Be Like Bamboo

I’m going to start today off with a quote: 

“We’re often afraid that if we give our kids an inch, they will take a mile. Every single grain of rice in their bowl must be eaten up, every toy in its proper place, every “I” dotted and “t” crossed. We believe this is comforting to our kids, knowing that their parent will always be steady and unchanging. We mean what we say and say what we mean. Rarely will we make an exception or change direction mid-course. We are solid and dependable: like steel. 

Unfortunately the Titanic was also made from steel and we all know what happened there. 

We are so strict with our rules that our consistency becomes rigidity. But what happens to something hard and rigid when it meets with a blow? 

It breaks easily. 

The very strictness that we think makes us strong actually makes us brittle. Instead of steel, we can strive to be more like bamboo, firm yet flexible.”

Iris Chen, Untigering

This quote comes from Untigering, a book by today’s guest Iris Chen. In Untigering, she shares her journey of leaving behind authoritarian tiger parenting to embrace a respectful, relational way of raising children. As a Chinese American mom, she draws from her experiences of living in both North America and Asia and offers insights and practices. [Book excerpt]

You can find Iris on Instagram, and website, and her book Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent is available wherever books are sold.

I'm going to start today with a quote, listen to this one carefully. You may even want to rewind it and listen to it twice. We're often afraid that if we give our kids an inch, they will take a mile. Every single grain of rice in their bowl must be eaten up every toy in its proper place. Every I dotted and T crossed, we believe that this is comforting to our kids, knowing that their parent will always be steady and unchanging. We mean what we say, and we say what we mean rarely will we make an exception or change direction? Midcourse. We are solid and dependable like steel. Unfortunately, the Titanic was also made of steel and we all know what happened. There. We are so strict with our rules that our consistency becomes rigidity, but what happens to something hard and rigid when it meets a blow, it breaks easily. The very strictness that we think makes us strong actually makes us brittle. Instead of steel, we can strive to be more like bamboo firm yet flexible. That quote comes from the book "Untigering", which was written by my guest today.

Iris Chen, I think you're going to love her wisdom and perspective. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us. Hi there. Before we jump into today's episode and my chat with Iris, here's a 60s word from today's sponsor. The sponsor for today's episode is Prep Dish. If you're anything like I was, you probably don't recognize a need of, for a meal planning service. First,

Let's talk about what is meal planning. service practice sends a PDF document to your email. Once a week in that PDF document, you get a three-part plan. The first part is the grocery list. The second part is prep day list. And the third part is the dish day list. This allows us to easily break down the meal planning process and do the bulk of the prep work in advance. So that on dish day, we can get the meal on the table quickly and easily. If you have a kid that has a witching hour, you'll know that every minute is precious when it comes time to getting food on the table. If you want to try it out, go to prepdish.com/families. Again, that's prepdish.com/families. You'll get two weeks free to try it "Be like bamboo firm yet flexible". That is just one of many lessons that I took away from Iris Chen's book.

Untigering she shares her journey of leaving behind authoritarian tiger parenting to embrace a more respectful relational way of raising her children. Iris is a Chinese American mom who draws from her experiences living both in north America and in Asia, she doesn't come to us speaking as an expert, but instead as a mom on a journey towards more respectful, peaceful parenting in our chat today, Iris shares so many valuable insights on rigidity and the need for control and also learning to be vulnerable and the benefits for our kids. I know that you're going to enjoy this conversation today. Thanks for tuning in. Hi, Iris, how are you? Pretty good. How are you? Good. Thank you for chatting with me. I have loved your book on Untigering. And if we could just start off, maybe you can tell us a little about yourself and about where this book came from.

Iris: Sure. Yeah. So I'm Iris and I recently published a book called "Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent". So, um, that pretty much describes me. I started out parenting definitely in the tiger mob camp. Um, probably because that was what I grew up with. And that was like in the community Asian-American community that I grew up with. That was pretty much the norm, you know, having parents that were very strict, a lot of rules, um, had really high, uh, expectations for academic achievement and behavior in general. And so when I had kids of my own, that was pretty much the pattern that I fell into. Um, and it wasn't until my oldest son in particular really pushed back against that controlling authoritarian parenting that I was sort of forced to examine the harm in it and how, um, yeah, how I needed to needed to change.

