Anais Nin wrote that love “begins where the myth fails. Then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws.” If there is such a thing as modern mythology it can be found in our pursuit of perfect parenting. We live in constant fear of making a bad decision or saying something that will negatively impact our cildren. We stress about whether we’re doing it “right” or doing a better job than our neighbours and friends. Or our parents.
It’s incredible to contemplate the struggles and sacrifices we make professionally and personally in order to give our children “the best” and how much we push them to make them want the best for themselves.
But myths are cautionary tales told from the perspective of immortals or gods in order to expose our all too human fallibility. We are meant to learn from the mistakes that the gods make in their pursuit of perfection. But in our pursuit of perfect parenting, who gains? And who suffers?
“The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turing into a Tiger” may win an award for Longest Book Title but it was also an engaging, meticulously researched common sense book on parenting in the 21st century. Dr. Shimi Kang is a world-renowned expert on motivating children and youth toward positive behaviours and better mental health. She is the medical director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver and has helped literally hundreds of children and their parents through times of crisis . She has witnessed first hand the perils of parental pressure: anxiety, stress, suicide and addiction.
Our dream of having the perfect children is, quite literally, killing them.
Dr. Kang is a Harvard-educated medical doctor and psychiatrist and internationally respected for her expertise. She is the child of immigrant parents who struggled to give their children “the best in life” which for them didn’t mean endless practicing, around the clock tutoring or ruthless competitiveness. Her father taught his five children math while he was driving his taxi cab while her uneducated, illiterate mother trusted deeply rooted maternal instincts to stay in tune with her children’s needs. But despite her impecable credentials and charming upbringing, I related most to Dr. Kang as a former “Tiger Mother” who ignored the roar of the masses and trusted her gut to find a better way to raise happy children.
Although the title refers specifically to the “tiger” parents illustrated by self described Tiger Mother Amy Chua’s outrageous parenting porn polemic “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” Dr. Kang also questions the permissive “jellyfish” parents – first identified in Barbara Coloroso’s “Kids are Worth It!” attached, free floating and permissive, allowing their children to grow “organically” because they lack the spine to parent with authority. Dr. Kang prescribes a new parenting style, modelled on the joyful, playful and highly social dolphin.
Dr. Kang believes that the key to raising healthy, happy and motivated kids is to instil a combination of IQ (intellectual quotient or ability) and EQ (emotional quotient or intelligence) known as CQ – the cognitive quotient. And she’s not alone: organizations like Google and PwC, institutes of higher learning such as UBC and the Harvard Business School and even college board standardization tests like the SATs and MCATs are all moving away from choosing candidates and employees based solely on test scores. These progressive organizations are looking for a skill set that encompasses creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. Or in less consultancy firm terms: adaptability, self motivation and grit. It’s a healthy dose of reality for those of us who believe that putting our children in a pool seven days a week will automatically turn fast swimmers into great business leaders, or disciplined pianists into inspired innovators. Athletic pursuits or performance capabilities may teach our children discipline and perseverance but it will not instil in them self motivation, passion, personality, three things 21st century children will need if they are to be successful, happy and healthy.
Ah, personality. My younger son has it in spades and has always been more challenging to parent than my older son. His antics are the stuff of legend and his stubborness would make a mule blush. Most of the wrinkles on my forehead are because of this child and he is only 8 years old. This past weekend I was reminded of his quick temper and slow forgiveness and meditated on what his future may hold if we don’t give him to tools to deal with his strong personality. Reading Dr. Kang’s book and preparing to write this review I was struck by how many CQ traits my son already possesses, and how many he still has to learn. It is our job as his parent to That is our job: to guide him persistently yet playfully, with the assistance of our pods, to embrace and celebrate his uniqueness. To let go of our preconceived and outdated notions of “success” and empower our little square peg to be his best self.
*I received an advance copy of “The Dolphin Way” from Penguin Canada for review purposes. I was not compensated for this post.