really enjoyed Quiet and highly recommend the read. This unusual book is
successful in helping people see introverts in a new way, and perhaps most
importantly in helping introverts see themselves more clearly.
Cain does a nice job exploring the extroverted ideal and explaining how it has impacted our culture, in our
school systems as well as in the corporate environment, and challenging the
disproportionate value given to the extrovert. She takes the reader on an
inspiring journey beginning at Dale
Carnegie's birth place and leading us though a series of unexpected landmarks
including a Tony Robbins seminar, Sunday morning at a Mega Church and a
peek inside Harvard Business School. Throughout the book she sites real
research in psychology and neuroscience which reveals surprising
biological differences between extroverts and introverts. She also includes stories of real people,
some of whom are highly successful introverts.
Along the way she definitely challenges the ways in which forced
extroverted collaboration may in fact be a barrier to productivity, creativity
and innovation; an interesting concept to contemplate for both our school
cultures and corporate environments.
it is true, as research suggests, that one third of the people we know are
introverts (and many more are ambiverts, folks with both extroverted and
introverted qualities) this book is a worthwhile tool to help us understand those
who prefer listen to talking, small groups to large social events and the
individual creative act to self promotion, and those who at school and in the
workplace perform better working individually than in large collaborative
about you? Your spouse? Your kids? Where do you think you fall on the
spectrum? Are we willing to let our
loved ones, and ourselves, be who we are, be productive and find fulfillment in
the way that best suits us? Susan Cain
suggests that understanding this vital part of our mental and emotional make-up
can help us to better do just that.
As a young American woman, I immersed myself in the French
language as a portal to a culture I revered.
I did the typical semester abroad in Paris and then returned to France a
few years out of college to teach English in a secondary school in a Southern
mountain town. My last day of teaching, I dropped the English agenda and
conversed in French with a class of thirteen year-olds who exchanged deeply
insightful thoughts with more sophistication and fluidity than I had
encountered in most of my college courses.
It struck me then that this level of thinking and communicating was what
being French was all about.
Fast forward a few years and I'm living in a mountain town
in North Carolina, now a mother to a two year-old and a new baby. I rarely feel I have the time or focus to
compose full thoughts at all, let alone those remotely on par with my
experience in the French classroom. My
life is exhaustingly consumed with parenting, which is the current norm in
American culture though I keep trying to escape it for something more
balanced. Waldorf education, with its
European roots, offers a very different model for childrearing that I attempt
to follow though it often feels like trying to build a sandcastle in a
Just as I am feeling upended by another tidal wave, Bringing
Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, shows
up on my doorstep as a gift. It is a
witty and insightful comparison of current American and French parenting
cultures and I devour it as if it were a flaky Parisian croissant. As I read, I learn as much about the U.S.
culture of parenting as I do about France's, the most epic difference being
that French parenting is just as refined as are its wine, pastries, and poetry,
whereas American parenting is, well, not. When looked at as a whole, the
culture of parenting in the U.S. is one of ever-changing trends, of more is
better (especially regarding safety), and of customized-to-fit. At best our parenting culture seems to be
consumerist and at worst, complete psychosis.
Druckerman suggests that our culture's parenting problems
stem from a competitive mentality (wanting our kids to have a leg up so they
can join the upper class) and a belief that kids are psychologically
fragile. In the first chapter she
writes, "Today's young parents are part of the most psychoanalyzed generation
ever and have absorbed the idea that every choice we make could damage our
kids. We also came of age during the
divorce boom in the 1980s and we're determined to act more selflessly than we
believe our own parents did." Add to
this that, thanks to the media, "[...] we feel we're parenting in a very
dangerous era" and it's easy to see how so many Americans think that being a
parent is inherently exhausting and overwhelming.
The French, however, offer another way. According to
Druckerman, the whole of childrearing in France is based on the perspective of
two philosophers, Jacques Rousseau and his Twentieth century predecessor,
Francoise Dolto, who observed that the development of a child unfolds naturally
if given the proper space and freedom.
Development here is seen as "awakening" into full-consciousness. Because
of this, the French view children, even babies, as inherently competent,
sentient beings, rather than blank slates onto which they write (positively or
negatively). The role of parents,
caregivers, and educators, therefore, is to assist children in becoming
awakened and autonomous little humans who function well within society.
As I experienced in the French classroom and Druckerman recounts
from her various Parisian encounters, this isn't an unrealistic ideal to which
the French aspire; it is a reality they accomplish. French babies sleep through the night, on
average, by three or four months of age.
