Thursday, November 10, 2011

Adoption Resource #2 - Toddler Adoption - The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins Best

Over the last decade and a half, I've come to the conclusion that the most challenging adoption situation for both the child and the adoptive parent is that of a toddler. During the toddler years, children start to express themselves and use a variety of different methods to do so. Children over the age of five or six have a much easier time expressing themselves, even if they are speaking in their native language to a translator. When a child is adopted as a toddler, they need to express their feelings and fears about new surroundings, new people, new smells, new food, new everything. And this need to express is hindered by the fact that they are still learning to communicate. Children born to and raised by their biological parents have difficulty communicating and expressing their emotions (biting, anyone?). Throw an adoption into the mix of this crucial developmental stage, and you've got yourself one terrified and confused kid that is not apt to attach to his or her new parents with ease.

Toddler Adoption - The Weaver's Craft, by Mary Hopkins Best, is my second favorite adoption resource out there. Thorough, clear, and - best of all - frank, this book spends a large portion of the book asking parents the hard questions, summarized by the chapter title: "Is Toddler Adoption for You?" The book then explains the development of a toddler, how a toddler grieves having to leave familiar surroundings, and how adoptive parents can attach to a grieving two- or three-year old. Dr. Hopkins-Best gives examples of specific toddler adoptions and clear guidance as to how to best parent these children in desperate need of attachment to their parents.

Ten years ago, I hesitated to recommend this book to potential adoptive parents because I was afraid that it would scare them away from adoption. I had seen my share of orphanages around the world, and I wanted (still do) every single child languishing in an orphanage to have a loving family. What I understand now is that, while every child needs a loving family, not every family is capable of providing the environment that these children need. So in order to advocate responsible adoption, the best thing I can possibly do is recommend Toddler Adoption - The Weaver's Craft when I meet parents who are considering adoption. Note that this book has portions that are applicable to the adoption of a child at any age. Knowing what they will face when that grieving child enters their home is the very best thing that parents could do. Realizing that parenting an adoptive child takes many additional measures of patience, perseverance, and kindness toward these hurting children is what adopted toddlers need most during the transition into their new families. Adoptive parents need to know. Reading this book will do just that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Adoption Resource #1 - Helping Your Adopted Child

This is the first of several posts intended to highlight quality adoption resources. I will be recommending books that provide helpful and effective advice in matters of parenting adoptive children as an alternative to parenting books than have proven harmful to adopted children. Helping Your Adopted Child - Understanding Your Child's Unique Identity, by Paul David Tripp is the first of these recommendations.

Helping Your Adopted Child is a 22-page booklet that is provided by the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. While it is clearly Christian in nature, I would encourage non-Christians considering adoption to read it, as Tripp's practical strategies are applicable to parents of all religions.

Paul Tripp (not to be confused with Tedd Tripp, author of Shepherding a Child's Heart) has been counseling for over 25 years, but he is also an adoptive parent. That combination is extremely appealing to me, as he has both professional and personal experience with adoption. He starts out summarizing his experience with the adoption of his daughter, who is now well into adulthood. He then discusses God's view of adoption and progresses to struggles that an adopted child faces throughout life. His insight is frank and firm, yet he provides hope for parents in their efforts to help these unique children through their struggles. With this important foundation, Helping Your Adopted Child also provides practical strategies for helping adopted children through transition and struggles.

I appreciate the fact that Tripp points out that often times, parenting strategies for adoptive children sometimes require different techniques that parents would use with their biological children. He's clear that formulas do not work in the parenting realm and encourages parents to point their children to their identity as God sees them. The best part of this booklet is the fact that Tripp points parents to look to God, and not to quick-fix solutions.

