks to be donated to the Red Cross.

They also wanted to watch the news.  You Tube videos of the tsunami rushing in,  in particular, fascinated them. Neither of them could have articulated this, but I understood: they wanted to make the abstract, concrete.  Having no frame of reference, seeing what really happened in Japan helped make it real to them. Out of an abundance of caution, we might have chosen not let them watch the news clips, and perhaps, in a different circumstance, we may demur.  This time, however, I think it was okay to let them.

Sometimes I need to tell a fib.

“. . . and then a giant waterfall came and washed away all of the buildings and the cars and the people.  After that, the bad people with their guns were taken away and put in jail.”

My husband and I exchange a quizzical look.

“Did you talk about the earthquake in Japan at school today?” he asks our 4 year-old son.


“And did you talk about a place called Libya too?”


With that he bounds up from the table to take his dirty dishes to the counter.  We determined that inside his little head a million neurons were firing this way and that tangling together the horrific tsunami that washed over Japan and the crisis in Libya.

Who can blame him, really?  I have got twenty-five years on him and I can’t keep the chaos of the world straight.

So here we are, my husband and I, at a crossroads of sorts.  Do we sit down with our son and explain to him that he is confusing two events?  Do we further the discussion that he had at school and answer any questions he may have?  Or do we just follow his cue and take our own dirty dishes to the counter and move on?

When reading Tralee Pearce’s article, I was transported to the early 1990’s.  Images from the Gulf War flashed across the T.V. screen in our family room each night and early morning “current events” discussions at school were dominated by the anatomy of gas masks, sand storms, AK-47s and of course, Saddam Hussein.

The Gulf War was my first exposure to war.  Up to then I had only read stories about the World Wars and listened attentively to the veterans who visited our school auditorium.  But seeing the images of missiles light up the Baghdad sky terrified me.

At night my stomach would be in knots and lying on my bed, staring at the dark ceiling, I would think about the possibility of our own country under attack.  In true child-form, everything that I knew about war muddied together in my head and the result was petrifying.

Atomic bombs might fall on us – just like in Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes.   My parents, brother and I might have to live in a small shelter and wait to be rescued – just like Ann Frank.  Maybe we won’t have any food and have to grow our own – just like my grandparents had to do.

While I was much older than my son is today during the Gulf War, I don’t want him to experience the same level of anxiety as I did.  I want to be there for him and to reassure him that he is safe, even when the world seems like it is falling to pieces.

Tralee Pearce’s article suggests that we use “corrective feedback” and keep images of traumatic events to a minimum.  There is no doubt that images can leave lasting impressions – in some cases more so than words.

I still remember a photograph of Karla Homolka splayed across the front page of the newspaper when I was just twelve years old.  Her penetrating brown eyes stared coldly at the camera telling me that she was no innocent and to do this day I can’t view images from 9/11 without getting goose bumps and feeling queasy.

As I tuck my son in for bed, I lie down beside him and ask again about his day.  He retells the story of the giant waterfall that washed away lots of homes.  He turns on his side and rests his head on his hand.  He looks intently at me.  His blue eyes the mirror of my own.

“Will a giant waterfall wash away our house?” he asks.

“Nope.  Not ever.  We don’t live near the ocean.” I answer him.

“Will our house ever shake a lot and the walls fall down?”

This is it.  I am back at the crossroads.  I can tell him the truth.  That there is a possibility of our home being shook to pieces by the force of the earth.  After all, there was a quake that measured 5.0 on June 23 of this past year.

Or I can tell a fib.  But it’s not really a fib.  It’s just like when I tell him that Santa is watching and that the Tooth Fairy loves clean teeth.  It’s a way to preserve his innocence a little bit longer.  It’s the type of fib that I wish I could tell myself now and then.