As toddlers, they eat the same diverse, gourmet meals as their parents,
and do so politely. They can happily
entertain themselves from an early age and learn to do many things for
themselves giving them a sense of competence and self-confidence. As adolescents, they articulate philosophical
thoughts with eloquence and, in general, they rebel on a much more minor scale
than American youth. Perhaps most
astonishing to American parents is the fact that French parents, even those of
infants, are able to maintain balance in their lives, fulfilling their needs as
adults while still being attentive and loving to their children.
So, how do the French accomplish all of this? As I see it, parenting in France is simpler
than it is in the U.S. due to two main factors.
The first is that because we tailor our parenting approaches and our
beliefs about what children need to fit our individual lifestyles, we find it
hard to be in community with other parents.
We pay lip service to "It takes a village..." but in reality we shut our
little families into our own stylized bubbles. Instead of being a support to each other
and drawing from a shared understanding of child-development, we mostly don't
discuss parenting with one another in any depth for fear of offending or being
This also makes following thru with one's chosen parenting
approach in social settings such as playgrounds highly inconvenient, if not
impossible. (Ever tried to let your child work out his differences with another
child whose parent is mediating his every encounter? Or, how about trying to enforce certain rules
with your child in the midst of others who are being raised with conflicting
guidelines? Or, worse, no rules at
all?) Conversely, French parents have a
sturdy set of norms that they follow so universally that even their snack times
are in-sync. Of course, it is a smaller country, but
still - imagine the population of just one single city in the U.S. all snacking
at 4pm, as the French do.
The second challenging factor in American parenting is that
we are so frenzied by constantly having to develop our own parenting models and
make decisions about how to implement them that we aren't left with much mental
space to think through the long-term significances of our choices. Without the support of community or the space
for depth of thought, it is very easy to forget why we made the choices we did
and to fall back onto the path of least resistance - something that creates
spoiled children who don't have the sense of security a strong parental
authority instills and who believe their desires can always be met.
The French have a word for just such children, which they
consider the U.S. to be full of-- l'enfant
roi, which translates as "child-king" and is seen as something incredibly
damaging for a child to be. Druckerman found that to avoid this, "French
parents stress cadre [translated as
frame or framework] because they know
that without boundaries, children will be overpowered by [their own]
desires. The cadre helps to contain all this inner turmoil and calm it
The term cadre
describes, according to Druckerman, one of the fundamental tenets of French
parenting: setting and enforcing a few very firm limits and then allowing
children complete freedom within these limits to discover the world for themselves. Alongside cadre is the principle of autonomie,
which encourages children to become self-reliant from an early age (a
result of freedom within the cadre) and also teaches them patience rather
than instant gratification. Learning
patience begins at an early age with something referred to as "le pause," in which parents wait and
listen to their infants' cries for a few moments before reacting. This permits them time to discern the baby's
needs while simultaneously teaching the baby that it is okay to feel what he or
she is feeling and that he or she is capable of waiting a moment or two. Parents always respond to their babies'
cries so the babies know they will be attended to, but they also learn the
message being sent that they are not completely helpless; they are able to
When I first read about le
pause, my instinct was to write it off as I had other sleep-training
methods I'd encountered in American parenting books which involved ignoring the
baby's cries, but seen through the lens of French parenting philosophy I
realized that not taking a brief pause before reacting to my infant's cries was
doing him, and me, a disservice. By
rushing in to swoop him up, I wasn't giving myself time to really listen to
what he was communicating and to think through what would best serve him in
With this realization came a greater understanding of what
is perhaps the most fundamental difference between French and American
parenting and the two cultures at large: our relationship with time. In the
U.S., time is seen as something to be contended with. We are often trying to "beat the clock" and
get things done as efficiently as possible.
We believe that being first is paramount ("the early bird gets the
worm"). We work long hours, skip meals,
take short vacations, and don't sleep enough (even without infants!). We frown on the slow poke and repeatedly tell
our children, "Hurry up, it's time to go," or "There's not time for that."
Built into French culture, however, is an awareness and appreciation
that good things take time: wine, pastries, and poetry, of course, but also
thought. Time is needed to think through
things. If it is not taken, then
decisions are made and actions are taken based on impulse or instinct instead
of concentrated thought. This is not
always a bad thing, but given how imbalanced American parents feel and our
children are psychologically testing to be, it seems this is one French lesson
from which our entire culture would benefit.
