About a year ago, Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother created quite a stir with her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. You can read an excerpt here, published by the Wall St. Journal. Indignant Western mothers everywhere wondered how the Tiger Mother could live with herself. Blogs were on fire with many condemnations about the lifelong damage she was causing to the psyche of her children. My perception of her writing is that Tiger Mothers, in short, demand perfection from their children and will go to any length to ensure that they meet that demand. Children are the center of the universe and in that universe they are pushed and prodded to garner every possible achievement that can fit on their resumés.
Now, just last week, here comes another book. Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris, writes Bringing up Bebé, touting the French model of parenting wherein children are brought up learning that they are not the center of the universe. You can also read here an excerpt published by the Wall St. Journal. This is, apparently, better than any other parenting plan because children learn to entertain themselves, are never picky eaters and rarely have to be disciplined.
That's my very general synopsis of each "parenting model."
All I can do is laugh when I think of these "superior" mothers. I have to wonder what either of them would do with an extra-special child.
Tiger Mom doesn't seem to have a sense of humor. How will she handle the child who absolutely cannot get dressed in the morning unless the tags are removed from every stitch of clothing and all the socks are turned inside out because of that pesky, annoying seam? For that matter, how will she manage to exact the perfection she seeks from the child who has such fine motor difficulties that shoes with laces are out of the question, along with small buttons? Piano lessons? Precisely perfect penmanship? Tiger Mom will need a large, daily cocktail or her head might explode. Every day for her will be an uphill battle to change the extra-special child without recognizing her extra-special gifts. Or maybe Tiger Mom will simply "write-off" the extra-special child as not worth the effort since the extra-special child will never fit her perception of perfection. She will not see the unique potential of that child. Too bad for Tiger Mom.
American Mom in France is in for a rude awakening, too. Extra-special kids are often picky-eaters and many require extraordinary amounts of attention. They have to be the center of the universe. What would she do when her child, through no fault of their own, simply cannot be left alone because that child might harm himself, let alone what might happen to the home? Not only can he not be left alone, but he must be supervised constantly. That ability to entertain themselves? Many extra-special kids are experts at that - to their own detriment. What is one of the key characteristics of an autistic child? The challenge of engaging with other people. It could easily be perceived as just preferring to be alone or an extraordinary ability to entertain themselves. Unfortunately, if misunderstood, that same child may miss out on the many interventions that could be of help. Oh, and the "big eyes" with the stern, no nonsense look? Just try that on the kid who doesn't make eye contact well in the first place. Go ahead, Big Mover. Let me know how the "big eyes" work for you. You'll be bobbing and weaving with those big eyes just to try and get the attention of an extra-special kid. By then, the stern, no nonsense look is pointless. American Mom in France will need to stop drinking the large, daily cocktail. She will have to realize that her own sense of self, her own definition of herself is no longer separate from her child. It simply can't be. Too bad for American Mom in France.
So, why do I think moms of extra-special kids are superior? I don't. I do think that we've learned something in between those two parenting models. In fact, most of the moms of extra-special kids that I know are the last people in the world who would consider themselves superior. Most often, they would be uncomfortable with the idea at all. We often wonder if we're doing too much or are we doing too little? That said, here are some of the things that I see as common characteristics of moms with extra-special kids.
1. A sense of humor. Maybe not every minute of every day. A mom may go months or years without seeing some humor in her life, but then, eventually, she will figure it out. These moms that I know have decided that viewing their lives with a sense of humor takes the edge off of the daily stress and worry that consumes their minds. Realistically, at some point, you have to realize that if your child wants to wear herr clothes inside out just to avoid the itchy tags, then so be it. Take a photo and move on. We can look around and see how absurd it must look to outsiders, the way we jump through hoops to accommodate our extra-special children. It is absurd, sometimes, and we can laugh at that, too.
2. Patience. Maybe not every minute of every day, but the mom of an extra-special kid has learned more patience than she probably gives herself credit for learning. Moms of extra-special kids learn that you can't sweat the small stuff all the time and chances are good that you are going to have to repeat yourself 8,000 times before the extra-special child will "get it." Sure, you need to sweat the small stuff sometimes, but they know that in the end, it's better to deal with the big things and let the rest go. These moms are more patient with other kids too, if for no other reason than the "typical" child probably seems so much easier to manage. Once you've scaled Mt. Everest, climbing Mt. Shasta seems like a piece of cake. By extension, these moms are more tolerant, too. If she sees a child having a meltdown in the supermarket, she is not passing judgement on the parent. She is sympathizing with the challenge of dealing with a kid in meltdown mode, whether or not it is the result of the child being extra-special.
3. Know when to pick your battles. Lots of moms know this to be true, but the extra-special mom has to be on alert all the time. For example, extra-special kids are notoriously picky eaters. Maybe it is because they are just being stubborn, maybe it is something else, but either way, picky eating kids are like horses led to water. You can keep putting out the broccoli, but short of pumping it through an IV while Susie sleeping, you can't force her to eat it. Pick your battles. Moms of extra-special kids have learned that letting Johnny eat noodles and butter for three meals every day may not be the healthiest approach, but it may not be worth fighting over. Fight the big battles - yes, you have to go to school anyway; no, you may not tear the wallpaper from your walls to make confetti. Would you want to have that same argument about the noodles every single day, indefinitely? Not me. I've got more important things to worry about.
4. Confidence. Confidence implies that moms of extra-special kids have everything under control. More often than not, we don't. I know that no matter how much I think I've done, I always wonder what I've missed. I have learned - from many other moms like me - that I don't have time to care so much about what anyone else thinks of me. That builds incredible confidence. When "the system" is messing with your kid, watch out for Mama Bear protecting her extra-special cub. You don't get that kind of courage without the confidence to back it up. I will go to the mat for K every single time if need be. I will be the squeaky wheel (I prefer to call it "pleasantly persistent"). I will not care how others judge me because I will not stop until I know that K has every chance to reach her full potential. And yes, others do judge me. Some think I should feel bad, asking for services for K when education budgets are being stretched so thin. I don't care. I know what my child is worth, even if someone else doesn't.
5. Flexibility. One thing every mom of an extra-special kid knows is that it is a rare day when things go exactly as you expect them to go. I am lucky because K is relatively easy. I know, when she wakes up every day, she will generally be happy and our day will go as planned. So many parents are challenged with extra-special kids with the alphabet soup of diagnoses (ADD/ADHD, OCD, BP, PDD-NOS, pick an acronym...), and those kids are extremely unpredictable. Moms of these kids know that the best plan to have is the backup plan. You have to be ready to roll with the punches - literally and figuratively.
We are not superior, we've just learned to accept and appreciate a different perspective. If Tiger Mom wants to see a child who works hard every second of the day, she needs to spend time with an extra-special kid. She might adjust her definition of "success" and "perfection." If American Mom in France wants to see a child who is able to entertain himself, she needs to spend time with the mom of a non-verbal autistic child who has never told his parents that he loves them. She might think twice about the importance of children being seen, not heard.
I know that for all of K's challenges, I am extremely fortunate. She doesn't have behavior challenges, she doesn't struggle with mental illness, and she isn't a very picky eater. She is able to play piano and engage in social activities with her peers. She tells me she loves me every single day. I know that I am extremely fortunate to have a daughter like S who, while complex in her own way, is so very simple to parent. I admire and appreciate the moms who have extra-special kids that challenge them in every possible way and still they continue to get up each day and face those challenges. Who's to say that they are or aren't superior? They are amazing moms and I'm proud to know so many of them.