I recommend this pamphlet to adoptive parents at the beginning of the process, to adoptive parents struggling with parenting their children, and to adoptive parents who don't like to read long books . So check it out. Buy one, a pack of five, or a case, and pass them out to anyone you know considering adoption.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Adoption Education for Life

To say that I'm sad about this story is an enormous understatement. The death of any child under any circumstance is horrific. The death of a child at the hands of adoptive parents somehow seems more than horrific. That it's happened twice in the past three years with the same book as the guiding parental advice light is abominable.

Here at Civil Thoughts we adore adoption. Someone's pain became our joy four times over. For us, adoption has been the greatest joy of our lives. For some parents, this joy is not felt. Adoption is complicated, at best, for everyone involved. Over the past 13 years, we've completed four adoptions and assisted with countless others. During these years, one of the constants I've experienced is the fact that, once the excitement subsides, the first days at home can be extremely challenging for the child and parents. This is especially true for children adopted older than the infant stage. The cry of the new parents during this time is always this: "Why didn't I know it was going to be this difficult?"

Most people would assume that adoption agencies help with post-adoption counseling. Typically, they do not. I vacillate on whether or not it is their responsibility to do so. The bottom line is that processing adoption paperwork is expensive, and adoptive families balk at adoption costs as it is. If agencies were to spend time providing post-adoption counseling, they couldn't cover the basic costs of running the agency. So, families who bring home children at older ages are usually left with little help as they navigate how to live life together.

While adoption of children at any age is challenging for the child, the most difficult adoption situation - by far - is when an older child is adopted from a foreign country. In most situations, these children have lived in orphanages for some time, and while logic would dictate that their new surroundings would evoke gratefulness from them, the surroundings seem strange and overwhelming to the child. These kids can't speak the language, they can't recognize the food they are eating, and they can't wrap their brains around why everyone looks so different. Many parents of these children muddle through these challenges, and some parents actually help the children settle into the their new life in a way that is effective. Some parents, however, become so overwhelmed that they hang on to every last ounce of control that they think they have and they use that control in an attempt to "fix" these children who are clamoring to survive in their new environments. By all accounts, this is what happened to poor little Hannah Williams. It's also what happened to Lydia Schatz.

Trying to fix adopted children to the point of death is simply not acceptable.

Someday, I'd love to start a non-profit organization solely dedicated to providing post-adoption counseling to families. Until then, I'm going to have to just try to continue to educate people about how to help these precious children settle in to their new lives.

Over the next few weeks, I'm hoping to highlight resources that will help adoptive families with transitioning their newly adopted children with love, grace, and patience. These resources that I will summarize are not a substitute for competent professional counseling, which is often times what these children and families need once they are home. I'm not a professional counselor, but I am experienced with adoption, and I feel as if I have to do something in light of this latest tragedy. The books and pamphlets that I'm going to discuss are a first step in the right direction for families thinking about adoption, for families in the midst of an adoption, and for families who are wringing their hands over how to survive a completed adoption. More often than not, I talk to parents who are embarking on the adoption journey and they have no education about how they are going to help their children once the adoption is complete. Starting an adoption without reading about the challenges is nothing short of foolish. Prospective adoptive parents must educate themselves. It can be a matter of life and death.

Please send the adoptive families here to read about books that can help. Encourage them to throw away books like To Train Up A Child and pick up books like the ones I'm going to discuss in the coming days. Together, we can take this little step to help end the senseless deaths of children who want and need loving families.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson

As you can tell by looking at this year's reading list, I've had a bit of an identity crisis. As usual, I tried to solve it by reading a bunch of non-fiction. And, consistent with the solutions to my mini-crises of the past, a fiction title made everything right again.

I Don't Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson, is a novel about Kate, an executive with a financial firm. She is married with two kids, and her work provides the primary source of income for her family. Kate's nanny cares for the children while she works and travels all over the world and while her husband tries - half-heartedly - to give his own career some momentum. Pearson's insights into the world of women trying to do it all are incredibly well-written, not to mention eerily accurate. One of my favorite examples follows:

"I reckon this must be how it was for centuries: women doing the doing and exchanging conspiratorial glances and indulgent sighs about the men. But I never joined the Muffia; I don't know the code, the passwords, the special handshakes. I expect a man - my man - to do women's work, because if he doesn't I can't do a man's work. And up here in Yorkshire, the pride I feel in managing, the fact that I can and do make our lives stay on track, if only just, curdles into unease. Suddenly I realize that a family needs a lot of care, a lubricant to keep it running smoothly, whereas my little family is just about bumping along and the brakes are starting to squeal."

