Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pussycat Parenting

Oh my god, people....enough Tiger Talk already!  The blogosphere simply cannot handle ONE MORE POST about the Tiger Mom (after this one). *I have no idea how long this is going to be....but I do promise to answer some questions posed to me after my last homeschooling hang on to the end - you can do it!*

First of all - sitting over here in my seat, I have a very hard time criticizing a woman for doing things that are seen as "different from the norm."  Because HELLO!!  Look at me.  Yeah.  That's right.  Ain't nothing normal going on over here.  So, the initial holy crapness that has erupted over this family's lifestyle irks me a little...because it is the same knee jerk reaction that I am often victim to....the exact same freaking one....even though Tiger Mom and I are Complete Polar Opposites in Parenting. 

Lots of different parenting styles work and one thing that is often ignored in evaluating them, is cultural influence.  Cultural Influence is Everything in this conversation.  It really is.  

We know a few Tiger Families because Ellie is one of the best young classical pianists in Texas.  Most of the others are Asian, they really are, and it is because it is a cultural thing for the children to be taught how to play an instrument, usually at a very young age.  With enough practice, most people can become good at just about anything (up to a certain point) and so, these kids practice a lot.  Therefore, they become pretty dang good.  Some of them grow to love their instrument, but I imagine that a lot of them don't.  Does that mean they're not happy playing it?  For some, probably.  But for others, their cultural influence dictates that happiness comes from mastering and excelling, and so yeah....they get their cultural version of happiness from the fact that they are able to work very hard to become very, very good at (enter musical instrument of your choice here....and they are branching out into things like electric guitar, too....some of today's best riff shredders are 7-year-old Asian boys studying Slash).  Does it mean they're not happy with their straight A's and their merit scholarships? Who knows?

The kids we know from Tiger Families seem pretty happy.  And intensely loved.  And amazingly loving.  They've been raised....differently....with varying values being placed on "different" things than in our family and many other American families.  But happy?  Well, I haven't seen the suicide rate studies (I'm sure someone is frantically working on that at this very minute)....but I'd bet they're at least as happy as the Average non-Asian American kid who is being enthusiastically cheered into the realm of mediocrity amidst the deafening chanting of "Good Job!!" while being rewarded for basic bodily functions (sticker charts for pooping...dang....i'd like to see a sticker chart for NOT pooping....seems like it would actually require more skill), and receiving trophies for um....showing up. 

If Amy Chua is a tiger....I am more of a Pussycat.  On a good day, anyway.  I don't want to imply that I can't do a pretty good Linda Blair of The Exorcist impersonation, 'cause I can and have, but it's usually unintentional (but seriously - very few people INTEND to be possessed by demons - it's just something that happens to us when we've had very little sleep or too many teenagers or a combination thereof).  Not always steering with an even keel over here, no sirree.  But my "intentional" parenting is more along the lines of Pussycat.

If you want to go with the American cultural quirk of applying labels, I tend to lean towards the Unconditional Parenting model - phrase coined by Alphie Kohn.  But there were many who came before him, saying the same things, and I was doing it (as were other people in my circle) before I'd ever heard of Alphie.  But I like Alphie.  He's a nice Jewish boy and we agree on a good many things. Basically - we don't adhere to excessive rewards or punishments.  Really - we don't believe in punishment AT ALL.  We don't have many rules in our house.  And no, this doesn't mean that people just run around crazy and naked and insane and hysterically writing on the walls with magic markers (not since Joel's last party, anyway). 

How do you get by with no rules?  That is what people want to know.  Well, No Rules doesn't mean Anything Goes.  If a toddler walks out with a bottle of nail polish with the intention of decorating the couch cushions, I would take it away with a "Sorry but no."  Same goes for a LOT of things toddlers and little kids do/did.  Teens?  We don't have curfews.  We don't have rules.  We talk like normal people about when it would be prudent to be home from such and such event (depends on where it is, when it ends, who they're with, and what else is going on in our lives). But there are no hard fast "I have to be home by 11" rules.  Because why would you have to be home by 11 from a concert or party that ends at midnight?  And why would you be home by 11 from a dinner that ended at 8?  It just all depends on the circumstances.  And what we've found is that we know way more about what our kids are doing and with whom because these decisions are made on a case by case basis, rather than with general (and random and arbitrary) rules. 