Iris: And so, um, I went once to a parenting workshop and I, and the speaker just told us about, uh, the neurobiology of our children and how, when we yell at them or punish them, or are harsh with them, their, their bodies and their brains literally cannot calm down. Like we, we overstimulate them with our punishment in our anger. And so I think that was a big aha moment for me, just recognizing that the way I was reacting to my child was actually undermining what I really wanted and also creating this type of behavior in a lot of ways that, um, I didn't want to see happen. And so just realizing that I was the one that needed to change, that it wasn't like the responsibility wasn't on my child to, uh, obey and listen and calm down and do all the things that I wanted him to do, but it was, uh, on me to change my behaviors so that I could support him. Um, so that began my journey of untigering and just shifting from that mindset of needing to control my child, to really wanting to learn how to be in partnership with.

Yeah. And, you know, I think that so many of us, myself included were parented by authoritarian parents and the generation that came before us. That was kind of just what a lot of parents did. That's what they knew. Um, the part of my own experience being parented was that I did have authoritarian parents, but they didn't have a strong emphasis on achievement. So in that drive for success, which feels like control plus pressure, which is what you experienced

Iris: Growing up. Yeah. I wonder if that's part of like the immigrant experience as well, you know, just coming to a new country and having a lot of pressure to succeed and assimilate and, you know, to make the, just the sacrifices worth it by accomplishing success in the world's eyes. So I wonder if that's also a piece of the puzzle.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. Well, and I grew up, I was the first in my family to graduate from college and I it's something that you wrote in your book was that parents who have learned to survive without a college degree might undervalue higher education and academics. And I wouldn't say that my parents undervalued it, but I, I never felt pushed in that direction. I definitely felt pushed to do whatever I needed to do to make money, to make a living and survive. Hmm.

Iris: Yeah, that's interesting because, um, my dad came like we were able to come to the states because my dad studied here. He got his master's and his PhD. And so that probably influenced too, because that was their avenue to, you know, upward mobility or to the life that they wanted was through education. And so there's definitely a strong emphasis on that in my family.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. And I love how you talk about the importance of understanding your own parents' journey and how they came to arrive and make the decisions that they made in parenting you.

Iris: I think as children, you know, we, we don't understand our parents' actions or behaviors in the context of their own story. We just, in the context of ours. And so we, it's really hard to accept some of the things that, um, they did to us or some of the attitudes they had towards us. But I think as we get older, as we can, um, understand more of the context and the struggles that they may have been facing at the time as the parented us, I think that just gives them so much more compassion gives us so much more compassion for them. And also for us as parents recognizing that it's not easy and that we struggle ourselves. Um, so I think once we see that, oh, it's not as easy as we thought to, to parent peacefully or to love unconditionally, you know? And so we can offer that grace to our parents and to ourselves as well.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. I remember, especially as a teenager and in the teenage years, there's this battle for control. Um, I mean, in all the years, there's a battle for control, but especially I think in the teenage years, as you're getting closer to that point of independence and I always felt my parents were definitely more of the over-protective type. I had an earlier curfew, I had more rules than everyone else. And I remember thinking that, you know, I had to be home at 10 o'clock and it was because my parents had just wanted to control me. Like that was the only reason that could even come across my mind. It was just sort of, they wanted, you know, they wanted to make me suffer and it wasn't until I was a mother myself that I actually realized they were worried about me. They were worried about me being out late at night, but that piece, I guess not sort of not making that connection as a teenager and as a child, that a lot of their, their actions were really driven by worry and by fear for my wellbeing, not by just being mean, which I think sometimes kids perceive that.

Iris: Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. I think a lot of, you know, tiger parenting is really based on fear and anxiety. It's like a projection of all the worst case scenarios. And so you try to control the situation, control your children and, um, push them to perform a certain way so that they don't have to face a lot of the traumas that the parents faced. And so I do think it is rooted in a lot of anxiety. And so I think that's important for, for us as parents to recognize of ourselves and of our own parents, so that we can sort of take responsibility for that to learn how to calm our own fears and anxieties so that we aren't projecting those onto our kids and causing them harm because of our own fears.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. And a lot of those behaviors are rooted in anxiety, but they're also rooted in love. Right.

Iris: Yeah. I mean, I think the intentions can be good, you know, like it's not our parents' intention to, to cause us distress or to make us hate them or whatever they do think that it is for our own good. And yet I think we have to recognize, um, impact over intention. So, you know, even though their intentions may have been good, that doesn't mean that it had a positive impact on us, um, and same with our children. And so we have to be sensitive to how our children are responding to us, regardless of what our intentions or motivations are. We have to see it from their perspective and validate how they feel about the way we're parenting them.

Denaye Barahona: Yes. And in reading your book, I could kind of see your process unfolding as you have gone through this journey, which I loved, and you are very clear that you're not writing this as a parenting expert. You're writing it as a parent on a journey. And I think that is such a valuable perspective. I think so often we are inclined to go to books written by people with PhDs and MDs and the experts. But I think what you've done is you have taken everything that you've learned from the experts and figured out a way to weave it into your own life and your family in a way that really suits you.