I laughed more while reading this book than I did when I read The Corrections, and that's saying something. Here is a sample of that humor with which every mother can identify:

"Leaning over the empty tub, I clear out the Pingu toys and the wrecked galleon, unstick the alphabet letters which, ever since the vowels got flushed down the loo, have formed angry Croat injunctions around the rim (scrtzchk!). I peel off the crusty half-dry Barbie flannel that has started to smell of something I vaguely remember as tadpole; and then, starting at one corner, I lift up the nonslip mat, whose suction cups cling for a second before yielding with an indignant burp."

And then this:

"When I wasn't at work, I had to be a mother; when I wasn't being a mother, I owed it to work to be at work. Time off for myself felt like stealing. The fact that no man I knew ever felt that way didn't help. This was just another area in which we were unequal: mothers got the lioness's share of the guilt."

And simply because I have a terrible time with returning library materials, here's another quote:

"...and please return Snow White video to the library. The fine now exceeds production costs on the original Walt Disney movie."

Ultimately, it was the way she captured the inner conflict of "to work or not to work" that made me adore this novel. The movie will be released sometime this fall, but I guarantee that the movie will not come close to capturing the dynamic of the working mother like the book does. The sentence construction that Pearson uses to describe women who want it all caused me to pause and ponder repeatedly. She starts off with this description of the "two kinds of mother":

"There is an uneasy standoff between the two kinds of mother which sometimes makes it hard for us to talk to each other. I suspect that the nonworking mother looks at the working mother with envy and fear because she thinks that the working mum has got away with it, and the working mum looks back with fear and envy because she knows that she has not. In order to keep going in either role, you have to convince yourself that the alternative is bad. The working mother says, Because I am more fulfilled as a person I can be a better mother to my children. And sometimes she may even believe it. The mother who stays home knows that she is giving her kids an advantage, which is something to cling to when your toddler has emptied his beaker of juice over your last clean T-shirt."

I found the following little quip hilarious, once I was finished feeling offended:

"Taking her eyes off the Career Path for a few months, she had found herself on what they call the Mummy Track. (The Mummy Track has the appearance of a through road; you can travel for many hundreds of miles along it before you notice you're going nowhere.)"

As the book progresses, Kate struggles more with how to do everything she is expected to do. She starts to make observations like this one:

"You needed a license to drive a car, but with a baby you were expected to pick it up as you went along. Becoming a parent was like trying to build a boat while you were at sea."

At the end of the book, Kate's life has spun so out of control that she makes a lists of reasons to give up work and keep working. Reason 5 on the list to give up working was especially poignant: "5. Because becoming a man is the waste of a woman."

So where does that leave us? With easy answers in this world where the opportunities for women seem endless? Hardly. I'll tell you where the pausing and pondering from this book left me. My parents gave me the gift of a college education which allowed me to have a full-time, working woman career for seven years. I loved the feel of my black leather brief case and I can't remember tiring of wearing suits and high heels. I adored giving presentations and sitting across from clients so that I could explain how their wastewater treatment plant could run more efficiently or how I could design a developer's parking lot so that it wouldn't flood anymore. Twelve years later, I found myself sitting across from a different client. This time, I was teaching my "client" how to read. And let me tell you, teaching my children to read has been one of the greatest joys of my life, and it pales in comparison to the fleeting satisfaction of those presentations I made in conference rooms. Why then, do I drool over my husband's career? Does my desire to work outside the home mean I should leave the work inside my home to someone else? I know lots of women who think the answer to that question is yes. And I know other women who think that my place in eternity would be compromised if I left the rearing of my children to someone else.

