Time is flying by. If you have kids in school you are most likely feeling the vortex of the end of the year approaching (or even here this week in some parts of the country).
The truest thing I heard as a new mom was, “The days are long but the years are short.” Now I feel the acceleration of time more than ever. Months race by, feeling like not much more than a week or two at times. I haven’t been writing as much in Mojo Mom mode lately, but a recent piece by psychologist Madeline Levine inspired me. In her New York Times article “After the Children Have Grown,” about the transitions beyond the mothering years, her concluding paragraph felt like a great jumping off point to me:
In order to continue to parent our grown children well, we might usefully acknowledge and start to prepare for the separations that start early and accelerate in high school. Gracefully and gradually, we must eventually give up our front and center position in their lives, learn to be quieter, to give fewer answers and to ask more questions. Our children’s independence is a reminder of how much we had to give and all that we have accomplished. It is a pleasure to remember that it is not a form of abandonment but an expression of a job well done — and is something to keep in mind as we move back into the center of our own lives, in ways that will make our children proud.
No matter how old your children are, what can you be doing now to prepare or the road ahead? It never ceases to amaze me to realize that for many of us, we will spend more years of our life in relation with our adult children than we spent raising them. Levine’s article touched me so much because she was writing as a woman with a big career, who still acutely feels the losses of the end of mothering three young sons who are now grown. It is a different perspective than we typically hear–even career Moms get the end of childhood blues sometimes–and her writing is heartfelt and eloquent.
That magical end-of-summer day has arrived for us–the first day of school. As Mojo Girl starts Middle School, this week feels almost as much like graduation as it does a new beginning (I guess that is why they also call it Commencement). I am relieved, happy, and yes, feeling bittersweet as I see my daughter growing up so quickly. The last two years feel like a time-lapse movie of development stuck on fast-forward. The other day my family was at a store together and as I caught a glimpse of Mojo Girl across the room, it took me a moment to pick her out among the crowd of adults. She’s that much more grown up all of a sudden. When we talk about seeing “eye to eye,” it’s almost true on a literal level now!
So all this brings up a question that has been on my mind all summer, “What do motherhood bloggers do when their kids grow up?” In many ways I feel ready to declare my own personal graduation from motherhood blogging. I don’t see this as better or worse, but just honestly the next step in where I am right now in own my life. It is impossible to hold on to the early years of motherhood forever, and I don’t want to try. I feel like I have been at this for quite a long time, writing about motherhood for the past eight years, and now it’s time for the next generation of Moms to start looking at the same issues though their own unique lenses.
Back when I came up with the idea for Mojo Mom, my daughter had started three-year old preschool, and blogging hadn’t even been widely adopted yet. When I started my website I posted “occasional articles” that had to be uploaded by my website developer. I embraced Blogger as a writing platform as soon as I learned about it, and my first Mojo Mom blog post was September 13, 2003.
As one of the early motherhood bloggers on the scene myself, I have had the chance to know and follow many talented writers, wondering and watching to see what my fellow bloggers do as their kids grow up. Two of my favorite writers, Karen Maezen Miller and Joanne Bamberger, have daughters about the same age as mine, and I can see them evolving and moving forward too. Karen’s first book was Momma Zen, and her new book is a Zen memoir Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life, which addresses her parenting life but is not focused on it. Her author website has also progressed from a Momma Zen “Cheerio Road” focus, to a more holistic KarenMaezenMiller.com.
Joanne Bamberger blogs as PunditMom as well as writing through MOMocrats, MomsRising, Huffington Post, and Politics Daily. This year, Joanne created the new book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America. (In a nice bit of synchronicity, Joanne contributed to Courageous Parents, Confident Kids and I contributed to Mothers of Intention.) She has come such a long way since the early days years ago when I remember she wrote her Column Quest blog (amazing how 2006 feels like The Olden Days now). She had the last laugh with column quest as she blazed a trail that transcended “old media” and shaped the landscape of New Media. And she’s kept her motherhood angle but she has ramped up and reinforced the “Pundit” aspect of her writing as she has developed impressive media credentials.
So I feel my own evolution stirring as my life changes. My daughter is a lot more independent and I don’t define myself by motherhood the way I used to. My defining question in Mojo Mom was discovering “Who am I, now that I am a Mom?” and I know the answer to that now. I am a writer, an activist for social change, a media producer–someone who has many ideas and needs to channel and focus my energies to figure out how to best move forward on all the causes I care about.
I had lunch with my friend Melinda Abrams of the other day–she is a life coach and we were getting together to talk about possible future directions for her work. As we talked over possibilities and strategies, I realized that every word that was coming out of my mouth was advice I needed to act on myself as well. So interesting to see how much more clarity we can get when we look outside our own lives and into someone else’s work–I am glad that I realized that our discussion definitely reflected back onto my own life.
