I have been reading an interesting book by Dr. Shefanli Tsabary called The Conscious Parent. I’m only half way through, but it has made quite an impression on me so far. I think in many ways I intuitively knew many of the things that Dr. Tsabary writes about, but to see them in print has given me more confidence to follow my instincts.
To start, I am absolutely in many ways a Tiger Mom and if you haven’t read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I highly recommend it. It’s worth the read for no other reason than to have the insight to say to your children, “At least I didn’t light your stuffed animals on fire if you got a “B” in grade school!” But for all of the acidity author Amy Chua still makes the very valid point that parents are responsible for the future of their children. Both my children attended the Talented and Gifted program at UC Berkeley. I think it provided an amazing academic foundation for them, and if the child is willing to do it, and enjoys it, then it can be a positive experience. Not that all children need to spend their summers turning a classroom into the bottom of the ocean floor at five or dissecting a lamb heart at ten.
The tricky part comes now as my older daughter finishes her Freshman year of High School. She has just earned an 89.59% on her final biology exam. Amy Chua writes that a “B” is not a good grade and like her there is a part of me that is livid, but the other part shrugs my shoulders. If she wants to be a student athlete and have a 3.5 GPA who am I to tell her that’s just not good enough?
I believe we are responsible for ensuring our children are reasonably equipped to encounter an increasingly complex world, but I want to adopt more of Dr. Tsabary’s methods. In the ground breaking parenting classic from 1994, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, Mary Pipher writes that we let go too soon of our teenage daughters. And the number one fault of parents is not protecting our daughters from societal pressures. We are caught in the constant ebb and flow of holding on, but not too tightly and letting go, but not too much.
In her award winning book Dr. Tsabary encourages us to sit with our children and connect with their souls. She writes that there is a sacred bond between mother and child. She asks that we awaken and accept our children for who they truly are. Easier said than done. On one hand, I am passionate about raising a happy child, but then on the other, I want all doors flung wide open for my children and in our society that means attaining academic excellence for college applications.
One of the things that Dr. Tsabary writes about is accepting the child you have and not projecting onto them the attributes that you desire, but love and honor the person they innately are. The last thing we want is a child who has relinquished the person they truly are for some parent inspired fantasy of the perfect son or daughter. Our children aren’t our grand experiment. They are people. I remember holding my baby in my arms thinking with amazement, “this is really a person.” “They aren’t dolls” I tell my husband all the time of our children. They have feelings and interests and plans all their own.
The Conscious Parent also asks that we connect with our own souls. The author advises that we accept ourselves and sit with our own emotions. As my daughter approaches me I allow myself to sit in silence and let the door in my heart open. I trust she will make the right decisions for her own future. And I know that no matter what I do she will be some version of fine. As she gets into the car I stop myself from asking her questions about exams, extra credit, final grades. At the beginning of the school year I realized I could learn more listening to the lyrics of the songs she plays over and over in my car than anything she would say. As the sun slants through the car, she plays a song by Two Door Cinema Club, the lyrics go something like this:
You gotta step up your game to make it to the top
Gotta little competition now
Your gonna find it hard to cope living on your own
Oh oh, oh oh
Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will
On this sunny day driving away from the high school I glance over at my daughter and sit quietly with her soul. And I realize that she is going places that I don’t even know exist. All I have to do now is allow her to be the person she wants to be and keep her safe. I have a front row seat watching the girl fall away and the woman emerge. Luckily, I still have her little sister.