Tiger Mom has ignited a heated battle in American parenting. I have discussed Tiger Mom with many of my colleagues, my friends, and even my Chinese American boss-who incidentally was raised in the very same manner. I have even dropped some pretty long and anonymous comments on a blog that came down hard on Tiger Mom. And while I do think that Tiger Mom goes too far in pursuit of her own narrow view of successful children, there is something to her. She has a discipline that most do not. And her nonacceptance of permissive Western parenting methods is probably finding more support than she suspected. On one hand Chua says and does hateful things in the name of motivating her children. On the other hand I am an old fashioned parent, I am in charge, expect to be obeyed and will accept no alteration to that model. But I am internally conflicted about it, because it is so much harder than it seems.
I am stuck in a parenting rut. And we are experiencing some major behavioral problems. It is official, I hate age three more than age two. My three year old is showing to me my own character flaws. And I can't decide what I dislike worse, the out of control behavior, the yelling or the fact that I am not in control in my own home.
I am a yeller. I always have been. I was born yelling and I continued to be a screamer throughout childhood. I have been told to shut up more times than I can remember. And even at work an 'area of development' on my yearly review has been to speak more quietly. My biggest problem is just that I have a really loud voice. My breath is connected to my voice all the way down to my toes and I can project my speech across a full crowded theatre. I am not bragging, it is just fact. Add to that several years of acting and speech training to actually exploit and develop this characteristic and you can see I am in a bind. I am an adult working in a quiet office cubicle setting with a set of pipes that has been trained for a three tiered full house.
But back to parenting, my lungs help in making me a force to be reckoned with in my house. I generally yell at Thing 1. You might think that I don't yell at Thing 2 because he is too little. And that might be part of it. But mostly I don't need to yell at Thing 2, he does what he is asked. He cleans up at clean up time. He eats his dinner. He plays with toys the way they were intended to be played with. Plus Thing 2 doesn't like the yelling. He is a very sensitive soul. Thing 1 on the other hand is wild. We are currently locked in a battle for ultimate control of the house. If I say it is time to clean up, he is running off to his room to climb up and hide in his bunk bed. When he plays with toys he will bend them just to see how far they can bend before they break. Dinner has been getting better, but as I mentioned earlier this week, Sunday night he refused to eat. I am okay with him refusing to eat. He had had a big lunch so I wasn't expecting much. But it was when he decided to launch his glass of milk across the room splashing on the table, floor and his brother that landed him in the corner for a time out. And of course I screamed bloody murder.
The thing about the yelling is that it kind of works. When we brought Thing 2 home from the hospital two days after Thing 1's second birthday. Back then, his behavior was an emotional tornado. But it was him having the fits. I didn't yell so much back then (we did some, just not as much as now). Time outs didn't really work, so we just let him cry until he was done. Three years old is different. He is now screwing with my head. The acting out is far more manipulative. He shouts "I don't love you!". But when I bellow at him it gets him moving. It lets him know I mean business. And don't think I jump to yelling. I ask him 5-6 times to do everything without yelling. Then I begin to raise my voice and count and finally he lands in time out with me yelling And it ALWAYS ends up in time out. In many cases he comes out of time out and I will ask him "are you ready to help clean up?" and he says "no". So we go back in time out again. Repeat questions and answers. After 3-4 time outs he does finally clean up. But the process is exhausting. One time a few weeks ago he simply refused to stay in time out. So every time he would leave I would pick him up and put him back and start the time out over. He cried and fought for 30 minutes straight. I put him back in time out 10-12 times until finally he sat for a consecutive 3 minutes. That's right, you read correctly, three minutes. I am not some crazy control freak who is putting her kids in time out for 30 minutes. He needs to just have one three minute time out.
But strangely enough, after we all end up screaming and maybe shedding a few tears, Thing 1 cooperates and does whatever he is asked. And then he perks up and is happy again. No amount of talking and rationalizing ever did that. I have had level-headed talks with him where I explain that acting out is his choice and that he can choose not to act out. And if he chooses to listen to Mommy and Daddy then he will have a happy day and there will be no fighting. I have explained to him that every time he gets a time out for not cooperating he inevitably ends up doing whatever it was that he was trying to get out of. So next time he should just skip the time out and help sooner. I know this is sophisticated thinking for a three year old, but it might take years for him to make that mental leap, I have to at least start talking about it. I want him to view his actions as his choice. I believe it will help him to live a more purposeful life.
I know I need to stop yelling. Monday morning I ran into my neighbor at the elevator of my building. She could barely look at me. I know she heard the whole row from the evening before. From next door she can hear everything, but she doesn't know that we had a great morning together. She doesn't know that I threw my back out and was in a lot of pain while Thing 1 was acting out. And she doesn't actually know that I don't hit my kids. But hearing all the yelling and screaming, she must feel uncomfortable about it.
My problem is I don't know how to stop yelling. I get so angry, particularly when I am home by myself with the kids. I do not keep things bottled up. On one hand it is a positive thing because I don't store dark emotions. I express myself and move on. Keeping anger bottled up can lead to all kinds of health problems and stress. DH and I fight every so often, and there are no secrets between us. And we always make up. We talk to the Things about it openly. There is no regret and no unspoken hurt, no name calling and no disrespect. But we are passionate people. DH and I have a healthy marriage because we get it all out. On the other hand, I know my anger can alienate people, like my neighbor.
People have told me to just stop yelling. That is so much easier said than done. People have told me to leave the room, give myself a time out. People have also told me to take a different approach, take away toys, dessert, TV. I have. It doesn't work. Thing 1 doesn't care. He doesn't seem to understand the correlation between choosing his actions and having a pleasing or displeasing outcome. And take away everything-it doesn't matter. With the TV off he will just do something else to provoke the drama. He doesn't care. I chalk it up to his age. I figure if we can get through the next 6 months we will be through the worst of it.
That being said, I recently held a family meeting. I can't do this anymore. I can't yell and get so angry any longer. All our behavior has to get better. Thing 1 needs to feed himself, not spill his food on purpose, not throw toys, not push and hit, take off his own coat and shoes and follow simple directions like helping at clean up time. I am NOT asking too much. But he is going to have to do more, and Mommy promises to yell less. So far we are off to a decent (and quiet) start.
I always love your comments, you know I do. But on today's topic I am so scared of what you have to say. I am scared you will think I am a monster who can't control her emotions. I asked a question on Mamapedia about Thing 1 just after his second birthday, and the first commenter suggested I take him to a behaviorist because HER daughter never displayed such barbaric behavior (okay, those were my words, not hers--but she did say that my kid should see a behaviorist and she did say that her daughter never ripped pages out of books or threw food on the ground). I am in the same breath frustrated by Thing 1 and yet fiercely defensive of him, because he is my boy. My child isn't bad, and he doesn't have ADHD. He is three, he is a boy and he is bright. And he chooses to channel all that extra energy into things that get him negative attention. I desperately want to add value to the situation. And I am taking the first step. I am writing about this today because I don't just want to sweep it under the rug.
But this is really, really hard.