As for me and mine, I am so grateful for this reminder from
the French that there is another way to be and, by extension, to parent. I have already begun putting into practice
some of the way the French parent their children (talk about cadre - we literally fenced in our yard,
eh, voila! outdoor freedom ensues!),
but I find that in typical American fashion, I am adapting it to fit the needs
of my family. I am not, however, doing
this capriciously. I am taking the time
and thought needed to melt together my own discoveries of these precious little
humans in my care with those of other great thinkers. I hope that a growing number of American
parents will do the same-- adding to this fondue and seasoning it to taste - so
that we can feast on it in community with one another.
magazine's cover story a couple of week's ago The Upside Of Being An
Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated) By Bryan
February 6, 2012 is worth a read, especially for those who would classify
themselves as introverts. Walsh sites that approximately 30% of the population
is introverted and so it helps to know what this might mean. In the article he considers the pros and cons
for both personality types as leaders. This aspect in particular made me start
to think about the question of the personality types of family members, and how
it might affect our home life.
our introverted or extroverted nature is an important part of understanding and
communicating our needs as partners and parents. It also helps us to foresee
pitfalls and plan strategies if, for instance, we are introverts raising an
extroverted child or extroverts raising an introverted child. Do read this
article and let us know what you think. You may even want to take the quiz
below and determine for yourself whether you are an introvert, extrovert or
ambivert (someone with characteristics reflecting a bit of each).
Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert? excerpted
from: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop
Talking by Susan Cain (We will review this book next month.)To
ﬁnd out where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, answer each
question True or False, choosing the response that applies to you more often
This is an informal quiz, not a scientifically validated
personality test. The questions were formulated based on characteristics of
introversion often accepted by contemporary researchers. The ideas is that the more often you
answered True, the more introverted you are.
How does this affect your parenting style and home life? Read the article to see if it has some
lessons for you and your family.
______ I prefer one-on-one conversations to group
______ I often prefer to express myself in writing.
______ I enjoy solitude.
______ I seem to care about wealth, fame, and status less than
______ I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about
topics that matter to me.
______ People tell me that I'm a good listener.
______ I'm not a big risk-taker.
______ I enjoy work that allows me to "dive in" with
______ I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only
one or two close friends or family members.
______ People describe me as "soft-spoken" or
______ I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until
______ I dislike conflict.
______I do my best work
on my own.
______ I tend to think before I speak.
______ I feel drained
after being out and about, even if I've enjoyed myself.
______ I often let calls go through to voice mail.
______ If you had to choose, I'd prefer a weekend with
absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things
______ I don't enjoy
______ I can concentrate
______ In classroom situations, I prefer lectures to seminars.
Those of us lucky enough to have our
children in a Waldorf School can particularly appreciate the article in The
Atlantic's October 2011 issue " All Work and No Play: Why Kids Are More
Anxious and Depressed". The article
advocates allowing more free unstructured play for children. The author makes the case that this free play
is critical to help them grow into confident and competent adults. Freely-chosen play is believed to be a
testing ground for ‘real' life, and is an activity through which children
develop executive functioning, problem solving skills and critical
thinking. It is also key in teaching
them to manage their emotions, practice empathy and form relationships. Perhaps most importantly, it is a source of
It is interesting that while children are
spending more and more time in academic -based and adult directed activities,
the United States continues to fall further behind most developing nations
academically. Perhaps even more
frighteningly, more young adults are being diagnosed with depression and
anxiety than any other time in our nation's history. Below are some statistic
from the article.
- Children spend 18% more time in school than they did in 1987
- Children spend 145% more time doing school work than in 1987
- Children spend 168% more time shopping with adults
- Suicide rates have quadrupled from 1950 to 2005 for children
less that 15 years old and doubled for those in their teens
Let us know what you think...
Esther Entin, M.D., is a pediatrician and
clinical associate professor of Family Medicine at Brown University's Warren
Alpert School of Medicine. She writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.
Please share your comments about this
recent article in Sunday's New York Times
A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute
featuring the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, located 35 miles south of San
" The chief
technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here.
So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and
Hewlett-Packard. But the school's chief teaching tools are anything but
high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a
computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom,
and the school even frowns on their use at home."
The article focuses in large part on the
issue of technology in schools, as well as specifically on how Waldorf schools
instead engage students in learning through physical activity and creative
hands-on tasks. The author writes, "Schools nationwide have rushed to
supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say it is
foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the
epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message:
computers and schools don't mix....The Waldorf method is nearly a century old,
but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying
debate about the role of computers in education."