So two things to share out of what I learned that day: Melinda was thinking about the age-old question of “How do I chart my own work when there is so much to do in the world–and I can’t do everything?” My answer from the heart is that each of us has to figure out the work that only we can do, what won’t get done if we don’t contribute, and put our energies there and trust that the other work will be done by other people. I don’t mean outsourcing motherhood but realizing that if I make a dedicated contribution to ending violence, I can trust that other people will work on eradicating hunger, and I don’t have to feel all the weight of the world on my shoulders. I still manage to feel that way a lot of the time anyway, but that perspective helps direct me.
Second, an image came to my mind. (I feel like I am ramping up into a creative time because I have been thinking in visual metaphors lately.) I visualized life as a treasure chest that needs to be moved forward, and all my actions as horses tethered to that chest. If I align my interests close to the same direction, I will make progress forward. Distractions go out to the side as a waste of energy, and bad habits pull backward. But the main insight I needed right now is that even if my activities are all meaningful, if they pull too much in different directions, I won’t get anywhere.
That was one of those “things that make me go Hmmmm,” and the challenge I have been thinking about all summer.
What’s next? And how do I get there? With 24 hours in the day, many family responsibilities, an active and distractible mind (a blessing and a curse when you do internet research), and the work I want to get done, how do I align those priorities in a way that makes sense? The Polaroid image is starting to develop in my mind–and MojoMom.com will continue to be part of the big picture. That is my jumping off point that I will address in my next post, “The Evolution of Mojo Mom.”
Amy Chua’s new memoir about raising her two daughters The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother burst onto the scene this week in a big way, with the excerpt posted in the Wall Street Journal, under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Even if she didn’t write that provocative headline, Amy Chua’s strong words evoked a strong response, creating an instant media firestorm (and selling a lot of books):
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa [Lulu], were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.
The manifesto struck many as completely serious and uncompromising, yet when Chua herself appeared on The Diane Rehm Show yesterday she tried to backpedal significantly, insisting that her writing is intended partly tongue-in-cheek. When a radio listener called in, clearly shaken by her own perfectionist upbringing, Chua assured her that she really did love her daughters for who they are and did not demand perfection. Chua did a mixed dance of standing by her words and back-tracking, with backing down seeming to win the day during that interview.
As “Mojo Mom” I try hard not to inflame “Mommy Wars” of any kind and I think I have a good track record on that principle over the years. I also I realize that there are many ways to be a good parent. But I assigned myself the task of actually reading Chua’s book and forcing myself to come down on one side or another: Do I think that it’s is acceptable to treat your children the way Chua raised her daughters?
My answer is, no, it’s not okay. If the behavior described in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not abusive perfectionism, what is?
Chua exerts utter control over her daughters’ lives for years. Her older daughter Sophia is signed up for piano and then Lulu is assigned the violin. During their intensive music training, Chua stands over them, gives measure-by-measure coaching and pages of notes. She makes them play for hours every day–“it’s only six hours when you waste five of them,”–practicing even on vacations where it’s a major headache to find a piano for Sophia, and taking the family away from actually seeing the places they are visiting.
When daughter Sophia plays a piano solo at Carnegie Hall at age 14, Chua is disappointed that her daughter is not playing in the main hall. (!) Chua wonders if the family dogs can be overachievers as well and has a hard time accepting that they might not live up to their full canine potential.
Along the way Chua demands utter perfection, coerces, battles with and regularly demeans her daughters, telling them they are awful and would shame her if they faltered the slightest bit. “If they next time’s not perfect I’m going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM,” she yells during one piano practice. And, near the end of the story, when Amy has supposedly mellowed and become more enlightened, she tells Sophia before playing at their home for a group of visiting judges, “Don’t blow this. Everything turns on your performance. These justices aren’t coming to New Haven to hear a high school talent show. If you’re not over-the-top perfect we’ll have insulted them.”
Chua compels Lulu to play at her Bat Mitzvah [Chua's husband is Jewish so the girls share both heritages] when she doesn’t want to—a rite of passage that I believe should have truly been Lulu’s choice to play at. Even Chua’s own strict mother says she’s being too hard on Lulu, saying “Every child is different. You have to adjust, Amy. Look what happened to your father,” who ended up estranged from his own parents. That is perhaps Chua’s biggest failure, that she did not take into account how her approach was affecting each individual child.
Two days after the Bat Mitzvah, the family flies to Moscow and Lulu has her climactic showdown with her mother, a dramatic, public screaming match. Chua finally allows her daughter to quit the intensive violin schedule she has mandated from the age of six.
