Years ago, I was standing in the back yard of my uncle’s house talking to my cousin. “I feel like I messed up my kids,” I said.
“Oh, Ricky, Don’t you know? We all mess up our kids. It’s all set up that way.”
I was an educator, who by then had known about a thousand parents, and was experienced enough to know that she was right. However for me, the Dad, I needed to be reminded that there is no way to do the job of parenting “right.”
Since then I have seen about three thousand more parents in all situations, and I still know that she was right. Three of my four children have children, and I watch with admiration how they raise my five grandchildren. I also watch the “mistakes” they are making, and I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, just look at them. They are terrific. My cousin was right.
So when Amy Chua came out in the Wall Street Journal ten days ago claiming that Chinese mothers are “Superior,” I had to say to myself that this was some sort of journalistic device. No mother I have ever known would claim that their parenting style is superior. Come to think of it, I haven’t even met many mothers who seem to think that their parenting style is good enough. Most I have known are pretty self-critical as they frantically “multi-task” to keep on top of situation after situation. “Superior?” That’s crazy talk.
But it is obvious that the journalistic device worked. Mothers who have been told they are parenting wrongly are still comforting or arguing with each other, and psychologists, parenting experts and educators are weighing in.
I wasn’t going to speak up, but at four this morning, I realized that I had a very important piece of wisdom: Give it up; just be a Good-Enough-Mom. I have written a book about parenting. I have a list of parenting tips A-to-Z, and yet that’s my advice: Be a Good-Enough-Mom.
If you stop trying to be a perfect parent, you will be a great one. Just remember that kids really only need three things:
(1) our undying love,
(2) respected as unique decision makers in their own right, and
(3) accurate feedback about the requirements of the environment in which they are trying to make these decisions.
1) “Undying love.” This isn’t something a parent has to try to do. It is a natural urge. Unconditional love is not a feeling, but a commitment. Love is not an e-motion but a motive, a drive. It is not something we withhold when the other person isn’t the way we want them to be; it is the discipline of being the way WE want to be. It looks like valuing them for who they are, not what they do. Valuing them for their very existence. No matter what.
2) “Decision makers.” From the get-go kids are decision makers. They are driven to make something of themselves. Notice them and we notice that they seem to have this little inner engine. I call it their genius. Believe in and support this genius, and we are in business.
3) “Accurate Feedback.” Notice and love their genius, plus one more thing: Be a trusted source of data on how they are doing. Don’t “soften” the feedback. Walking on eggshells will make them think we think they are made of eggshells. They are not. They are made of flubber. Give them feedback that is hearable, seeable and doable. …and when we get tired, say, “I’m tired.” That is important data, too.
That’s it. Love them as decision makers and be strong in giving them accurate feedback on their efforts. Keep this focus, and keep learning, and we will be great parents, just by being our sorry, imperfect selves.
Trusting their genius (and our own) is the key to making sure that our kids’ lives are only moderately messed up and that we have great, long-lasting relationships with them however messed up we are.
Getting there by being superior? I am sure that’s Amy Chua sense of humor.