By Sarah B. Weir, a Yahoo
I recently read this article and found it eye opening about the
world of social media for our girls. I wanted to share with all of you and hear
what you think. My daughter feels pressure to own a phone, have an email and
engage in the social realm through technology---after reading this article I feel
even more compelled to protect her from social media for as long as possible.
Its 10 pm, do you know
where your children are? Whether at home or out, odds are they are online and
social networking. Even if parents do see what their kids post, they might not
understand how living life online actually feels. Facebook Me, an original play
written and performed by teens at the upcoming New York International Fringe
Festival is a revealing exploration of what's going on behind millions of young
people's computer screens.
I recently sat down with
the cast (whose names have been changed below) and asked them to share about
their experiences with social networking. I also spoke with a professor
specializing in the psychology of technology, who offers some timely advice for
parents. What the kids had to say:
"There's more ‘life'
happening online than offline. If you are not online, you are completely out of
the loop-you don't have a life, you don't really exist."
-Hannah, 13 years old
"I'm online even during
class. I'm supposed to be taking notes but instead I'm commenting on stuff and
-Emma, 14 years old
"I feel safer online than
I do offline. So I do things online that I wouldn't do in real life."
-Sadie, 14 years old
"I've become very good at
taking pictures of myself. I know what angle is best, I know how to part my
lips...you know. It's like the number one thing on my mind is ‘I need to get home
right now and take a new profile picture.' All because I want someone to
comment on how I look."
-Katie, 15 years old
affects all the things you do in real life now. Like, if you go to a party, one
of the most important aspects of going to the party is to document yourself for
online posts. You have to prove you were looking good, you were having fun, and
that you were actually there! It's not about the party anymore but about the
pictures of the party."
-Caroline, 14 years old
"I feel sad, depressed,
jealous, or whatever when I don't get a lot of "Likes" on my photo or when
someone else gets way more Likes than me. Honestly, I'm not sure that parents
realize how drastically it affects our self-image and confidence. If I see a
picture of a really pretty girl, it's like ‘Goodbye self-esteem.' It forces me
to compete and do stuff that I don't want to do, so my confidence will get a
-Samantha, 14 years old
"Sometimes I feel like
I'm losing control. I want my parents to tell me to get off the computer.
Actually, they would need to literally take the computer away because I can't
-Nina, 15 years old
"My friendships are
really affected by social networking. You have to constantly validate your
friends online. And everyone's like ‘Where were you?' ‘What have you been
doing?' ‘Why haven't you commented on my picture yet?' So you have to be online
all the time, just to keep track, so you don't upset anyone."
-Jasmine, 13 years old
"There is so much
pressure to look happy all the time-you can never just be yourself- because
everybody is always taking pictures and posting them."
-Nikki, 13 years old
"I really want my mom to
be proud of me. Obviously, I want her to think I'm writing my essay or doing
things I should be doing instead of being on Facebook. But I also want to be
online. So I lie or accuse her of not trusting me. It's awful, but I've become
really comfortable with lying."
-Maya, 14 years old
Some new research has
shown that social networking can also have positive effects on teens such as
helping introverted adolescents forge relationships or providing a venue for
activism and political engagement. But, given the lure of spending too much
time plugged in and the self-esteem issues related to the constant scrutiny of
one's online persona, how can parents help their kids have a healthy and
productive relationship with technology?
Thrift was a cardinal virtue in my family; and waste a
cardinal sin. So it's not surprising
that the lead article in last week's New
York Times Dining section "That's Not Trash, That's Dinner" caught my eye.
The article explores the trend of "stem-to-root" cooking with
vegetables that parallels the "nose-to-tail" approach to cooking meat. Now I'm not one to infuse cream with crushed
cherry pits to make panna cotta like the chefs in the article. But I do want to make use of every ounce of
organic broccoli I've purchased at the farmer's market. So I make stock. And it's EASY.
Whenever I prepare vegetables, I keep a container handy to
collect my scraps-asparagus ends, parsley stems, onion cores, carrot peels:
anything clean and fresh but too woody or too ugly to be eaten. At the end of a prep session, the container
gets dumped into a zipped plastic bag-my "scrap bag"-- and stored in the
When I'm ready to make soup I dump my frozen scraps in a
stock pot, add water to cover, bring it to a boil, and then simmer. Unlike meat/bone based stocks which benefit
from hours and hours of simmering, vegetable stocks are done in an hour. Even easier (but requiring a level of
forethought that usually eludes me) is making stock in a slow cooker.
