Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Grow a Perfect Child

Thank you, Judith Warner, for your level-headed look at parenting trends in the New York Times. Since I read Amy Chua's questionably titled  "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior", an excerpt from her book which I will not be buying, I have read many responses to it. I do not care to judge how Chua chooses to raise her children. I don't care to defend "Western mothers" as a group, mostly because I don't even think there is a well-defined group.

That is why I love what Warner has to say. She talks about this "Tough Mommy" stuff as being a trend, which happens to be convenient for Chua for book-selling purposes. The most important point in Warner's article can be found in the last paragraph, in which she writes:
Through all the iterations of Mommy madness, 'good' and 'bad,' this article of faith always remains intact: that parents can have control.
That is what it's all about: you can (must) control your child's behavior, his environment, his activities. Follow these simple rules, and you can't lose. Almost every parenting philosophy promises results in the form of what kind of person you can make your child into. And each philosophy also demonizes the alternatives and warns of the bad results that are guaranteed if you dare parent your kids any other way.

"Chinese Mothers" as portrayed by Chua, and other "tough love mommies" warn that if you don't insist that your child learn to self-soothe immediately upon being born into this world, you better make sure you have a big bed, because you can plan on your child sleeping with you for the rest of his life. No coddling for these children. Those who swear by this philosophy seem to promise that your child will grow to be tough, independent, financially successful, and brilliant, with a perfect work ethic.

On the other hand, some experts say that your child will grow up into a sensitive, independent, securely-attached genius if only you will practice breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, giving constant praise, gentle discipline, and a few other basic practices.

These are only two of infinitely many ways to parent, but they illustrate an important point because, at first glance, they are almost diametrically opposing strategies, yet they promise some of the same results, like raising an independent child. And a closer look at these two seemingly very different philosophies will reveal a very important similarity between them, in that the ultimate goal is to raise a "better" child, or even "the best" child. If you follow the rules according to the philosophy, you will get your "wonder child." If your kid doesn't turn out exactly as you planned, you must have done it wrong.

But here is the biggest problem with these parenting philosophies and so many others: there are no guarantees. There are many factors that you as a parent have little to no control over, including your child's personal preferences. You might have a vision of your child growing up to be a musical or mathematical prodigy, or the most brilliant doctor in history, but your child might have entirely different ideas. If this is the case, there are two (general) ways it could play out. If you have a compliant child who is determined to please you, he may spend most of his life trying to fit the mold you carve out for him. He might ignore his own desires to bend to your will. If you have a child who decides not to comply with your wishes, he might spend most of his life knowing that he is not good enough the way he is. Neither of those options sounds good to me.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls? Let's try re-thinking our goals as a parents. One of my goals as a parent is to allow my kids to be as happy as they are capable of being, doing whatever it is that makes them happiest. Another goal is to empower my kids to choose happiness, by giving them as much control over their lives as I can, now, even while they are only two and four years old. I am hoping that the way my husband and I treat our kids will help them figure out what makes them tick and what they want out of life and how to get it.

What if, instead of looking at parenting as a competition to raise the most successful or most perfect child by society's standards, we accepted our children just as they are? Imagine how amazing our relationships would be with our kids if they knew that they could be who they want to be, just who they are, and still be good enough, even "perfect," for us. If we could focus on the present, on who our children are now, instead of who they may or may not be in the future...


  1. I read this with tears in my eyes. True happiness is in short supply. There are too many opinions about how things "should be" instead of acceptance of what "is".

  2. Well written and thoughtful post!

  3. Wonderful post! Some friends on FB shared it, and so did I.

  4. Thanks April! I appreciate your sharing :)

  5. Great post! Couldn't agree more.
    The way I see it, children are born into this world as already perfect human beings, full of love, joy, confidence and trust. My job as a parent then is to not mess that up. :)

  6. @Stephanie, Exactly! Thank you for the comment. :)