We don't even have the "you can't do this until you've done that" rule.  It doesn't mean that we don't say to the kids, "Seriously?  You're going to do that now? How do you think that's going to work for you?"  And when Joel says, "I think it's going to work brilliantly,"  we say, "Really?  How did it work for you last time?"  And then he will give a big old grin and make a good or a bad decision.  If this decision is one that we don't agree with and we have made a financial or otherwise investment in its outcome....(like say, paying $150 for an online course with a very specific deadline) then we might say something like, "My life experience tells me that you are going to miss your deadline.  This is fine, your choice and the will owe me $150 when you're done messing up."  That's a natural consequence and we tell him up front, when we register for a class, that if he fails to actually complete it, he's gonna have to pay.  So again - we handle situations like normal people, on a case by case basis, using common sense.  Sometimes the kid pulls off whatever it is he's trying to get away with and then you know, good for him.  Sometimes he doesn't.

Hard and Fast Rules cut down on communication in families.  What's the point in asking if you know the answer is going to be no?  Better to quietly think about ways to get around it, consult friends and enlist the help of side-kicks.....this is a quick path to the "If my mom calls tell her I'm spending the night but I'm in the bathroom...." destination.  Or the "crawling out the window" destination.  Or the "aw heck, I've broken so many rules ('casue there are so may of them) why not a few more?" mentality.  No rules leads you to the, "Hey Mom - can I go here on Saturday?" discussion that involves sharing a lot of information - and I'd really rather have that.  We really don't say no all that often here.  And it means that when we do, they're more likely to accept it.  Even when they're frustrated beyond belief by our over-protective stupidity, they can still understand it when we say, "I know this seems unreasonable to you, and maybe it is.  Maybe I'm being completely unreasonable and if that's the case, man I'm sorry.  But this scares me....or worries me....or sits wrong with me...." etc.  They might think we're stupid, but in the end, they don't want to cause us grief and here's the kicker....since we don't say no very often - they give it to us when we do.  Because we're just silly and stupid after all - the teens cut us some slack.

We often hear about rebellious teens from our friends.  I've only got 3 teens, and one of them is new at it (13), but I haven't witnessed any outright rebellion.  Seriously, as Joel would probably say, "What's there to rebel against?"  It is almost noon and 2 of the 3 teens are asleep.  When they wake up, they can basically do whatever they want.  We will have the Don't you think you should do such and such discussion.  And they will probably do a little bit of said such and such. Such and such is based on what THEY at one time or other, said they thought they should do.  Not that they haven't lived to regret some of it, believe me, they have. 

We do a lot of steering.  A LOT of steering.  And I think that is one of the things people don't get about Unschooling or Unconditional Parenting (these two things don't always go together, btw).  I'm not sitting here, with 2 boys still asleep, planning on ignoring them once they finally get up.  In fact, in a moment I'm going to go in there and attempt to drag them out.  Then we'll talk about what they should do today....Joel is way behind in his geography course we paid for.  I will remind him of that.  When he sits down to get on Facebook I will remind him again.  When he gets out his electric guitar, I will remind him again.  There is a lot of that.  But ultimately?  He's able to say, "Wow, Mom.  Thanks for reminding me about that," and unleashing a wicked grin before cranking up his amp. 

Will he do that?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  He actually does want to finish the course, and he's learning time management through trial and error. 

In the end, I guess Unconditional Parenting is just a passive-aggressive way of mostly getting what you want out of your kids.  Because there is, as I said, a LOT of steering, and a lot of discussion that often doesn't end until someone is doing what I want them to do.  I recognize this.  I won't begin to pretend that my kids are actually able to do WHATEVER they want WHENEVER they want.  But I still pick this way over the Strict Rules way.  In the end, it is more work and more exhausting (even though critics will tell you it is the lazy way to raise kids).  But in the end, it is giving me the relationship I want with my children, and it is giving them the confidence and abilities they'll need to be productive adults.

AND!!  We somehow ended up with a Tiger Cub in our litter ANYWAY!!  How awesome is that?  Here's a video of Ellie unleashing her inner Asian at the piano. (This isn't the same one I posted a month or so ago, btw.  So you can't get out of it by saying you've already seen it).

Scherzo in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 Chopin / Ellen Pavliska from Ellen Pavliska on Vimeo.

OK - now onto the questions posed after my last post.

