January 24, 2011
I feel that I must add to the Tiger Mom discussion…
When I read the WSJ article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua, I had an immediate negative visceral response. I was simply aghast after the snippet on the actions that Chua took to get her 7-year-old prepared for a piano recital.
Although I didn’t read Chua’s book, I collected more information by soliciting two of my very successful Chinese-American friends and by reading other related blogs/opinions/comments. I learned that there is a range of behaviors within the extreme parenting advocated (described? lamented?) by Chua. Both of my Chinese-American friends agreed with some of Chua’s observations but not all. There is also a range of reactions to the behaviors. Many kids became successful (as shown by the statistics) and some became scarred for life (see opinion by Lac Su who also wrote a book on Tiger Mothers).
What I have realized is that parenting methods derive from parenting priorities, whether stated explicitly or not. What you choose as your priorities determine your methods and your metrics. There can be endless argument in favor of differing priorities, but as a parent, you get to choose the investment priorities in the extremely complex and multi-fauceted task of raising a child.
If you narrowly focus on a few factors (academics and music) you can achieve success in those domains, but potentially at the expense of other factors. David Brooks make an excellent case for the value of social factors in his NYT piece, Amy Chua is a Wimp.
Amy Chua deliberately chose academics and music as her priorities for teaching her children. Her metrics were GPA, class rank, and recital success (piano or violin only). By her own admission, her methods were often shame, humiliation and coercion. To her credit, her daughters succeeded in both of these domains.
With two teenagers of my own, I have deliberatley chosen:
- Impart the ability to make good decisions, and
- Create a caring and generous soul.
The metrics for my priorities are much more difficult to quantify and my primary method is to capitalize on teachable moments. The jury is still out with regard to success because my children have not reached matriculation.
I have given and continue to give both my son and daughter opportunities in diverse environments (social, music, academic, domestic, athletic, etc.) trying to amplify what interests them while providing them safety in the background. Although I do require a minimum of proficiency across all domains, in their early years especially, I supported just trying stuff with a minimum level of commitment. My kids tried languages (Japanese!), music (flute and piano), and many sports. Even though my husband would have liked our son to play baseball, our son found his soul in soccer. I dreamed that my daughter might be a swimmer, but her passion is cheerleading. By allowing them to choose, we have nurtured self-directed drive for accomplishment. I never tell my son to practice his soccer footwork, but I do have to tell him occasionally that it’s driving me crazy and that he needs to give it a rest.
Like Brooks, I tend to think that the trickiest stuff to learn is the social factors – there is no road map or easy measurements. Yet the next generation will have to navigate a more complex world than we live in today, thus it is super important to ensure that my kids be fully competent in this capacity. Disallowing media, sleepovers, and friends avoids the issue and does not allow for development, so it is imperative (to my husband and I) to thoughtfully allow all of these complex interactions to ensure that they achieve excellence in social collaboration without becoming lost.
To that end, my husband and I hold fast to the, “trust but verify” method of teaching. We give our kids sufficient rope to try stuff (what friends they will choose, what media they will consume, and how they spend their leisure time), but we pay very close attention to what they say they are doing and the congruence to the signals that they send. We don’t allow them to go just anywhere, we require knowing: the who, the what, the where, and the when, of their choices and then we observe. For example, does their style of dress match the social situation they told us that they were attending? If stuff does not match, we hold them accountable taking each breach as a teaching opportunity.
My kids hate reading books or writing essays on the subject of scrutiny, but we have found that such methods instill the required reflection for incremental maturation. One time after a particularly egregious transgression of trust, I required my daughter to read with me, girls gone MILD by Wendy Shalit and then write an essay on selected themes from the book. Her essay was excellent and I know that it made a difference from the perceptible changes than manifested.
To Chua my priorities and methods might look like over-indulgence in media, friends, and leisure, but the reality is instilling my priorities in my kids is just as excrutiating as instilling her priorities in her kids, mine are not as visible.
Thus, after much reflection, I do respect Chua’s priorities; I only question some of her specific methods (she also questions them in her memoir, but not necessarily for the same reasons). Specifically, I object to the strategy of extreme shame, humiliaiton, and coercion because it does not scale effectively. When I consider the parenting arms-race, if everyone were to adopt this superior method, it would stop being superior simply because not everyone can be 1st in their class — the necessary escalation goes up considerably with increasing competition. Can you imagine the consequences if every child had to withstand escalating levels of shame, humiliation, and coercion to be 1st in their class when by definition only ONE person could achieve that pinnacle? At some point it crosses the line from instilling discipline to abuse. It’s a slippery slope…
Everyone agrees that parenting is hard. Depending on the age of the children, it can be physically hard, emotionally hard, or psychologically hard, and there are no days off. My long view advice on parenting:
- Know your priorities, act with intention
- Be deliberate in your method, understand how your tactics scale
- Love and nurture because children are our most precious gift.
In the end, only the children can truly decide if the job we did was proper. I guess I’ll find out in a few years…
Can you articulate your priorities?