What I realized after finishing I Don't Know How She Does It is that the answer comes down to stewardship. I need to ask myself this two-part question: "What have I been given and how can I best take care of what I've been given?" I came pretty close to not having any children at all. Had that happened, I think putting my all into a career would have been a fine choice. But that didn't happen. I ended up with four kids and a husband who's career keeps him traveling constantly. There are no guarantees in life; for a plethora of reasons, it's possible that I may have to work full time during a different season in my life. The point is this: I have to take care of the people and circumstances I've been given at each stage in my life. I know many women who don't have a choice in this matter. With their circumstances, the way that they can best care for what they've been given is to work outside the home.

Much has been written about this topic. I'm drawn to every article and book I see that addresses it. The answers are not black and white in our culture. But they may become a bit easier for women as individuals, not as an entire gender, when we look at what we've been given and determine just how well we are "stewarding".

Monday, July 11, 2011

I know this isn't a book, but....

Over the past three months, daily implementation of this particular article has transformed my reading of The Book. This is just too good not to share. Of course, just reading the article won't be transforming; it's the implementation that is just. so. good. Check it out soon.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted, by Will Bowen

There is a significant amount of complaining that occurs in our house. Ellis, our turtle, wins the prize for most complaining. In fact, he has complained so much about being in our classroom aquarium that I recently set him free. Mosley, our dog, gets the silver prize. He's old and restless and his complaints are in the form of incessant whining, regardless of the fact that all of his needs have been more than adequately met. Then there are the children. Their complaints range from not enough food to too much food, not enough compliments to too many compliments, and too much together time to not enough together time. And then, there is me. I complain all of the time. My subjects are vast, but I tend to complain about my children's complaints, my dog's complaints, and my turtle's complaints.

When I stumbled across A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted, by Will Bowen, I bought it without even reading the premise of the book. This was clearly a case of judging a book by its title.

Mr. Bowen is a minister who decided to start a movement in his church to stop complaining. He attacked his own complaint-filled life by wearing a bracelet on his left wrist. As soon as he complained, the bracelet had to go to the right wrist. The next day, he would put the bracelet back on the left wrist, where it would stay until he uttered a complaint. His goal for himself, his congregation, and the world, is to keep that bracelet on the left wrist for 21 days straight - WITHOUT complaining. Bowen went so far as to design a specific bracelet for purchase. His premise is that, if one can keep from complaining for 21 days straight, complaining in that individual's life will stop for good.

Along with specific tips on how to stop complaining, the book includes a compilation of stories touting the benefits of complaint-free living and the struggles to go even one day without complaining. Bowen more than adequately captures the struggle to change behavior in this book. Bowen writes, "In his play Fiction, one of Steven Dietz's characters remarks, 'Writers don't like to write; they like to have written.' Similarly, people don't like to change, but they like to have changed." He dispels the myth that self-will is enough; he provides a gimmick, in the form of a bracelet, as a tangible reminder that a vice needs to be addressed.

As is usual, I was pretty convicted by this book. However, I kept returning to this question: Do I need the bracelet? After all, I have the power of God available to me. Shouldn't that be enough to stop complaining? Am I not really a Christian because my complaining behavior has not changed? Have I just not prayed enough? Confessed enough? Why can't I stop complaining? Maybe - just maybe - I've not spent enough time thinking about how much I really do complain. Perhaps I need to be more horrified by my complaint-filled life.

I read this book on February 11th. Since then, I've been wondering if I really need the bracelet.