Heidi asked:
What have you done to create a learning environment in your home?

Answer:  We DO have a ton of books because we read.  But I don't know that we've intentionally done anything.  I'm a curious girl, my husband is a curious guy, and we are always snooping and learning and getting all interested in various things.  I think that's what creates a learning environment.  We also argue a lot - about varying things....and we get all worked up over stuff we read or hear and vent....and that is all GOOD for the learning environment, I think.  At least I'm sticking to that story, anyway.  Now then - do I express interest in and pursue activities in things I'm not actually interested in for the benefit of the kids?  Yeah, I do.  Until I simply can't anymore.  And then I don't.

Heidi also asked:
Are there things that you limit - such as TV or video game time?

Answer:  Ahhh....what a timely question.  We are currently experiencing household stress over this very question (and by "we" I mean "me").  Not television, so much.  But the gaming?  Is making me insane.  We started out as an anti-gaming family - and that was easy when the kids were little.  But then Jules grew a brain tumor that required lots and lots of waiting and sitting and traveling and geeze, let's face it, if you grow a brain tumor you should be rewarded with a Gameboy and so he was.  As was his brother because, well, who wanted to listen to the whining?  See how things go over here?  And the Gameboys really weren't all that bad.  They didn't consume them.  But now that they're older teens?  Lots of gaming going on in the house.  Just my two big boys - Ellie doesn't do it - and the little ones don't, either.  I'd be lying if I said it doesn't bother me, because it does.  But here's the deal:  I get fixated on things and obsessed with things.  I spend way too much time doing stupid things that are meaningless to every other member of my household.  And nobody is exerting their will over my own in regards to this.  And sometimes it means that dinner doesn't get fixed, so I can't even say it doesn't affect anybody but myself.  So even though I whine about it, I'm reluctant to tell them they CAN'T do it.  Especially when, at the end of the day/week/month....they have also done a lot of other things and accomplished all sorts of goals...which always seems to be the case.  Again - there is a lot of discussion - I don't quietly ponder or worry about things - so they know how I feel and they give in to the gentle and not-so-gentle guiding when necessary.  I don't want to say NO, but I'd like to see a little more moderation in our house where gaming is concerned.  Whether or not I'm entitled to it just because I want it is something that I haven't quite figured out yet.

I will say this about completely limiting video games and computer time - I believe this really is the world our kids live in and the one they'll be entering as adults.  This is their generation, it is what they do for entertainment.  Halo is what Joel reads about (there is a big story and book series) and he loves to talk about it and actually incorporates it into normal and relevant topics of conversation whether political, religious, philosophical, etc. Because fiction just mirrors what is going on in our world, and the game of Halo is both a literal and visual work of fiction.  It is also how he is what his friends do and what they talk is what they often do when they're together (play the game) and who's to say or judge that it is worse than what my friends and I spent our time on as teens?  Or what my friends and I spend our time on now?

Heidi also asked:
How do you inspire your children to learn or do you feel it is not your role?

I absolutely feel it is my role to try and inspire my children to want to know things.  I think the only way to avoid it would be to a) ignore the kids and b) never be interested in learning anything, myself.  I can't do either of these things even if I wanted to.  Do I try to force interests on them?  Uhhh....yeah.  Sometimes it works and sometimes they're like, "Wow, Mom. We're thrilled you're so interested in Czech leave us alone."  Other times, we get into this or that and it's a lot of fun. 

Now - to be funny, Ami posed some old and tired homeschooling questions - I'll answer those, too.

What kind of nut homeschools?
Mixed nuts.  The hippie nuts are like the cashews - really yummy but not too many.  The religious nuts are more like the peanuts - mostly what you get.  Then there are a few others sprinkled throughout the can. The one thing we all have in common is that yes, we are nuts.

What about the Prom?
We are lucky in that there is a fantastic Christian Co-op that hosts a simply fantastic homeschool prom for ALL HOMESCHOOLERS, regardless of their religion.  I find this is quite Christ-like of them and I appreciate the heck out of it.  Ellie has gone twice but is not planning on going this year....with piano, the girl spends more than the average amount of time in formal gowns. But here are her prom pics...first time she went with her buddy John and she was 14 (and yes, her hair was blue-ish).  The next pic is last year's prom at the age of 17,with her boyfriend, Cody, who stars regularly on the Shaggy Boys blog :).