Strain the stock or just pour off the liquid, holding back
the solids with a wooden spoon. If you
have too much stock, you can freeze it, or store it in the fridge for several
days. Add it to braises and sauces for
Occasionally, a vegetable stock will be bitter (I don't add
carrot tops for that reason) so taste before using. But I encourage you to give it a try. Homemade stock adds a depth of flavor to
soups that is indefinably yummy. Plus,
you'll have the satisfaction of using more of the produce that you buy.
we all nurture the hopeful belief that if we just make the right choices, do
things a certain way, our kids will turn out to be happy adults. This is what we want most
of all in raising our children. In the
July/August issue of The Atlantic Magazine there is an article titled How to Land Your Kid in Therapy ; Why the Obsession With Our Kids Happiness May Be Dooming Them to be Unhappy Adults.
The article is rich and deep, with
many themes bringing up paths of conversation and debate.
In essence the article is a challenge
to parents to think, with all of our best intentions, what are
we actually doing for our children. Are
we doing too much, giving them too many choices, too much engagement around
their feelings? Are we projecting too many
of our own unmet needs on our kids without enough self awareness? Are we intervening too quickly when they fall
down or have difficulty at school and cheering them on too much saying, "Great
job!"-when in fact they need to feel challenged? Is it possible that we say ‘yes' too much and
that our children don't understand or know how to manage with being met at
times with an important and necessary ‘no'. How will they learn to overcome obstacles if
as parents we work so hard, out of love but perhaps incorrectly, to remove them
before they arise? The article is very interesting
and a worthwhile read, highly recommended by the editors of Family Year.
Let us know
what you think!
Now that my own
children are no longer small, I have started to have a real craving for
babies. I miss their soft sweet
skin and their dimpled feet and hands, for instance, and the joy of seeing them
smile. One day I will be an
immoderately doting grandmother, but not for many years yet I hope. Part of this lovely longing was
satisfied recently by the charming film Babies, created by the French directors Thomas Balmes and
Alain Chabat, and released last year.
A very entertaining documentary, Babies gives the viewer a peek into the lives of four
infants from birth to one year of age as they are carried and cared for, eat,
crawl and generally explore the world around them. The thing that makes this film so unique is that the worlds
they explore, are very different, as the
four babies are born in four quite distinct parts of the globe; in
Tokyo, Japan; in Opuwo Namibia; in San Francisco, USA; and in Bayachandmani,
Though Babies is a French film, and is filmed on location in three
continents, the film has no subtitles. This is because there is no dialogue to
speak of. Neither is it needed,
because, of course, babies can't talk! What they can do is touch, taste, feel, smell, and
babble, coo and cry. What we the
viewers see and hear are roughly 80 minutes culled from hundreds of hours of
film, following these four through their first glimpses of their ‘brave new
world'. The experience is
intriguing, touching and often funny! We see them experience first tastes of
food and frustrations and freedom as the youngsters, eyes wide, imitate what
they see around them and negotiate their surroundings. With what joy they first
stand and take their first wobbly steps! The parents, forming a warm circle in the periphery,
fade into a blur of hands and encouraging voices and let the babies take the
Though the babies are
certainly irresistible, the film never becomes merely cute or cloyingly
sweet. With an insightful eye,
Chabat has created a study of human nature at its, well, most naked. I was struck immediately by the presence of these very young children, their unique
personalities, their innate humor and cleverness, which reminded me that babies
come to us with SO much, and are anything but blank slates. Babies is also a clear picture of the universality of human
experience as all four children go through very similar phases of growth,
though the growing happens in settings that are starkly different, a high rise
apartment on one hand and a mud and wattle hut on the other. I tip my hat to the directors for
showing the beauty and utility of both, again without too much
sentimentality. In the end the
funniest part for me was that the youngsters in Tokyo and San Francisco with
their all their baby gear, their shelves of toys and infant yoga classes,
seemed happiest sitting on the floor playing with their toes. The little ones in Mongolia and Namibia
who get by with much less stuff and fuss, but are plopped right in the middle
of the adult world of work and weather and livestock, seem to be coming up
pretty well too, cheerful, sturdy and capable. I guess the final message for me was, relax and love
these little people who, remarkably, find their way into our lives. Let them grow in their time. The kids are all right.
Babies is now available on DVD . Treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.
January, a seminar on Simplicity Parenting was held at a Waldorf school in
Bellevue, WA. The speaker,
Kim-John Payne, has been facilitating hands-on and step-by-step workshops on
how to slow down family life and help our children become calmer, happier and
more successful as students and as human beings. Payne is a doctor of psychology, a long time Waldorf
educator and the parent of two young girls, who began his career as a clinical
psychologist working with at-risk youth.
