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.