Tiger Mom, Sh*tty Mom, and Dolphin Mom

tigermomimgres shitmom imgres-1There has been quite a buzz during the past few years about the bestselling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua.  One can tell the book is controversial by simply glancing at its ratio of good-to-bad reviews on Amazon – there are 350 five-star reviews and 150 one-star reviews.

“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is written by a mom of Chinese heritage who becomes a strict parent using Chinese values to raise her kids.  The book description states “Chua argues that Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individuality, while Chinese parents typically believe that arming children with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence prepares them best for the future.”  I haven’t read this book, but after learning of the Tiger Mother hullabaloo, I might take a peek at the tome for curiosity’s sake.  There has been a consensus among critics that Chua designed her book primarily to shock her readers.  Some reviewers asserted that her techniques were borderline abusive. There is much more to the phenomenon and philosophy of this book, and I’m sure it contains ideas that would help me be a better parent.  However, I know I’ll never be a Tiger Mother.  I am not the strict type, to say the very least.

I’m a Shitty Mother.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s true. At least I recognize that my parenting skills are sorely lacking – that’s a start.  I am actively working on this issue with my therapist.   Today we spent most of my session discussing about how my bipolar disorder and my numerous hospitalizations have adversely affected my girls.  I haven’t cried much during our sessions, over the last year, but I sobbed a great deal today, and I’m completely worn out by my sadness and guilt.

I do not physically abuse my girls, and I never will.  I have given the very rare spanking as a last resort, which makes me physically sick.  When I was a teenager I read Christina Crawford’s haunting book “Mommie Dearest” which detailed her alleged abuse by her adoptive stepmother Joan Crawford.   Reading her autobiography gave me nightmares.  I saw the Paramount film based on Crawford’s book; it starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford and she was absolutely terrifying in the role.   I’m not claiming that a crash course in “Mommie Dearest” will automatically prevent any parent from hitting her child, by the way.  The book and film were very trendy in Los Angeles where I grew up, and they vividly illustrated how reprehensible it was for a parent to beat her child.

I commit the same kinds of mistakes that the majority of parents make with their children, but my dilemma is more complicated than I can explain in a single blog post.   A significant difference between me and parents who don’t have bipolar disorder is that my manic outbursts, depressions and hospitalizations damaged my girls to the core of their being.  I cannot wave a magic wand to undo anything that happened when I was sick.

Today I decided (with my husband’s support) that I will seek a consultation with a child psychologist because our children would benefit from professional help.   This is a huge decision , obviously, and I am scared, but I feel it the right choice.  My longtime therapist agreed with me that meeting with a specialist is a positive course of action.

No matter what happens with a child expert giving us advice, my long-term goal is not to be a perfect mom.  That job title doesn’t exist on this planet as far as I can tell.  I’ve never had an authoritative personality, which was a major reason why I couldn’t cut it as an substitute junior high school teacher.  (I still cannot believe I did that job when I was twenty-one!) I believe I can reach a happy medium between authoritarian and loosey-goosey mama.  I think I can be more like one of my favorite mammals : the dolphin.  I can’t grow a much bigger brain, but I can become smarter, more compassionate and maybe even more playful like these wonderful cetaceans I’ve always loved.  I can incorporate the Dolphin-style of parenting.  Yes, there is the Dolphin Way.

To help inspire and motivate me with pragmatic tips, I’ll be purchasing the book “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into A Tiger” by Dr. Shimi Kang.  It will be published on May 1, 2014., and Dr. Kang is  is the medical director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver and a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Kang has helped hundreds of children, adolescents, and parents move toward positive behaviors and better mental health.

Here’s some of the book’s description on Amazon.com:

“In this inspiring book, Harvard-trained child and adult psychiatrist and expert in human motivation Dr. Shimi Kang provides a guide to the art and science of inspiring children to develop their own internal drive and a lifelong love of learning.  Drawing on the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, Dr. Kang shows why pushy “tiger parents” and permissive “jellyfish parents” actually hinder self-motivation. She proposes a powerful new parenting model: the intelligent, joyful, playful, highly social dolphin.  Dolphin parents focus on maintaining balance in their children’s lives to gently yet authoritatively guide them toward lasting health, happiness, and success.”

Sounds good to me!

Although I’m feeling very dejected today as a mom, I haven’t lost hope that I’ll get better at the most important job I’ll have in this lifetime.  (The cliche is true!) I realize I’m lucky to have a counselor who is also the parent of a young girl, and who provides me with an invaluable perspective.  I am thankful that I received a letter this past week from our health insurance company stating that my children are now eligible for mental health coverage.  It seems to me, the ever-superstitious gal that I am, that the letter was a good omen to use the new coverage!

I’ll be writing about my experience with a child psychologist during the spring. In May I’ll address whether or not the tenets contained in “The Dolphin Way” are more than perky sound-bites.  It’s now my mission to be proactive in regard to improving my family dynamic, despite the fact it’s incredibly daunting.  But after losing huge chunks of life with my girls due to mental illness, it’s time to make them my most important priority.

The Dreads and the Flow

dread flowWhen I started blogging again after a two-year-long hiatus, I didn’t struggle with generating topics related to bipolar disorder.  I felt almost hypomanic as my brain showed no sign of decreasing ideas.  I jotted themes on neon-colored post-its lest I forgot any subject.  I enjoyed a sense of well-being connected with the inspiration writing gave me.  It was a joy to feel that way after being depressed and unable to write for so long.

