Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Does It Mean to Be a Good Parent in America?

I was discussing Bringing Up Bebe last night in book club (which was interesting because everyone else was British or Australian, meaning their interpretation of everything is a bit different). We were talking about how in France there seems to be a consensus on how to parent, broadly speaking, but in the English-speaking world (and in the United States in particular, I think) this is not true. I've noticed the same thing in Chinese parenting: for example, pretty much every Chinese parent firmly believes in the importance of corporal punishment (particularly in school-related contexts) and in definite distinctions in family roles based on age (so older siblings are always responsible for younger ones' behavior, parents must always be respected, etc.).

This is really not true for Americans: some parents use corporal punishment a lot; some use it occasionally, but only certain types (ie, spanking), in certain contexts, and for certain ages; some would never use it, and in fact don't even believe in punishment. There is hardly any parenting strategy which everyone agrees upon. Moreover, even the role of the parent is up for debate. Should parents be firm disciplinarians instilling obedience and morals into their children? helpful guides facilitating the children finding their own path and way of doing things? mentors constantly encouraging the children to challenge themselves, strive for success and gain skills? There are numerous parents in each camp (along with the associated books, experts and parenting practices).

I find it a little frustrating, in part because the assumptions about the parental role are rarely made explicit. I just read Positive Parenting, which I liked: it falls firmly into the 'helpful guide' camp (parents are supposed to avoid punishment altogether in favor of helping the child understand his/her internal motivations: she is a psychologist). I am now reading Parenting with Love and Logic, which I also like: it is a "mentor" book (parents are supposed to use a lot of 'tough love' techniques in order to introduce real world consequences early on, thereby teaching accountability and responsibility). But while the techniques described by each are largely determined by what the authors think a parent ought to be/do, there is very little explicit discussion about whether those assumptions are in fact valid.

I haven't quite decided for myself yet what my take on my parental role ought to be, although I lean towards the "guide" role (B is definitely a proponent of this one, which of course influences me). It's definitely an interesting question.


  1. Ok wanna hear my opinions? (like you have a choice...hehehehehe...well I guess you could delete this...)
    I liked Bringing Up Bebe, mostly because it strikes home with my parenting style (very regimented, but very casual at the same time...I believe in strict boundaries but a lot of freedom within those boundaries...I believe that schedules are the best thing for both kids and parents...blah blah blah...I'm Russian so it's a similar upbringing). Here is my thing though. American parents are like the American society - you can do what you want to do, and it's right, as long as it's right for you. Not a whole lot of other cultures buy into that. I think there is a lot that is hard with a society like that - what exactly IS the right answer? But I also think it is one of the main reasons that there are so many such different successful people in the US. The US grows independent minds that are taught to think for themselves and to make their own choices, (sometimes leading to bad ones) but often leading to successes outside the box.
    Now, with a toddler, I still believe in strict boundaries and choices within those boundaries and I'm a firm believer in schedules, but, unlike how I was brought up, I'm not into spanking, punishment (outside of a time out) or a lot of negative feedback. I'm more into positive encouragement (this is what works best for P, we've noticed), helping her seek out her independence, and giving her options (even if we limit them to just 2 for now). I guess, like many Americans (well, I'm kinda an American...legally now anyways), I believe that each parent chooses what is best for their child - and that's what's best for us.
    Thanks for letting me ramble.
    By the way, I just LOVE your posts like this...they REALLY make me think.

    1. Yes, I agree with you. The American system is harder on parents in many ways (all the angst and second guessing and mommy wars) but I think you're right that it does allow for more independent and creative people to thrive. (Certainly this is a HUGE issue in Singapore, where most people have had both qualities beaten out of them by late adolescence.) I guess the flipside is that when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong.

      I love giving R options (even if they are kind of fake, like which pair of pyjamas do you want to wear?). It makes her a lot more cooperative when she feels like she has a sense of control/input, which makes my life easier. And encouraging her to be independent and do it herself also makes her happy, which again makes it easier.

      The style of parenting which is extremely controlling at all times just seems like too much work. I'd rather save my hassle effort for the more crucial issues (safety; not biting people, etc.)

  2. I'm glad you're reading the Love and Logic book- hope you like it! I think I need to re-read it....

    1. Yes, thanks for the rec! I will write a full review once I finish; it certainly gives me a lot to think about.

  3. I sometimes wish we were more like China/France, because the American way means that it is almost impossible to express an opinion about parenting without people saying you are judgmental or attacking them. I get tired of the blog posts couched with "This is just my opinion but" and "I know not everyone thinks this way". Duh. Both of those statements are obvious and shouldn't need to be said.

    You can find some podcasts on Love and Logic (very old, but still interesting) on itunes.