“Nope.  Not ever.  We’re safe here.” I tell him with conviction and kiss him goodnight.

photo credit:

Memory of Terror

I read Tralee Pearce’s article about children and upsetting news with a combination of relief and recognition.  It is interesting that one aspect of children’s exposure to news about natural disasters is through schools’ fundraising efforts, and that has certainly been the case for our two eldest.  My sons, thankfully, have not shown any signs of having difficulty coping with news about the events around the world for which our family and their school fundraise.  I have lived in both Haiti and Japan, so the disasters hit close to (a previous) home.  We worked as a family to raise money for the relief efforts, and we discussed what had happened and how our efforts could begin to help.  Almost all of the kids’ exposure to these events, though, would have been aural.  The children do not yet use the internet at home, and we do not have television on at all during the week, so they would not have seen any news footage of the devastation.  (They use their precious television time on the weekend for cartoons and sports highlights.)  They might have seen the images on the front page of the newspaper, but if they did, they did not comment or show any signs of having difficulty with what they saw. 

Relief, then, that the boys have been able to participate in doing good and not be affected negatively by their awareness of disaster.  The recognition is of my own terror in childhood.

When I was seven years old, my mother and brother and I lived with my grandmother in Yorkshire for a few months while my father was finishing up work in Haiti and transitioning to the next job in Saudi Arabia.  

During our time there, a serial rapist and murderer was on the loose, and the tabloids called him the Yorkshire Ripper.   He was in the middle of what would be a six-year killing spree, so had an established track record of crime, but had not yet been caught.

I could read at that age, so I imagine I must have seen and read the headlines.   I would also certainly have seen the television news.  There was one television, it was on all afternoon and evening, and it dominated the living space of my grandmother’s cramped house.  I have no specific memory of how the information about this man was imparted to me, and I know that I did not understand the sexual aspect of the crimes, but I understood what murder was well enough and I understood that the only people in danger were female.   I also remember my utter terror of going upstairs to bed alone in case he could get into the house and kill me.   I would begin to feel nauseous every night right after dinner, because bedtime loomed and I was terrified of what came next.  My mother and grandmother were able to calm me by keeping the hall lights on and door at the bottom of the stairs open so that I could hear their voices or the sound of the television as I fell asleep.  I remember laying very still every night and listening intently for any sound that was not from the light and safety of the adults downstairs. 

My fear eventually bubbled over into hysteria one night when my mother went out to a pub with her cousins, leaving my brother and me with my grandmother.  I cried all evening as she got ready, wailed that I didn’t want her to go out, filled up with more and more panic as the time drew near for her to leave, and had to be pried off of her, crying hysterically, as she went out the door.  I had a new fear; I was afraid she would be killed.  Here’s the thing: I did not tell anyone why I did not want her to go out.  I knew that if I spoke my fear out loud, it would be laughed off.  A part of me knew it was irrational, but a bigger part of me was terrified nonetheless. 

This, I think, is the great difficulty with children’s anxiety: we cannot know how deep it goes or how deeply our reasoning will penetrate if and when they tell us what scares them.  One more good reason to keep the television off.  Pierce’s article asks “How much upsetting news should children see?”  I say, “None.”  Keep the television off and talk about the news of the day instead.  I don’t want the boys to grow up in an insular bubble, but I remember my own terror and am glad our house does not have a television as a part of our daily engagement with the world.

It’s a mad, mad world.

How much bad news should we share with our kids?  Opinions on this matter run the gamut.  Our world is rocked by natural disasters, threatened by extremists and in environmental peril on an on-going basis.  Parents are often confronted with how to explain such atrocities to their children.  Opinions on this matter run the gamut from full on disclose to extreme censorship.  Where do your beliefs fall on the spectrum?  This week the 4mothers weigh in on this issue using Tralee Pearce’s article,How Much Upsetting News Should Your Kid See, featured in the Globe and Mail on March 14, 2011 as a starting off point.

As always, we encourage you to share your opinions on the subject by writing a comment.  Perhaps you have an experience we can learn from or just want to join the conversation.  Either way, we welcome you to do so!

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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.

Sunscreen At Issue

We are going to discuss some of the news emerging about the dangers of sunscreen this week.  The links below are to the articles we will discuss.

Is Sunscreen Safe?

Just the Facts, Baby

Globe and Mail A

Globe and Mail B

The Environmental Working Group

(image courtesy of