Iris: Yeah. I think that's sort of like the difference between, um, well, I think it's just easier for other people to accept when, when they know that it's not being fed to them by somebody who has it all together, who has all the answers already. I definitely feel like I'm still on the journey. These are the things that I'm learning that I wrestle with, that I struggle with. So I'm not trying to, like, I'm not coming at them with this dogmatic, you know, um, holier than thou attitude. It really is that I was, I was that tiger mom. So I, I have so much compassion for tiger parents who are, you know, caught up in those patterns because I was there and, um, who knows what would've happened if I hadn't discovered this or certain situations hadn't happened in my life to force me into re-evaluating this. So yeah. I really hope that those who, who, who read it and who, who follow me will feel like I'm on their team, I'm for them, there is no judgment, um, that we're working together to just shift and support one another,

Denaye Barahona: In your approach, isn't meant to be something that has to be replicated. Exactly. It's meant to be, you know, learned from, and some things I think are going to resonate with some people and some things are not right.

Iris: Yeah. I think a lot of it, you know, tiger parenting is really about, um, asking society, like, what is it that you need me to do in order to be successful or in order to achieve in order to, in, to be a good person. And, and then just trying to follow all those rules, that society places on us. Whereas I feel like untied ring has been about, um, getting back in touch with my own intuition and learning to really embrace the wholeness of who I am and who my children are regardless of the societal expectations. So yeah, it was really not about, you know, ticking things off, you know, checking off things or I'm just trying to fit into a box, but really it's about listening to ourselves and getting back in tune with who we are and our own intuition so that we can pair it and be sensitive in a, in a way that makes sense for ourselves and for our family.

Denaye Barahona: Right. Even if it is different from the way that we were raised ourselves. And sometimes that can be hard to reconcile that.

Iris: Yeah, absolutely.

Denaye Barahona: I'm going to read a quote you wrote, "Rather than thinking it goes against our nature untigering is actually returning to my true self it's reawakening, the soft part of me that got hardened along the way." I loved that. And that sounds like a lifelong journey.

Iris: Yeah. I think a lot of the things that we learn about ourselves and that we take into our parenting, um, are those survival mechanisms, you know, are those ways that we had to learn to protect ourselves in this harsh world and yet yeah. Those are things that we really need to heal from. So, um, it is about, uh, learning to soften and not be so hard and protective and rigid, but, uh, learning to be vulnerable, learning to soften, learning, to accept our mistakes in our humanity instead of having these, um, unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our kids. So yeah, that has been a big part of integrity for me.

Denaye Barahona: Yes. And I love what you wrote about, um, being bamboo. Can you tell us a little bit about that analogy that made so much sense to me?

Iris: Yeah, so that was in my chapter about consistency because oftentimes in, in parenting we're told to be consistent so that our kids know what to expect, you know, um, that it's stressful for kids not to have structure in their lives. Um, and, and yet, you know, parents can take that to the extreme and become very rigid and like, it's all about the rules and it's all about the plans that they've already have set instead of being more sensitive to the situation or able to pivot when needed. And so, yeah, we become like steel. And what I said, the analogy that I had was that we, to be more like bamboo and bamboo is actually very firm and very strong. It can take on a lot of weight and yet it can bend. And that is actually what makes it, uh, more valuable is because it, it doesn't break, whereas things that are very hard and rigid when it comes against a force will often crack and break.

Iris: But what happens with bamboo is that it can bend with the wind. It can bend with the force and still not break. And so, um, that's what I think we need to model in our relationship with our kids is not to be so set on our rules, on our schedules on, on all those consistent things that we think are important for our kids, but really, yeah, we can provide a framework, but, um, to be open to their input, to be open to negotiation, to adjust according to the situation, you know, I think it's easier to be on autopilot and say like, well, this is what we decided. And so that's what we're going to do. It is much harder to, um, go with the flow and to be E um, just re evaluating at every moment. And just being in relationship with a person, instead of treating your relationship with your child as if it's like, like a corporation. Right. So, yeah,

Denaye Barahona: It's hard to make really set hard and fast rules with our kids because they're always growing and changing, like, right, right. When you think you have it figured out and you have a good rhythm, they change it up on us. Right. They grow, they meet some new milestone that makes us rethink everything that we're doing. So I think we get really excited when we find something that's working and we just really want to stick with it. And sometimes we don't realize that maybe as our kids grow, that we need to grow too. Um, but yeah, I love that. You, and you had said in the book, the Titanic was made out of steel and look what happened to that when it hit the iceberg. Right,

Iris: Right, right. Exactly. So, so we create these, these systems that we think are invincible. Right. We think that that's the right thing to do. And, and yet our confidence in those things actually is our downfall. So yeah, like we don't need to be so harsh and so rigid, like the Titanic that it's much better to be like bamboo.