October 16, 2009
I received a personal note from a friend who attended graduate school with me. She commented on the topic of my blog post Incongruence, noting that in her professional life in a foreign country, she finds little congruent or predictable yet she finds success. In fact, she specifically said that she has had to “adapt from my sort of square, orderly, American way of thinking and doing things (so I have been told) to the go-with-the-flow / be-ready-to-switch-gears-next-week way of doing things in the foreign environment. To my surprise, both methods can lead to successful ventures.”
I am glad she wrote because it offers me an opportunity to clarify my mixed message observation. I described the incongruence of mixed messages through the generalization of the broad communication problem of not everyone having the same priorities. However, in the specific example I cited, although the small biotech’s message was mixed (incongruent), it was really their failure to communicate that I found disagreeable.
I agree with my friend that being nimble and adaptable are important business success factors because all businesses are subject to shifting priorities due to changing environments and new information. What I challenge is the extension to the person. Once a personal relationship has been forged in the name of business, a commitment to get back to someone is never relieved by a changing business landscape. The message might change and/or an assistant might deliver it, but a commitment to communicate persists once a relationship exists because it is the relationship that carries trust, credibility, and honor.
It might seem easier to dismiss and excuse, “its just business,” rather than take responsibility to communicate when inconvenient, when the message will be difficult, or when anonymous (no one is looking). Yet the long view position requires that we dignify human interactions with the minimalist “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Done consistently, cumulative nurturing of personal respect cultivates and amplifies trust, loyalty, credibility, and honor (long view attributes). This is part of congruence.
Do you communicate consistently in your business relationships?
September 5, 2009
One year ago, as a result of a running hip injury and a prior history of a hip stress fracture (running), my doctor recommended a bone density measurement even though I am young, active, and have no significant risk factors for osteoporosis. Obediently, I went for a DEXA measurement.
Shortly after, my doctor informed me that the good news was that I had not lost any height, but the bad news was that I had osteoporosis. I was shocked.
This diagnosis was opportunity to adjust my lifestyle to improve my long-term skeletal health. As with any significant emergent problem, the long view response is similar:
- Assess priority – does it merit long view investment?
- Define improvement/success metric(s)
- Create a plan for improvement/success
- Execute: drip, drip, drip…
- Measure improvement/success
- Reassess priority (Celebrate improvement/success)
Establishing priority was easy. To ensure my long-term skeletal health, I was immediately committed to aggressively battling this silent disease. Complacency was never an option for an Off-the-Scale-Futurist.
Defining the improvement/success metric was also easy. I needed to increase my bone density to greater than -1.5 spinal t-score (low end of the normal range) as measured by DEXA.
With my doctor, I created a threefold plan for bone density improvement/success:
- Increase mineral availability: take calcium supplements 3×600 mg/day.
- Decrease demineralization: add drug therapy, Boniva 1x/month.
- Increase mineralization: add load-bearing exercise. This required a remix of my athletic lifestyle. My typical regimen of swimming, biking, running, and an occasional cardio machine provided limited load-bearing. Only running counted as load-bearing, and it only loads the lower skeleton. So, I reduced swimming and biking in favor of weight-lifting 2x/week, along with my usual running. After a bit, I realized the combination did not give me the joy of athletics to which I was accustomed, so I went in search of new load-bearing sports. I tried both yoga and rock climbing, both of which provide whole skeletal loading. Although I liked yoga, it didn’t like me (rhomboid strain). I loved rock climbing – it is so addictive that it became the clear winner! 🙂 I now mix a combination of swimming, biking, running, and rock climbing throughout the week, along with weight-lifting 1x/week. I still have joy, but I increased the amount of load-bearing exercise.
Since DEXA bone density is measured no more frequently than annually – I committed to a full year of execution. Keeping the faith, I impatiently and anxiously awaited my next DEXA results, drip, drip, drip, …
I recently received my results and I moved the needle! I went from a -2.6 spinal t-score to a -1.6 spinal t-score; a full standard deviation of change. Woohoo! Although I didn’t quite reach a number greater than -1.5, I certainly made a significant gain. Time to celebrate!
Because load-bearing is now integrated into my lifestyle, I no longer need aggressive focus. Time for a new adventure…
What are you doing to ensure your long-term health?
July 8, 2009
As I “analyzed” why this has been hard, I became increasing aware of a disconnect between our voiced opinion(s) upon the importance of timely completion of the document and our real action(s) in timely completion of our assignments.
Because the guidance document has long view value with near-term obstacles, my initial reaction was to judge the severity of the disconnect between “say” and “do” in my fellow document drafters. However, after further reflection, I realized that it is too easy to be judgmental about others’ choices of pace and priority. How can I be aware of their competing demands? Would I really expect draft completion when a fellow volunteer has been ill? No!
What I can do is address my own inconsistency on pace and priority. On that subject, I liked Scott’s Consistency Audit Review.
Have you recently conducted a consistency audit on yourself?
Back to editing that document…