The Measure of Success~Chinese Parents & French Parents Can’t BOTH Be Superior!
The Measure of Success
- Mother Teresa never went to medical school, never married, never had children, begged for food at some points in her life…and won a Nobel Peace Prize, established 610 Missions in 123 countries before her death in 1997, and brought hope, healing, and comfort to millions.
- Steve Jobs dropped out of college after only one semester, returned soda bottles for money to buy food, got fired from a company he helped to found…and, by Forbes estimates, was worth $8.3 billion dollars at the time of his death.
- Thomas Edison spent a total of three months in public school before being labeled ‘addled’ and removed to be homeschooled, never attended college, bounced from one job to another, often being fired due to work accidents…and at the time of his death in 1931 held more than 1,093 patents including the phonograph and motion picture camera and had founded four companies including General Electric, which is still in existence today.
The perception of success is multifarious: professional standing, educational accomplishments, athletic achievement, celebrity status, humanitarian impact, political clout, financial freedom, personal fulfillment, etc. But what is success, exactly?
Success, put simply, is the accomplishment of a purpose…which leads us to the definition of purpose.
Purpose is defined as the reason for which something exists. The eternal question…. “Why are we here?”
Those of us who believe in a Creator may be said to have an edge in deciphering the matter, but even then there are endless debates about what our Creator’s purposes are for His creation, how those purposes are to be fulfilled, etc, etc, etc…
The definition of success…
The determination of purpose…
These are not simply matters for philosophers and theologians to discuss.
Every moment of every day, we live out what we believe. Every decision is based on an inner set of values that guide us and determine our direction in life. If we don’t consciously evaluate our inner guidance system and make informed, intentional choices about what we believe, we end up operating on the ‘default setting,’ a reactive position dictated by our past. Childhood experiences, adult traumas, things we’ve read and heard, things we’ve done and things that have been done to us, what we’ve witnessed and what we’ve participated in, all combine into a mishmash of knee-jerk responses to circumstances that often take even us by surprise!
When it comes to parenting, our definition of purpose dictates our definition of parental success, which, in turn, determines our daily parenting choices.
The Tiger Mother –
This term, popularized by Yale Law School professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua, reflects the belief that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” a belief held by the vast majority of Asian parents. Based on this, the Tiger Mother believes that “the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child.” If a child comes home with a B on a test, “there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.” The Tiger Mother believes that children owe their parents everything and “must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.” Success to a Tiger Mother equals perfect performance, period. Amy Chua shares an example of this mindset in “The Wall Street Journal” essay, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.
Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.
Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.
“You can’t make me.”
“Oh yes, I can.”
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?
“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.
“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”
“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”
“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.
“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”
I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.
Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.
Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.
To the Tiger Mother, the performance is what matters, not the process or the person. Success equals perfect performance, period.
The Helicopter Parent-
Coined by Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay in the 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility, the term Helicopter Parent refers to the over-protective, over-involved, over-indulgent parent who seeks to ‘bubble wrap’ their children to protect them from every possible danger, every potential failure, and every conceivable disappointment. The Helicopter Parent is heavily invested in the emotional health and safety of their child based on the belief that success equals comfort and ease in life.
The Cadre Parent-
Loosely defined by author Pamela Druckerman in her book Bringing Up Bebe, and summed up in “The Wall Street Journal” essay, Why French Parents Are Superior, the Cadre Parent is one who compartmentalizes parenting into routines and rhythms. There is adult time and child time, eating time and snacking time, interaction time and play-alone time, etc. The Cadre Parent believes that successful parenting equals autonomy, and they train their children toward independence by maintaining a distant authority, a cadre (framework) of non-negotiable boundaries and schedules within which their children have the freedom to operate independently and with little to no adult interaction.
There are, of course, many other distinctive parenting types as well as endless possible combinations of attributes from the different styles. The key to choosing a parenting style (or falling into one, as the case may be) is the basic belief system of the parent(s) as to what constitutes parental success based on their definition of purpose…in other words, their personal answer to the question, “Why are we here?”
Parenting On My Terms
For my part, I am a Gentle Parent based on my personal belief system. Success, to me, is defined as contributing to the world according to the gifts we’ve been given, which leads to my definition of parental success as raising children who are aware of their unique gifts and are able and willing to use them to benefit others and not just themselves. All of this is based on my belief that we are here for a higher purpose than any of mankind’s achievements could possibly reach, a purpose rooted in my belief in God’s personal involvement in and care for the world as evidenced by His sacrifice on the Cross.
So what does my parenting, based on this belief system, look like? Well, there’s a whole blog written about that subject! But for reference sake, my parenting can be summed up like this:
The Gentle Parent-
I model my responses to my children based on Jesus’ interactions with His disciples. I live what I want my children to learn. I want my children to respect me, so I show them respect and model respect in my interactions with others. I want my children to be compassionate, so I treat them and others with compassion and empathy. I want my children to honor God, so I model His unconditional love for them and for others. I want my children to love to learn, so I encourage their natural curiosity and joy of discovery. I want my children to listen, so I actively listen to them. I want my children to serve others, so I serve others with and in front of them. I want my children to actively engage in our society, so I participate with and in front of them in civic activities. I want my children to practice self-discipline and restraint, so I stop and think before I speak or act. I want my children to enjoy the life they’ve been given, so I enjoy the life in each of them.
For the record (and to forestall the “that’s great in theory” comments!) of my six children, I have raised a 24 year old Pastor and a 22 year old Family Therapist, and I have a 17 year old in his third year of pre-med, 12 and 6 year olds I’m homeschooling (as I did the others), and a 21 month old toddling around delighting all of our hearts.
As to the age-old question… “Why are we here?” …my answer is quite simple, “I believe we’re here for the same reason my own children are here. My children are here because I wanted to bring into the world children to love and to care for and to share with the world, and we are here because our Father wanted to bring into a world He created children He loves and cares for and through whom He has special gifts to share with the world.”
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.