Yesterday, February 27th, I opened my beloved newspaper to Randy Cohen's final article. Randy Cohen has been "The Ethicist" for 12 years. He wrote 614 columns on ethics. In his final column yesterday, he writes this:

"I say with some shame, there has been no such gradual change in my own behavior. Writing the column has not made me even slightly more virtuous. And I didn't have to be; it was in my contract. O.K., it wasn't. But it should have been. I wasn't hired to personify virtue, to be a role model for the kids, but to write about virtue in a way readers might find engaging...What spending my workday thinking about ethics did do was make me acutely conscious of my own transgressions, of the times I fell short. It is deeply demoralizing."

Here is a man who wrote about the need to change behavior for twelve years. He immersed himself in thinking about turning vices into virtues and it did not work, by his own admission. Maybe he just needed a bracelet during those 12 years.

But as I thought about Mr. Cohen and his sad admission in light of my own admission that I am a complainer, the answer struck me. This side of heaven, we will never get it completely right. I will never stop complaining, whether I buy the bracelet or not. Mr. Cohen will never become completely virtuous, whether his contract pays him to be ethical or not. This goes beyond the common adage that "Nobody is perfect." It points us to the fact that we live in a fallen world. And the response to that fact should not be a plastic bracelet. It should not be to feel demoralized. It should cause us to turn to the One who forgives and loves and provides new starts gazillions of times each day. And gratitude for that is what will help us change our behavior.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Reasons I Have Not Read the Twilight Series

Several of you have asked why I've not read the Twilight books, the popular Young Adult series by Stephanie Meyer. Generally marketed by mainstream America as a morally upright love story for teens, I've received many shocked reactions from people when I explain that I have not read them and that I do not have any plans to read them. Here are my reasons:

  • Vampires do not interest me. Hobbits, yes. Vampires, no.

  • I despise romance novels. A novel with a well-written romantic scene is fine, but books that are 100% about romance are, in short, completely unrealistic. While countless numbers of novels are also unrealistic, romance novels tend to encourage the women reading them to put those same expectations on their own relationships. Add to this reason that in the Twilight series the romance is between two teenagers, and I bristle. Teenage girls in our culture struggle enough with finding their identity in having a boyfriend; why do we need to perpetuate the struggle through encouraging their reading of these novels or the watching of the movies?

  • I will not buy, borrow, or browse books that encourage young women to enter into relationships that are dangerous. The two main characters refrain from pre-marital sex prior to their wedding night. As a result, this series is marketed as triology that is "safe" for teenage girls to read. From what I know of these books, they are anything but "safe". Edward and Bella's entire relationship is centered on danger, as Edward constantly struggles with the need to suck Bella's blood. While obviously an unrealistic situation, the message that this sends to young women is that a relationship lived dangerously is exciting. I have a profound problem with this kind of thinking and I hate to see it glorified in our culture. Not reading Twilight is my feeble attempt to take a stand on this issue.
  • There are countless numbers of brilliant novels that are more exciting, more engaging, and more edifying. It is with those novels that I will spend my time. I encourage you and the young women you talk with to do the same.
This book will provide some additional reasons that your teenager should not be reading the Twilight series.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Best Books of 2010, Valentine's Day Edition

In honor of my love for books, I give you my Best Books of the Year 2010. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tenth Best of the Year: Room, by Emma Donoghue - This is a disturbing book and it won't make you feel good. You will have a difficult time putting it down. This story is told from the viewpoint of a five-year old boy who has never left his room. The insights that unfold about the history and future of the boy's room accurately portray the state of our society. This is an easy read that is unusual, smart, and though-provoking.

Ninth Best of the Year: The Unnamed, by Josh Harris - I adored Harris' first book, which was absolutely hilarious in its satirical look at the corporate office culture. His second, The Unnamed, is a stark contrast to his first. An in-depth look at suffering and marriage, it is dark, depressing, and yet it is chock full of insight on sticking with your betrothed through thick and thin. You can read my full review here. While the experts didn't generally give this one favorable reviews, I thought it was an extremely worth-while read, and especially important for couples.