Then my brain slowed with its outpouring of ideas, and I began worrying.  “Am I getting depressed again?”  I pondered.  Well, I more than pondered becoming depressed.  I created a fearsome mindset that I named The Dreads.  I was dreading the possibility of the onset of severe depression.  The good news was that I was still able to get out of bed, drive the kids to school, be fairly productive, and perhaps most importantly, I was sleeping at night.  But I had taken a couple days off exercising and wasn’t using my Sunbox bright therapeutic light.  I was eating even more sugar than I usually consumed. Making a big batch of red velvet cupcakes with my little girl on Tuesday (and eating lots of the batter…) certainly couldn’t have helped me.  Lastly, the “I Smell A Rat” problem really grossed me out to the point that I couldn’t use the room where my writing desk, files and Sunbox were located.

https://dyaneharwood.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/i-smell-a-rat/

The sudden ceasing of key elements of my daily practice threw off my routine, and if you have bipolar disorder, you know how critical your routine is for mental health.  It seemed that I was being challenged with a case of mild writer’s block worsened by the lack of several crucial healthy habits.

An attitude adjustment was in order as well.  I’ve been dealing with a bad case of writer’s envy.  This is a chronic problem for me and I know I’m not alone.   I also realize that I have to bring my envy up in therapy because it’s getting worse.  Yes, I’m not dealing with it well.  I keep comparing myself to wildly successful bloggers and non-fiction writers, and I find myself coming up short.  The expression “comparisons are odious” comes immediately to my mind; I’ve always found it to be so eloquently true.

At a particularly low moment I sent a Facebook message to my friends stating, “I am feeling so jealous and insecure. Not of another woman (thank you God!) but of other writers who are mediocre writers at best, yet they have HUUUUUUUGE internet followings!  I must remember that I am a decent writer and ***there is a place for me***, but it’s so hard sometimes.  Advice anyone? Mantras anyone? You can bill me.”

I was surprised at how many comments I received: a lucky thirteen in all.  I usually only get one or two comments at most on my Facebook posts, and I was grateful for this amount of feedback.  The most helpful comment I read was written by Beth Brownsberger Mader.  Beth blogs for the BP (Bipolar) Magazine website and she writes for the magazine as well. (http://www.bphope.com/bphopeblog/post/Perseverance-vs-Endurance.aspx)

Beth gave me the following advice:

“I don’t have a huge internet following.  I don’t write for that reason.  I write for the benefit of helping others, and for helping myself grow, learn and figure out my own life.  The fact that my audience has grown organically has been the benefit of it all. That my writing has improved has been a benefit of it all.  Sure, sometimes I notice all the “successful” writers out there, especially the ones I know personally, those from high school/college, and I feel less than.  Then I remember that everyone’s situation is different, and I don’t know theirs necessarily or what rows they’ve had to hoe–or on the flip side, what short cuts they’ve taken or values they’ve eschewed.  Dyane, give yourself a break–it takes time, keeping your eyes on the prize, and determining for yourself what that prize is–is it being a good writer? having a following? making a difference? healing yourself? witnessing the journey?  Breathe.”

She’s absolutely, positively right in everything she discusses above.   I’m working on determining what the “prize” is for me.  At first blink I felt that all five prizes Beth mentions are the ones I want!  I’m not wishing for megastardom, but here’s what I do yearn for:

  • To become a productive, consistent, and focused writer
  • To achieve modest success in having a well-written, well-edited book published by an established health publisher that will help others
  • To have a loyal following

Yesterday during my online time, I noticed a prolific blogger who I follow had tweeted asking her fans for help with her writer’s block.  That small thing buoyed up my spirits. Her comment reminded me that not everyone experiences the blissful “flow state” all the time, not even bestselling authors.   If you are new to the “flow state” concept, here’s a concise definition:

Flow: A mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields”

Here’s my favorite line that appears later in the same definition:

“To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety  is to be barred from flow.”

(thank you Wikipedia!)

Doesn’t flow sound awesome?  Who wants scary-sounding “ennui” in her life?  I am fascinated with definitions, and I knew “ennui” wasn’t good; take a look at its precise meaning:

“Ennui: a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom”.

Oh, I know that feeling all too well.  As far as I’m concerned, I want to kick ennui’s derriere to the curb forever!

Another Facebook suggestion I received was to take a writing class taught by the bestselling local author Laura Davis.  Davis co-wrote “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” and I’ve known about her for many years.  Her website states that her books have sold over 1.8 million copies worldwide.  I’ve seen her writing class flyers displayed at my favorite coffee shop, and I’ve taken a peek at them more than once. While Davis’ teaching philosophy seems like it would be quite helpful, I don’t feel drawn to the class.  I could change my mind down the line, and take a class either with her or another teacher.  In the meantime I’ve bought a couple new books about writing to fire me up.

One book has the irresistible title of “You’ve Got a Book In You – A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams” by Elizabeth Sims.  My other splurge was “The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story” by Linda Myers.  I downloaded Kindle samples of Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life” and the latest Natalie Goldberg book “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir”.  (Yes, I read Goldberg’s classic “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind”.)  I’ve read every book by one of my favorite bestselling authors/artists SARK, including her “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” how-to guide.  I’ve had the thrill of meeting SARK, who lives in San Francisco, and I interviewed her for two “Good Times” newspaper articles.  Check out SARK’s website for a plethora of inspiration.  I bet you’ll recognize her unique artwork such as her colorful poster “How To Be An Artist” if you visit: http://www.planetsark.com. 

I will be writing more about the elusive flow in the months ahead.  If you have any pointers on the topic, by all means, please share them here.  I’m sure there are some amazing studies analyzing creative flow, so perhaps by studying innovative research, I’ll create more flow of the writerly kind…not magma flow, and not food poisoning flow! 😉