At that time he began to see symptoms in young people that seemed to
match the clinical descriptions of post-traumatic stress disorder. These same symptoms were also present
in the children of more affluent families who came to him later in private
practice for help in facing behavioral challenges. Over many years he began to draw the firm conclusion that
the stresses of modern life are causing some of the behaviors that parents and
educators readily recognize: anxiety, oppositional behavior, mood swings and
Payne characterized traditional childhood as a period of long, even boring,
summers and afternoons with lots of outdoor play and time for rumination. More or less sheltered from the adult
world of worry and decision making, steadied by the inevitable rhythms of the
seasons in which changes were natural, young people came to maturity slowly and
only gradually took on roles in the larger world. Now, according to Dr. Payne, this is less the case and
children are suffering.
to Payne, there are four main stresses that speed up the process of growth and
wear away at our youngsters' health and well-being:
- An environment with too much stuff.
- A life with too little predictability.
- A day with too many plans and activities.
- Too much information: ‘houses without walls' in
which children are burdened with too many adult decisions and worries and
too much overall stimulus.
which help families pare back some of these stressors a little at a time are
being held all over the US and abroad.
The movement is helping to develop a growing support system for parents
who want their lives to be a little simpler.
useful in this workshop were the practical ideas that came out of our
discussions. I greatly appreciated
the enthusiasm generated when participants laughed and talked through their
Solutions could be as easy as sorting through the toy chest and tossing
out or giving away broken, unused toys; boxing up out of season clothes for
storage, and minimalizing wall décor.
Talking about support from the community for more difficult family
changes such as keeping adult decisions in adult hands, and taking a critical
look at our "Too Much Information" culture, was also helpful. When parents shared their challenges
there were audible sighs of relief from the rest of us. We all know it's hard to do this on our
own and appreciate knowing that we are not alone!
If you are interested in learning more
or finding out about upcoming seminars visit Payne's website at www.simplicityparenting.com. His
new book, Simplicity Parenting,
is available on the site as well.
No longer the Year of the Tiger, this month's new moon ushered in the Year of the
Rabbit. So now's the time for this mom,
born in the Year of the Rabbit, to look back at the firestorm surrounding
"Tiger Mom" Amy Chua's Wall
Street Journal article entitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior"
am the daughter of Chinese immigrants, and yes I played the piano and my
brother played the violin. Oh and my
daughters play the piano and the violin.
So I found Chua's book excerpt both true enough to resonate, and
outlandish enough to elicit giggles - I laughed out loud when I read her piece.
I can see how it stirred up controversy.
Chua's WSJ essay begins:
"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents
raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do
to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the
family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've
done it." An attitude like that is bound
to ruffle some feathers. That she is
mostly joking is beside the point.
article then lists a host of activities Chua banned from her children:
sleepovers, playdates, television and computer games, trying out for a school
play, any grade less than an "A" - the list goes on. Even before you get to the
infamous "The Little White Donkey" piano practice session, Chua is sounding
pretty extreme. Is this really what Chinese
parenting is like?
one woman's parenting journey, guided by values common to many cultures: work
hard, don't give up, set high expectations, and mommy knows best.
is a law professor, not a cultural anthropologist, so for me that would take
the question of what is "Chinese" off the table. Instead, what I find interesting about this
controversy is the opportunity it presents to review parenting trends and
practices: a chance to be more conscious about parenting.
all want what's best for our children. Still, whether we parent the way we were
parented, or work to create a new parenting model, it's impossible to know if
what we're doing is the right thing until it's too late. So parents can feel
vulnerable and eager for feedback on what works.
we all have different ideas about what "works" means. Is it children with straight A's? Children who play well with others? Children who perform at Carnegie Hall?
Children who are always obedient? Children who chew with their mouths closed
and don't talk with their mouths full (at least not very often)? And keep in mind that what we want to end up
with are not children at all, but adults.
is hardest for me when I'm not clear.
And it is the transcendent ideas that most often befuddle me. For example, I want my children to have high
self-esteem. But what IS self-esteem and
how does it move upward? This is where I
found Chua's essay very helpful. She
talks about "big differences between the Chinese and Western parental
mind-set," and highlights their opposing views on self-esteem.
notes that "Western" parents seem to assume a child's self-esteem is fragile,
requiring reassurance and praise to grow.
