I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Parenting Without Borders author, Christine Gross-Loh last month. I found out that she is a fellow Mawrter (Go, Bryn Mawr!!!) and that she lives right here in Boston! How cool is that?
I had read Christine’s Huffington Post article titled, “Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?” and it really intrigued me, especially since I grew up with immigrant parents and my Korean maternal grandparents played a huge role in my upbringing.
I immediately went out and purchased Parenting Without Borders and read it straight through. It definitely broadened my perspective on parenting since I really had this assumption that the American way of parenting was the best way and that this would be the only way. Before I became a parent, I felt that American parenting was the best. It would leave kids with high self-esteem and give a sense of individuality and the obligation of family would not be so tight. After I became a parent, I started to realize that there wasn’t ONE way or a BEST way, but that there were many different methods, philosophies, etc. We could take the best from each of these types of parenting philosophies and craft them into something that would work great for us and produce successful children. It was validating to hear from Christine that she had felt the same way as well. She said:
Before I started parenting and researching for this book…Actually, before I even moved to Japan, I thought there was a best way to parent and that there was a specific ideal best way to parent and I thought that was universal too. And then when I went abroad, I saw that there were some very different strategies being used but they were yielding good results as well. People use different strategies in different societies for their own reasons, but I felt there was something we could learn if we did a hybrid approach. So I think that the biggest change is probably that I just became more relaxed. Literally, not just because I felt freed from this idea of one way to parent or best way to parent, but also just because the other way of parenting that I saw was a more relaxed way of parenting in many ways. It’s not completely so – you know – Asian parenting is its own sort of animal, but it was much more… children in Japan had much more freedom in many areas than they do here and that was very striking to me. Because we think of ourselves as a very independent and free society where we raise children to be that way, so that was kind of surprising. I guess the two things are it changed me because it freed me from that ideal and it also changed me because I was witnessing a freer style of parenting.
I asked Christine about what she thought about the American culture of parenting:
Napkin Hoarder: To me, your book seemed like you should take the good of that culture and that culture and bring it together, but then other people were saying that it really put a negative spin on American culture. What do you think you were trying to say about American culture?
Christine: I think it’s really helpful to look at what our weaknesses are because objectively speaking, American children are not faring so well – as well as you think they should be given that we are such a wealthy country and we have so many resources for children. So I think there is a lot to consider. I understand if people might feel frustrated because there aren’t easy answers right now. Some of the changes that I talk about have to be systemic changes, but some of the changes are changes that parents can make today. I think some things have fallen off our radar like the idea that it’s okay to have children feel interdependent with you. Like you are there for them but they are also there for you. That doesn’t have to mean that you are stifling them – it’s a very rich way to live in harmony with other people and that is an idea that I saw carried out in the societies where children are thriving the most on objective measures of well being. So that was kind of common thread that children are raised less child-centrically and more as a part of a community. So that’s something that it is a little critical of this sort of individualistic ideal that we raise children…that is the ideal that we sort of have of raising children in this culture, but research shows and in comparison to other countries show, that it’s not necessarily best for them.
When she said that it was okay to have children feel interdependent with their parents, I was a little shocked. We value independence so much here in the United States and I know that when I was growing up, that interdependence was something that I looked very down upon. It made me feel that I could not be my own person, but looking back in retrospect as an adult now, I see how that notion of interdependence has helped me to understand the ripple effect of my personal choices on my family or my community. Living in harmony with others and being aware of our community – having empathy for those around us – all those things are so important to me now and things that I definitely want my own child to know and possess.
Another thing that Christine said, really struck me:
I think that the idea of a predictable outcome – a controlled outcome – is a very American ideal. And so, that sort of search for answers feels like an American thing – a modern American parenting thing right now. There is a Puritan idea here that you have to shape the child. The idea in another culture like Japan is that they are born – they are going to become who they are. And that’s very different. That leads you to a totally different place.
That was definitely me! I had a lot of anxiety about raising children because I wanted to know THE right way to parent so that I could have a successful child. The thought of having to teach and mold this child into this human being was overwhelming – I myself had so many flaws – how would I be able to shape a child’s life? I love the idea that we are going to become who we are. It helped me to relax and to just enjoy my child and all the wonderful things that are there about being a child and having that child-like perspective.
Christine ended the interview by saying:
What can we take is what I really expect people to do. Not just – I’m not going to lead them by the hand. I’m saying, “Look, here’s a lot for you to consider and I just want you to shift your mindset.” That’s all. I think that, without holding to specific strategies, can be so eye-opening to just realize, “Oh my gosh, all my assumptions are formed ones. This is not the way it’s supposed to be for everyone.”
She was right on. Reading this book made me think about parenting on a much broader level. It was also great to be able to learn and see examples from all around the world that gave me new ideas and a lot of great perspective. I know that parents don’t have much time to read, but this is worth the time and a great read.
What are some parenting philosophies that you feel have really worked for you and your family?