The family’s story is still unfolding, as this book was written during 2009, and Lulu stopped playing violin so intensively only recently to take up tennis. While that is portrayed as a positive step forward in her freedom, Chua can’t contain herself from trying to take that over too. She resorts to “espionage and guerilla warfare. I secretly plant ideas in her tennis coach’s head, texting her with questions and practice strategies, then deleting the text messages so Lulu won’t see them.” That’s where they are at the end of the book so it remains to be seen where they go next as the girls continue progressing through their teenage years.
One of the most interesting insights in the book was almost a throwaway comment by Chua, saying that she had tried playing tennis herself and “as an adult, I tried a few tournaments but quickly found that I couldn’t stand the pressure of competition.” I find it interesting that she would not push herself in that competitive arena the way she pushed her daughters and that she would allow herself to try something for a little while and allow herself the luxury of the judgment that it was not a rewarding activity for her. At what point to we allow our children that judgment call, too?
Do I believe that most American parents, including myself, can be too lenient? Yes. I realize there is a vast middle ground between too lenient and the extreme strictness and control that Chua imposed on her daughters. I also acknowledge that I don’t understand the immigrant experience and how that would shape and imprint someone’s world view. But Chua’s strictness is not in service of utter survival the way her parents experienced as new immigrants—they were so poor that they could not afford heat in the winter after moving to Harvard. Chua is trying to guard against “generational decline,” by being determined “not to raise a soft, entitled child—not to let my family fall.” In the process she goes way too far, molding her daughters like clay, and taking over their lives, truly overstepping the girls’ boundaries in a way that is unacceptable in American society.
I do take away one nugget of core wisdom that I can support, that kids are stronger than we often give them credit for. In the end I hope that writing this book is part of a helpful, healing journey for Amy Chua’s family and that she and her husband remain open to learning along the way.
I posted a brief review Amazon review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I was not sure how to even think about one-to-five “stars” so I am glad to be able to do my full analysis here on the Mojo Mom Blog.
Here is a moving blog post: Dear Asian America: Forget Chua’s Book, This is Our “It Gets Better” Moment
Schedule an interview: Dr. Amy Tiemann is a frequent guest expert on parenting websites, national radio tours, magazines from Redbook to Glamour, and TV including ABC News, the CBS Early Show, and NBC’s Today Show. To schedule an interview, please contact her publicist Jill Dykes, jill (at) jilldykespr.com or (919) 749-8488
I’ve been fortunate to participate in some great media coverage this summer–which is wonderful on the one hand, because I’ve been able to reach new readers, but difficult on the other hand, since new activity on MojoMom.com has more or less been on summer hiatus, so there are not as many new offerings here as I would like.
I am doing my best to turn that around once school starts, I hope*, but in the meantime here is a collection of the latest articles that I have appeared in as a featured expert. Many are timely for back-to-school!
How to Let Go As They Grow: An Age-By-Age Guide, by Susannah Felts, on the Better Homes and Gardens website, BHG.com
Like Riding a Bicycle: You had all sorts of hobbies and interests before you had kids. Why can’t they also be part of your life as a parent? by Amy Levin-Epstein, in Parent & Child Magazine and on Scholastic.com
Give Helicopter Parents a Break, by Adriana Barton, in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail. I am really proud to be part of this article because I think Adriana Barton did a very thoughtful job with the research and social commentary.
*There have been some major mojo-altering events happening in my family life this summer, so I’ll be building my fall schedule one day at a time. At the same time I have some cool new ideas to work on as life permits. More details to come on what’s going on, but that is a separate blog post.
Karen Maezen Miller has described herself as an “errant mother, delinquent wife, reluctant dog walker, expert laundress, and stationmaster of the full catastrophe.” She’s a Buddhist priest–but she could also be the Mom next to you in the school carpool line.
You may already know Karen as the author of Momma Zen, and now she has a brand new book Hand Wash Cold–Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life. Her writing will help you enjoy the life you already have, which is such a wonderfully sane and comforting concept–just what all of us need in today’s over-scheduled, distracted world.
She’s my guest on this week’s Mojo Mom Podcast, so I hope you will listen in, and watch her lovely book trailer video, too. You can also learn more about Karen’s work at her newly-redesigned website, www.KarenMaezenMiller.com
Here is this week’s episode of my podcast, which is also available through the iTunes Podcast directory:
Karen’s book trailer is one of the nicest I’ve seen. I feel better just watching it!
Right now I am consumed by the whirlwind that always accompanies the final stages of editing of a new book. I can’t wait to share the new anthology Courageous Parenting with you, but the one temporary downside is that during this final push I don’t have a lot of time for blogging. But I did want to share a few end-of-decade thoughts about what I learned in the 2000s.