Eighth Best of the Year: Little Bee, by Chris Cleave - Little Bee escapes her native Nigeria for the hope of salvation in England. A couple in England tries to help her in the midst of their marital turmoil. Again, this isn't one that will make you feel good, but it sheds an important light on immigration issues facing the West.

Seventh Best of the Year: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy - Here's another that stuck with me. My husband read this one and we talked about it extensively; maybe that's the reason I can't shake it. The Road chronicles a father and son as they try to survive in a post "apocalypic" (the reader never really knows why the entire world has been decimated) world where the few survivors are driven to the most horrific of responses to being the few living beings of any kind remaining on the earth. Beautifully written, this one was very tough to read, but I still highly recommend it. During my early morning runs when there is no one else on the road, I am quick to remember this book and I think I appreciate the present a bit more because of it.

Sixth Best of the Year: Blame, by Michelle Huneven - Patsy, a college professor, is accused of killing a mother and daughter while drunk driving. This novel is the story of how she survives her prison sentence and how she copes with life after her time is served. Huneven grapples with the question of how much punishment is really enough. The twist at the end of this one surprised me, though my dad saw it coming. The writing is lovely and thought-provoking.

Fifth Best of the Year: Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen - The Franzen frenzy? Yep. The guy deserves it. He must be a genius, and, boy, would I love to sit down and talk to him. Although I liked the way The Corrections was written much better, Freedom is no less brilliantly authored. In fact, it was intriguing to read his two novels back to back and be able to observe just how different they are. Freedom is satirical as it looks at American culture post 9/11, and yet there is beautiful compassion mixed with the satire. The intermingling of the two tones causes the reader to wonder whether or not America looks like Franzen's picture.

Fourth Best of the Year: Lit, by Mary Karr - Many readers are complimentary of Agassi's Open as an honest memoir of a well known athlete. Mary Karr isn't a well known athlete, but she is a poet laureate and her memoir is full of raw vulnerability like nothing I've ever read. My mom and I will often quote lines from this book to one another. The Glass Castle has gotten so much attention and praise; Lit is the same type of memoir, but it is so, so much better. She struggles with relationships, substance abuse, and the possibility of a brilliant career. This one is outstanding.

Third Best of the Year: Tinkers, by Paul Harding - There is a reason books win Pulitzer Prizes. Tinkers, the winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, is well deserving of this year's honor. It is the rapid accumulation of a man's thoughts as he lies on his death bed. While maudlin and sad, the account is a stunning reminder to me that the "little" moments in life aren't necessarily "little". This is not easy reading, but I thought it was well worth the effort.

Second Best of the Year: Home, by Marilynne Robinson - A follow up to Gilead, Home does not disappoint. It is the story of a prodigal son, though it will make every other take off on the Biblical story pale in comparison. I saw myself all over the judgmental characters in the novel and was convicted to the core. Not a day goes by when my sinful self reminds me of those poignant characters. Its impact on me was enormous, more so than any Christian living book I read this year.

Best Book of the Year: The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen - As my regular readers know, I was only reading the genre of parenting books in 2001, which happens to be the year The Corrections was published. My parenting would have been fared better from reading this book than from reading those books. It is a novel about a family living in the 90's. As the father faces Alzheimer's disease, his wife and three children seek to grapple with their identities in an American culture that promises much and delivers little. The introspective reader will see himself or herself all over the pages of Franzen's superb writing. Highly convicting, this one got to me at the core, probably because the writing holds a mirror in front of my face and says, "Is this what you want your life to look like?" But not only is his writing powerful enough to kick the reader in the gut, it is beyond gorgeous. It is, by far, one of the most incredible books I've ever read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Honorable Mention - My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy - While Pat Conroy's writing is just TOO much for me, I adored this memoir. I could completely grasp his excitement for reading, and the way he described his love of books, well, in that case, his writing is spot on. If you need some motivation to read more, check out this one.