What about drugs?  Don't you want your kids to learn how to say no to drugs?
Ha ha!  Often when friends are over visiting and talking about old times, insane stories will come out like, "Hey remember that night we did....." laugh laugh laugh....and then someone inevitably glances at the children and says, "Don't do drugs."  Also?  Someone will usually add, "Wear a condom."  Just because it seems like the thing to say. 

On a more serious note, I will say that I believe most kids try drugs to fulfill a need....a need for a thrill, a need for rebellion, a need for happiness or acceptance.  I can't see my kids needing or wanting to try drugs for these reasons.  I won't dare to say my kids are not curious, or that they will not make mistakes.  But I don't think they're going to fall into drugs as a means to an end or a way to fulfill themselves.  Maybe I'm stupid in my lack of worry in this area...only time will tell.

Okay -well - I think this has all been quite enough for one day, don't you? 


  1. Well..for what it's worth? It's 2:25..I still have one in bed! (okay..he's not feeling to good)..and another playing Minecraft at the moment..and a baby making loud noises..just because he can.
    Enjoyed the post.

  2. I love the music as accompaniment while reading the rest of your post - can't you post a new one every time you write a new post? please? jade

  3. I found you this morning on "the dayton time". Am I ever glad I clicked here. Love this piece and agree with much of what you wrote. Amazing musician you have there!

  4. I love that Rotten Mom.
    And you, too, of course.

  5. That Heidi asked some good questions doesn't she? :)
    Except for the phasing of that "motivate" one. Rereading it here made me realize that it sounded all judgey-pants, which was most definitely not my intent.
    Thank you for another wonderful post. I agree wholeheartedly with your parenting philosophies. I just have to remind myself sometimes (like when I start getting all do-it-my-way-because-I-am-right-and-you-are-a-kid).
    New request - a post about Czech history.

  6. Cute post. I liked it.

    Take the test Caring For Toddlers and find out how good are you at caring for toddlers.

  7. I was happy to discover your blog today. I was unable to find a contact link. I hope it's OK that I'm contacting you through a public comment. I've developed an educational program for Windows called SpellQuizzer that helps children learn their spelling and vocabulary words without the battle that parents often have getting them to sit down and write them out while the parents dictate to them. The parent enters the child's spelling words into the software making a sound recording of each word. Then the software helps the child practice his or her words. It really helped my children with their weekly spelling lists.

    I would love to have SpellQuizzer reviewed in Sardines in a Can. If you are interested in hosting a giveaway of a SpellQuizzer license I'd be happy to supply a free license to the winner. You can learn more about the program at There's a video demo you can watch at and a community site where SpellQuizzer users can share their spelling lists with one another ( Finally, there's a page targeted to homeschooling families at I'd be happy to send you a complimentary license for the software. Please let me know if you are interested.

    Thank you very much!

    Dan Hite
    TedCo Software

  8. haha, I think Dan from TedCo software did not read your blog.

    When we became foster parents we were supposed to write down what our rules are--I had a hard time coming up with anything (I think "no jumping on the bed" was one of the few I could think of--not that it ever did any good to have that as a rule.)

    enjoyed reading this, because I have been feeling like we don't "do" enough over here lately--thank for reminder of why we live our lives the way we do (and yeah, no teen rebellion over here,either. In fact, what I am getting from my almost 18 yo is "what do you think of this decision I am thinking about making?" Constantly. He actively seeks my opinion. Which is what I was hoping for when I made the decision to parent this way.

  9. It takes all kinds and there is no one right way to raise children. Clearly people must raise their kids the way they see fit. And as long as they are loved and safe and being provided for in all of the necessary ways, nobody should really be doing any finger pointing.

  10. I know that this is a late comment and not really about your blog but Bohden thinks Ellie ROCKS!!!!! We just had a concert with our lunch.

    Bohden and Aunt Susie

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. (Had to repost because of a misspelling)

    Carol, could I interest you in several educational products I'm trying to hawk by crashing the blogs of strangers and posting ads there?

    Our parenting style here is remarkably similar to what you describe (surprise) and I have the same angst over the gaming addiction that has swept all the young boys up, including mine.

    I think our version of teens growing up is not rebellion so much as, you (Mom and Dad) are rather boring compared to my social life. See you later!

    I feel out of it but I totally missed the Tiger reference.