"Chinese" parents assume a robust self-esteem that grows with the
mastery achieved from practice - lots of practice. Perhaps your family relates more to "Race
to Nowhere" than Amy Chua, but I agreed with Chua on this point: Self-esteem can be bolstered by mastery and
mastery comes from practice.
Chua's daughters, my girls take music lessons.
Do I make my children practice?
Sorta...we have an agreement. I pay
for lessons and books and instruments and rosin and metronomes and tuners and
drive them back and forth to lessons.
They practice. 30 minutes. Six days a week. Some days they practice more, seldom
less. I don't berate them or refuse to
let them use the bathroom while practicing.
But I will ask to hear a tricky measure again. And again.
And again. And I never say it
sounds great unless it does. It's not a
formula for creating musical prodigies, but it seems to work for our
family. That means my children have fun
making music and are proud of what they do.
And yes, I am proud too.
paragraph of Amy Chua's article reads: "Western
parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to
pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive
reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe
that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the
future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills,
work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."
to this Rabbit mom that the two sides are not mutually exclusive.
are twelve different animals in the Chinese zodiac, and ten thousand times as
many ways to raise a family with wonderful kids who will become wonderful
Last month, I saw the film
"Race to Nowhere" which was made by a mother in LA whose children began to show
more and more signs of stress in relation to their schooling. Sparked by the
unexpected suicide of a 13-year-old girl in the community, Vicki Abeles was
inspired to explore the question of how our educational system is affecting
youth today. Abeles tells a compelling story through interviews with students,
teachers and educators. Her film argues
that students are driven beyond what is reasonable or healthy and that this
trend has been ingrained at all levels of schooling.
The movie is very personal
and very disturbing. This is not the story of youths who drop out of school,
but the startling story of high achievers who are pushed - and push themselves
- in ways that compromise their health or development. A few of the elements
explored are high stakes testing, the prominence of AP classes in high schools,
pressure from college admission requirements, excessive homework, and
unrealistic expectations of adults (including parents) on students.
While the film presents an
increasingly grim picture, the conversation with the audience after the showing
was encouraging. Real questions came from the participants about what can stem
this enormous tide of systematic and pervasive stress-inducing educational
practices, and many suggestions were offered by the panel of educators and by
the film producers themselves.
Examples of Things
Everyone Can Do:
Add your Voice! Register your Support on
the Race to Nowhere website and have your voice counted.
Listen to Young People! Every
student wants to be heard, recognized and nurtured as a unique individual. Give
students a voice and representation on the PTA and school board.
Form Alliances! Become advocates for
Network! Form or join a local Race
to Nowhere group to connect with other parents, educators, students and
concerned citizens advocating for change.
Question! Challenge policies and
practices that are driven by media rankings of high schools and colleges or
which benefit others financially.
Advocate! For policies and practices
that foster a love of learning in all children.
What Parents/Guardians Can Do:
Discuss what success means to your
family. Do your family's actions reflect your values?
Reduce performance pressure.
Create time for play, family,
friends, downtime, reflection and sleep.
Ask your children how they are
Allow your children to make mistakes
and learn from them.
Talk with your children about their
experiences in school.
Watch for and know the signs of
Organize other parents to join you.
As a group, talk to your children's teachers, school administrators and attend
School Board meetings.
Discuss with your child what path
he/she may want to pursue after high school.
Allow your high school children to
make independent choices on course selection.
Follow your instincts.
Organize a screening of "Race to
Nowhere" in your area.
I wrote and titled this post weeks
before Laurie David and her new book "The Family Dinner" burst onto the scene
with her many interviews including "The Today Show," NPR, and the Huffington
Post. David, who produced the
documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," is an environmental activist and the
parent of teenagers who sit around the dinner table and talk to her! Clearly this woman is on to something. Hear
her take on the family dinner in this
I received a sweet e-mail from a
local favorite restaurant: Canlis. During my 16 years in Seattle, I've watched
Canlis change with the times and be progressive in their cooking and
entertaining. Their latest newsletter reminded me of all the benefits of the
family dinner. The family dinner was always my favorite meal: it was the one
time growing-up that my whole family sat down together and really talked. I
loved that then, and I love it still today. Enjoy this newsletter excerpt from
Canlis plus an interesting 2008 NPR story
entitled The Family Meal Deconstructed.
From the Canlis newsletter: Family Dinner: the New Harvard Prep Course
The American diet has been under public scrutiny lately, and for good
reason. It's no secret that our protein-reliant, corn (and corn product)
infused, processed-food obsession is high on popularity, low on nutrition.