Award for Most Gut-Wrenching Book of the Year - The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell - Heh, heh, heh. I couldn't resist.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

You've been awfully busy if you haven't heard about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I have no less than 20 emails in my inbox asking me if I've read it. The book has caused so much of a stir that several men have sent me emails about Amy Chua's description of Chinese parenting. One such father told me that he was going to "step up" his parenting after reading the excerpt from Chua's book. Many mothers I know have quickly scanned the pages of this book, worried to the point of frazzled that they aren't parenting the correct way.

Well. Here at Civil Thoughts, we established long ago that I'm certainly not a perfect parent. I didn't need to read this book to convince me of that. Before I give my opinion on the book, I need to mention a few things. First of all, as the author herself and many journalists have mentioned, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not meant to be a parenting how-to. It is a memoir of her parenting journey with her children. Second, there is sarcasm scattered everywhere throughout it. There is some debate about this, but I saw her tongue-in-cheek statements frequently. Third, before you enter into a heavy dialogue about this book, read it. Don't just read the excerpts. The excerpts floating around will give a bit of a false understanding of what Chua is portraying. Finally, I happen to spend an hour a week with a Chinese mother, who has been parenting her children in the United States for ten years. Prior to coming here, they were living in China. I've witnessed a real, live Chinese mommy. In fact, every Wednesday she tries to get me to parent the Chinese way, especially toward my daughter from China.

In Chua's easy-to-read memior on raising her two daughters the Chinese way while living in America, she consistently compares the Chinese way of parenting with the "Western" way of parenting. She specifically shows how she parented the Chinese way with regard to her children's piano and violin playing. Chua is married to a Jewish American and together they have two daughters named Sophia and Lulu. For the most part, Sophia complies with her mother's plan for her life. Lulu is a different story. The memoir is scattered with funny - or what I perceived to be funny - excerpts of her conversation with Lulu, the child that bucks Chua's way of parenting. On page 66, Lulu tells her mother that she is like Lord Voldemort. And then, there was this conversation during a violin practice session that made me laugh out loud:
"Your brain is annoying me," Lulu said. "I know what you're thinking."
"I'm not thinking anything," I said indignantly. Actually, I'd been thinking that Lulu's right elbow was too high and her dynamics were all wrong, and that she needed to shape her phrases better.
"Just turn off your brain!" Lulu ordered. "I'm not going to play anymore unless you turn off your brain."

Humor aside, Chua takes parenting very seriously. She compares Chinese and Western parenting throughout the book. Here is one of her summaries that best describes what she sees as the difference:
"Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturning environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away."

The self-proclaimed Tiger Mother is singularly focused in her methods of parenting. She sacrifices money and time (though not a career as a professor at Yale) to help her children become musical prodigies. Why? Because it is the Chinsese way. She says:
"All these Western parents with the same party line about what's good for children and what's not - I'm not sure they're making choices at all. They just do what everyone else does. They're not questioning anything either, which is what Westerners are supposed to be so good at doing. They just keep repeating things like, "You have to give your children the freedom to pursue their passion" when it's obvious that the "passion" is just going to turn out to be Facbook for ten hours which is a total waste of time and eating all that disgusting junk food - I'm telling you this country is going to go straight down hill! No wonder Western parents get thrown into nursing homes when they're old!"

Chua concludes that Western parents are just as singularly focused on praising and giving children freedom to pursue their passion. I tend to agree with her conclusion, in general. Most Western parents are not apt to force their children to practice instruments or a foreign language for countless hours a day after they've spent much of the day in school. Many Western parents tend to remain uninvolved in the education of their children, believing that is the job of the school system. But Western parents tend to believe their way is correct just as much as Chua believes her way is correct. While I'm not saying that Western parents needs to adopt Chinese methods of parenting, we can learn something from her. It is evident that she is regularly evaluating how she can parent in a better way to achieve the goals she has for her children. She admits that each way she chooses is not the right way. Shs is constantly evaluating and re-evaluating. This, in my opinion, is a profitable thing to do as a parent.