It’s interesting to see my personal journey as a mother develop together with my professional development. When I became a new Mom in late 1999 I looked at the world through a thoroughly individualistic perspective. I really thought that I needed to show how I could “do it all” myself. Even as I learned to embrace the participation of family and friends, I still thought that motherhood was mostly about me and my personal life choices as one woman. I felt that I chose to leave my teaching career, and without even realizing it, I was constructing a life story that put me firmly in the driver’s seat. This was actually a pretty functional way of thinking that worked for me in the short term, but as I lived through all of the challenges of motherhood, and thought about what other women faced, I realized that I was missing the big picture.
When the original “Opt-Out Revolution” narrative first came along, saying that educated mothers were choosing to leave the workforce, it made sense to me, if I looked at my life as a rugged individualist. My teaching career just “didn’t work” any more so I chose to leave. My personal situation was complicated by a cross-country move, that made it seem even more natural that I didn’t return to my job, and I was fortunate that my family could afford to live on my husband’s salary.
But even as I started to write Mojo Mom all on my own way back in 2003, not really knowing any other writers, and without the benefit of blogging, which had not exploded yet, I started to see that motherhood wasn’t just all about me as one person.
I started to think about what it meant that work “didn’t work” for me as a mother of a young child. How much of this was my individual choice, versus larger social structures that ranged from my family, to employers’ attitudes and policies, to public policy, most notably the fact that American women don’t even have paid maternity leave?
My husband’s job was all-encompassing at the time, which did not leave a lot of room for me to work any kind of traditional schedule. And the idea of truly-flexible, valuable part time jobs didn’t seem plausible. I craved a new professional, creative outlet, and I had a renewed interest in writing, so I reinvented myself as an author.
I was fortunate to be able to do so, but even though this worked for me, the dangers and fallacies of the Opt-Out storyline started to come to into focus for me. First of all, most women and mothers need to work for basic financial reasons. So the idea that motherhood = not employed is a worrisome one, because the workforce truly needs to figure out how to retain us and stop punishing us for being parents–specifically, mothers, because fathers are more respected in the workforce and are often assumed to have a wife who can do the majority of the caregiving. As Opting Out? author and sociologist Pamela Stone has pointed out, too often, parenthood means that fathers step on the accelerator of their careers and mothers step on the brakes. For women of Gen X and Y this can create a major fork in the road that has lifelong consequences.
Also, taking an off-ramp from paid work can leave women in career limbo and financial jeopardy. I hope that in the 2010s we’ll find better solutions for building more on-ramps. Life is long, and women in particular should expect to have several careers interwoven with seasons of caregiving.
So as these challenges accumulated it became incredibly clear to me that no one is truly a “rugged individualist,” and we are all in this together. As I was completing the first edition of Mojo Mom I started to think, “What we need is a social movement. Damn, am I going to have to try to start one?” Fortunately for all of us, MomsRising.org burst onto the scene. I could instantly see that founders Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner were well positioned to launch an activist revolution, and I’ve done my best to support their work because it is spot-on, working to end job discrimination against mothers, to get health care coverage for all children, and other key advocacy goals.
Joan and Kristin also started their work together by writing a book, The Motherhood Manifesto, which I highly recommend.
So from being one aspiring writer, working in near-secret on my own, to getting the updated 2009 edition of Mojo Mom published, working with other writers, and participating in MomsRising’s grassroots movement with a million members, I have come a long way in the 2000s.
And as my appreciation of cooperation of mothers has grown, my next book is, voila, an anthology, with chapters written by fourteen talented experts! I had spent years getting to know other writers, reading their books, appreciating their work, and doing Mojo Mom Podcast interviews–now the circle of experts who I have come to think of as a special group in my mind are really collaborating on the new book, Courageous Parenting, which will be a comprehensive guide exploring how to end overparenting, and carve out a new, healthier path to independence for our kids and ourselves.
The power of collaboration is truly amazing. I have spent several years cultivating these connections, but once I had the idea for the anthology and recruited my contributors, we decided to launch the book in a fast and timely matter. The anthology will be current as of January 2010 and will launch in early spring. To me this is the best combination that takes advantage of the immediacy of blogging while preserving the substance of book writing.
As my blog readers you’ve been an important part of my entire journey as well. Books take a long time to writer, and my life as a writer improved greatly after blogging enabled me to connect with my readers. So to say thanks to you, I will be offering a free digital download of the new anthology “Courageous Parenting” to anyone who signs up on MojoMom.com before the book is published.
I hope you will sign up now, so that I can send you a free complete electronic copy of the new book when it’s released this spring.