Alarming, however, is that the WAY we eat may need just as much
rethinking. We do a lot of reading at Canlis, and increasingly, we run
into statements about the value of eating together as a family. Now, the
traditional practice of families around the table is gaining scientific
backing, and we couldn't be happier. Google the idea, and you'll find a
range of evidence; studies from Harvard University to Oprah Winfrey discussing
the merits at hand - that children communicate better, mature emotionally,
become well adjusted, have superior academic performance and end up eating
healthier. Much of that research is from our own backyard. In a speech to the
Canlis board of directors, local Seattle scientist, educator and author Dr.
John Medina, (his bestselling book is Brain Rules) spoke about the power of
dining as a family - calling it, somewhat tongue in cheek: the single best way
to get your kid into Harvard. Go figure: a Harvard University study, of 65
children over 8 years, found that family dinners were the activity that most
fostered healthy child development. While what you eat may be the topic du
jour in our press and media, how you eat seems to be just as important. One
piece of advice from our Grandpa: "turn that cotton-pickin' television off!"
So with all the focus on WHAT
we're going to eat this Thanksgiving Thursday, let's simply enjoy the day and
reflect on HOW we'll eat as well. Happy
I closely watch our national education reform movement--in part due to my dear friend and college roommate Michelle Rhee. Since graduating from college, Michelle has been a making a difference in the lives of children. Three years ago she had the opportunity to make that difference in our nation's capital as the Chancellor for Washington D.C. public schools. At the time, D.C. public schools were probably the worst performing public school system in the country.
I remember calling Michelle right after she accepted that position and saying "This is your calling! All of your work up until now was to prepare you for this moment." And boy did she take the D.C. school system by storm--improving the district but not without challenges and criticisms. She resigned as chancellor in October, but became even more well known after appearing on "Oprah" to discuss the new film "Waiting for Superman."
"Waiting for Superman" is an engaging and enraging documentary about our failing public education system. We are still the world's richest nation, but our children's math and reading scores are among the world's worst. The film was co-written and directed by Davis Guggenheim who won an Oscar for Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
Guggenheim follows five children trying to learn in a complex network that actually discourages academic growth. He helps us get a picture of what is really happening in the lives of our nation's children. It is clear that we are failing them-in large part by putting up with mediocre teachers and not challenging a broken system of powerful teacher unions.
Michelle Rhee is a heroic figure in the film, believing wholeheartedly that adults are getting in the way of what's best for kids by caring more about keeping their jobs than making the necessary changes. Go see the film and be touched and inspired of what is possible. We all can be super heroes. Michelle is certainly a super hero of mine.
The July issue of Newsweek published "The Creativity Crisis", an interesting article on declining creativity scores in America, especially of children in kindergarten through sixth grade. The article speculates on the causes of this creativity crisis; implicating trends in American education towards standardized curricula and nationalized testing as well as time spent in front of the TV or playing videogames.
Creativity, defined as "the ability to produce something original and useful", is crucial to our survival. "All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care." The author also cited an IBM poll where 1500 CEO's identified creativity as "the No. 1 ‘leadership competency' of the future."
The ability to think of multiple possibilities and imagine how they might work-these are skills being lost to many young children today in a society focused on academic results. As a Waldorf parent, it's reassuring to hear mainstream pundits value the kind of balanced right brain left brain learning demanded by Waldorf schools, where the academics of creativity are deeply woven into the curriculum.
Another great resource on this topic is the book "A Whole New Mind: Why the right brainers will rule the future" by Daniel Pink. It is a fun read and another reminder of how children can benefit from a Waldorf education.
One of my favorite authors, Wendy Mogel, has a new book coming out this month for parents of teens and almost teens called "The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers". I've already cleared a space for it on my shelf.
I still remember when I first heard about Mogel's 2001 book, "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee". I'd read a few parenting books, but none that caught my attention like this one.
The subtitle is "Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children" but you don't have to be Jewish for Mogel's message to resonate. It's really about building a parenting blueprint that draws on your family's core spiritual values, and how to hold fast when those values are at odds with the dominant culture. (Which is admittedly, an area where the Jews have many centuries of experience.)
For me, Mogel's book gave satisfying answers to questions like "How do I teach gratitude to my children?" "How do I discipline?" and "What about chores?" Her advice was clear and confident; and it helped me be a clearer, more confident parent.
My oldest child was five when I first read "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee", and five years later I still refer back to Mogel's book when I need reminders to help center my parenting in a culture that is often at odds with what feels best for my children.