What we also learn from Chua is that one method of parenting does not work for all children. Lulu does not respond to her ways as Sophia did. There simply is no formula for parenting. We Westerners keep looking for it. Heck, a Chinese woman tried a formula. She learns that there is no formula after much turmoil in her house, but she still learned it.

So. Does that leave my opinion between a rock and a hard place?

We have the Chinese parents who parent the way they do because it is the Chinese way. We have Western parents who parent they way they do because it is the Western way. Are those our only choices? Rigidity versus freedom? Criticism versus praise? Discipline versus play? Do we have to choose? Well, if you've read the Western criticism of Chua, you'll read that we don't have to choose. You'll read that we may have balance with our children. We Western parents may give time limits on electronic devices, but we may still allow them. We may suggest a different way of doing someting but we may couch it with praise. We may let them play instruments, but they only need to practice for 20 minutes a day. I don't know about you, but it is hard for me to find balance. The admonition to "find the balance" is much more difficult than choosing one way or the other. So what is this Western mommy to do?

While Chua's guiding parenting principle is "the Chinese way" and Westerners' guiding parenting principle of parenting is "the Western way", I have another driving force. As a Christian, it's pretty important that I exit the Chinese versus Western conversation and enter the Bible's conversation about how to parent. Does the Bible give direction on how rigid or how free I should be with my children? Does God tell me how much to praise and how much to criticize? Can I find Scripture about how much to push and how much to back off with my kids?

In fact, it does. This direction can be summarized in one word: grace. Above all, we need to give our children grace. Sometimes that grace comes to our children in the form of more structure for a child struggling with too much freedom. Sometimes that grace will come to our children in the form of a word of needed praise, and sometimes grace will mean withholding praise toward the child so that praise of his Creator is given. And how do I know what grace to give a particular child at a particular moment? I seek the grace as I parent, daily, hourly, minute by minute, with each and every individual child. And some moments I'm going to forget to seek grace in God's parenting wisdom. When I forget, I'll seek the Chinese way or the Western way. And grace will then be given to me. But when I do, by His grace, seek His parenting wisdom, He will gladly give it and I, in turn, will give grace to my children. And it will be the grace that they need at that moment in time. Each child is different, each day is different. There are no perfect parenting formulas. There is only grace, in parenting and in all things.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

Does blog fright exist? You know, like stage fright? If so, I have it. The more I read, the more I realize that I can't write. And this realization has produced umpteen blog drafts that remain in the draft category instead of the published category of my blog. Maybe I could write if I had been educated to do so, but I was educated to design the proper size storm drain so that a parking lot doesn't have standing water after a heavy rain. Hey, someone's got to do it.

My problem is that I am deluged by friends who need book recommendations. There simply isn't time amongst the crust cut-offing and storm drain designing that I do to tell my friends about each book I think they should read. Blogging is a necessity of efficiency.

I have another problem. One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, was released today and it is possibly the best women's book about Christianity every written. I've now read it three times on my phone. There is much hype about it. As I've read the hype, the blogs and the reviews, it all seems trite. None of the hype does this book justice. I'm not going to do it justice here, either.

Ann Voskamp has written a gem of a book in One Thousand Gifts. This is not your typical how-to book on serving with a smile or submitting with a sigh. Ms. Voskamp is a homeschooling mother of six who lives on a farm with her farmer husband. She doesn't tell you that you must homeschool or grind wheat or have 17 children. She doesn't tell you that you must grow your own vegetables or only wear dresses. She doesn't tell you how to raise your kids or how to be a good wife.

What she does do is pour her heart out onto the pages of this book as a broken woman who realizes how to live fully, abundantly, and gloriously in God's grace as she keeps track of one thousand gifts. Her writing is poetic and beautiful. Most importantly, this book is different. It is unlike any other Christian women's book I've read.

It is simple and remarkable. Profound and brilliant. Stunning and accessible. Living in a perpetual state of thankfulness changed her. It could change you, too.