p until now we've been focused on the fundamentals that separate the difficult but joyful process of raising great kids from the ego-gratifying but ultimately meaningless process of producing imitation great kids. Here we get down to the nitty gritty.
3. PROVIDE STRENGTH, NOT STRESS
There's a world of difference between an imitation great kid and the genuine article. This difference assumes an even greater importance if your kid happens to be Asian Americans, as I will discuss a little later. In a nutshell, the difference is produced by the emotional building blocks that form your child's basic character. Confidence and strength are the core dynamics that underlie great kids. Imitation great kids, on the other hand, have been shaped by insecurity and stress. As the parent, you choose the building technique.
A dangerous fallacy that comes in and out of vogue is the notion of "tough love". Force a kid to fend for himself so he can learn to cope with life, it advises. Yes, toss a kid to the wolves and she'll become one of the wolves -- if she isn't eaten alive. We admire wolves because they embody hardiness, physical courage, even strong pack loyalty. But a successful wolf is a far cry from a successful human being. A kid forced too early to fend for herself will probably develop a high degree of cunning, constant wariness and a tough shell, but can't possibly develop the emotional dynamic range a human being needs to build a healthy, productive and fulfilled life.
The other equally dangerous childrearing fallacy is that it's up to parents to push their kids to excel. Set high standards and strict discipline and keep pushing them, the theory goes, or they might become lazy, shiftless and unmotivated. Our own experiences have convinced us that the reverse is true. By treating your kids like automatons who can be programmed in some crude fashion, you rob them of the chance to develop true initiative. What's more, you kill off the potential for joy that can only come of being in control of their own lives.
Typically, "good parents" rely heavily on some combination of the above two fallacies in their childrearing, interspersed with occasional "rewards" in the form of extra freedom or indulgences. Depending on which fallacy is emphasized, the results vary but are invariably unhappy.
Those favored with too much "tough love" either become passive and apathetic (the ones who were eaten alive) or develop an over-acute, feral consciousness of every social situation (the ones who became wolves). In either case, their lives revolve completely around cues from peers and authority figures. As kids the apathetic ones are often seen as "cool" by their peers and the feral ones are considered "streetsmart". As they move into adulthood these qualities lose their appeal as they're recognized for what they are -- laziness, slyness, untrustworthiness, lack of self-confidence in tackling useful tasks, a complete lack of initiative and creative energy. These are often the people who are "popular" in elementary and high school and end up working in the lower echelons of the service sector or in non-technical blue-collar trades.
If the parents put the emphasis on "setting high standards" and "enforcing discipline", the results are superficially better but no less unhappy for the kids. They become proficient at going through the motions of industry, even excelling at basic rote tasks like arithmetic and grammer, but develop a fear of tasks that might result in failure or lack of approval. They're easily stressed and flustered under pressure and rarely develop the self-confidence needed to assert themselves in the face of adversity or threat. They also lack the initiative and creativity to tackle original work. As kids they're generally unpopular but are better accepted in adulthood as they acquire the trappings of middle-class, or even upper-class success on the strength of their diligence and predictability. They generally end up as corporate office workers or in technical trades.
The above two alternatives may not seem so bad to some parents. If you can imagine nothing better for your kids than to end up like everyone else, you have nothing to gain by reading on. But if you sense the hollowness of the two paths outlined above, let's continue.
THE ASIAN AMERICAN FACTOR
Life is meaningful only if it's built on a sense of individuality. We aren't saying that only a Mozart or a Confucius can lead a fulfilled life, but we believe it's impossible for a human being to be fulfilled without rejoicing in one's unique gifts, passions and values. In an emotionally healthy person individuality is a source of strength. In an emotionally stunted person, it's a source of stress and misery. That's why it's especially important for Asian American parents to raise their kids with a healthy respect for their individuality. As members of a minority group, Asian Americans who see their differences as a liability instead of an asset would open themselves up to a lifetime of acute suffering.
Instilling a deep self-love is the parents' first job. I don't mean narcissism but a genuine respect for one's own worth and abilities. Self-preservation may be an innate instinct in all living things, but true self-love is a uniquely human trait that must be learned. Only learning to love ourselves gives us the confidence take charge of our own lives instead of subjecting it to the whims of others.
There's only one way to learn that kind of genuine self-love -- by receiving abundant love and acceptance from an early age. There is no substitute. The higher the quality of the love received, the higher the quality of self-love. "Tough love" isn't the highest form of love because it's tainted by an element of forsaking a child before she's ready. Sure, that impulse contains a component of love, but it also contains a large component of indifference. The desire to teach discipline by setting high standards and cracking the whip, too, contains a component of love, but it's tainted by a larger component of parental scorn for the child's own ideas, desires and impulses -- in short, scorn for her own budding sense of self.
For those reasons, it's a very bad idea to force a child into stressful situations or to lay down stress-inducing rules at an early age. If you worry that a child will stay dependent too long, don't. A child who has enjoyed complete acceptance and love will develop quickly into a stronger, more truly independent adult. Ones deprived of that sense of absolute security too early or forced to grow up under the crack of a whip will quickly develop a hard shell but will remain emotionally inchoate and weak for the rest of their lives.
READ PART 5