Denaye Barahona: Right. And you as then, I'm going to quote you a million times in those, because I literally have so much stuff highlighted that I had to go through and cut my highlights down like six times. Cause I knew I wasn't gonna be able to get to everything. Um, but you had talked about how, like you knew how to make homemade baby food. You knew how to sleep, train them. You knew how to teach them how to read, but what you never knew how to do was to attune and empathize and lovingly respond to your kids and that motherhood was ruining your straight a reputation. Can you talk a little bit more to that last comment, especially,

Iris: Right. So I think because, you know, I grew up in just whether it's through school or through my, the way I was parented. It was really about, about trying to achieve these standards that other people had for me, you know? And so if it was controllable, if there were step-by-steps, if there was a script, I could do it. But once there was like no script, once I had to be more intuitive and figure out things on my own or to attune, to be emotionally aware, it's like, I didn't know how to do it. And I think when our identity, our sense of self-worth and all those things are tied to our performance, you know, even as parents, then it can feel like, uh, you know, it can make us feel very insecure and upset when our children are making us look bad or making us feel bad about ourselves because they are not complying to what we want them to do.

Iris: Um, so I think that's really how I interpreted my kids' behavior when they were younger. That like when they were disobedient, when they were melting down all these things, it was like they were making my life difficult. They were, I, I think it exposed me my inability to control them and to control the situation and to control the outcome. And that was really hard for me to swallow. And I think it wasn't until I realized that it's not my job to control them, to control the outcome. Like the only person I can really control and not even that well is myself. And so how can I take that energy and use it to, um, practice the things that I want to see in my children, whether it was, uh, attunement or breathing or listening and empathetically to the other person, you know, these were all things that I needed to learn how to model for my children before I could demand it of them.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. And how long has it been since you started on this path?

Iris: Would say at least five years. So yeah, but I think it's always it's there were a bunch of things that led up to that point too. So it's really hard to pinpoint, um, like a moment, but my kids were like, my oldest was about eight years old when I decided to stop spanking. I think that was like, um, a milestone in this journey for me. And so the early years, like their, their formative years were really, um, with me, tiger parenting them. Um, and I saw a lot of harm, you know, that was done because of that. But at the same time, once I began to shift, there was just a lot of healing as well. And I could see myself changing. I, I could see my children changing in response to me. So definitely it's, it's never too late, whatever age your children are.

Iris: I think so much of integrity is really about showing ourselves a lot of compassion, you know, just as we, as our kids make mistakes and act out or whatever. And we wanted to be able to show them compassion. We have to be able to do that to ourselves too. So when we react in a really, you know, negative way, how can we examine, just take a pause and examine, like what, what triggered that? What was the need that I was trying to meet in that? Like, what is it bringing up for myself? Um, part of it is when we repair well and take accountability well, that, that actually builds, um, a lot of trust and a lot of intimacy with our kids. So it's not always about just doing everything right the first time, but it's about repairing when we, we don't get it right. And that also also models for them that, you know, they have the freedom to fail to. They have the freedom to mess up. And so does mommy. And so does daddy, like, we're all human, how can we learn how to just love each other through it instead of expecting every body to behave well all the time.

Denaye Barahona: Yeah. Yeah. And that is so true that revealing our own humanity teaches our kids, that it's okay for them to lose it and to make mistakes. And it teaches them how to repair. Thank you so much, Iris. This has been great chatting and I appreciate hearing about your journey and I love following you on Instagram @untigering you share so many great resources there. Is there anywhere else where we can find you?

Iris: Yeah. I'm also on Facebook and, uh, you can follow my blog at untigering.com as well.

Denaye Barahona: Great. Thank you so much.

Iris: Thank you. Thank you for speaking with me.

Thanks for tuning in today. If you've enjoyed this episode, make sure that you take a screenshot of yourself, listening to it and post it up to your Instagram stories. Tagging me. I'd love to hear from you. If you want to get in touch with Iris, you can go to untigering.com. You can find her on Instagram and her book is anywhere that books are sold. Thanks so much for tuning in I'll chat with you next week.

Denaye Barahona

Dr. Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She partners with families to tackle the challenges of raising children. Denaye is a minimalist who claims to be a decluttering expert (don't let her near your closet). She loves to travel, talk health-and-wellness, and give unsolicited advice. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Minimalists, Motherly, Becoming Minimalist, and numerous other media outlets. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Clinical Social Worker with a specialty in child and family practice.