Monday, November 28, 2011

Choosing Your Words (From the Cleveland Post March 10, 2011)

Stepping Back, Looking Closer:

Choosing Your Words

by K. S. Volcjak

Writing about children and discipline is like trying to disarm a bomb. You have a nugget of child-rearing insight and want to share it. All it takes is choosing the right words.

But choosing the right words is like choosing which wire snip. Pick the wrong one and everything goes "BOOM!"

I agonized over word choice in my last column. How many people will not be able to hear what I am saying because they can't get beyond the horror of calling a child 'naughty'? How many people will recoil at the assertion that Mama and Daddy know best?

How many will turn the page in disgust because I worry about such things?

(I worry about such things because it is in my best interest to be understood by as many people as possible. I am interested in genuine common ground, not battle lines.)

Every family makes its own bomb. More objectively, let's say every family creates its own engine, it's own dynamic. Fully wired and firing on all cylinders, it is a powerful thing. Cut a wire here or there, maybe efficiency drops or a weird noise develops. Cut too many or just the right one and it quits with a bang or a whimper.

What brings the family together? What are the 'house rules'? What is expected of each member? How do family members express love and commitment to one another? Who is in charge of the family? How is unacceptable behavior defined? How is it addressed? How does the family's culture answer these questions?

Every answer is a connecting wire, a tie that binds, a chain that fetters, or something in between.

Every family will answer those questions differently, and there is no guarantee that each family member will answer it the same way on every point. (I know of three siblings who were all spanked growing up. Two of the three spanked their own children when the need arose. The third had been humiliated by his experience and has never used corporal punishment with his children.)

Love and authority are tangled together in these answers. They are the potentially explosive elements that drive gut reactions to 'discipline,' 'naughty,' and 'parental authority,' the wires that can make everything go "Ka-blam!"

It's hard enough to navigate your own family's dynamic, never mind those of strangers. Still, we try.

Open mindedness and goodwill are the things a writer hopes her readers bring to her work, and patience enough to hear her out.

Which brings me to Amy Chua and her book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. You may have heard of her - she's the one talking about "Chinese parenting" and "Western parenting". She made her daughters take piano and did not allow them to attend sleepovers or get less than an A in school. Between her broad cultural generalizations and her candid admission of parenting techniques even John Rosemonde finds abhorrent, she has outraged and horrified a lot of people.

I submit that most of those people didn't read the whole book. They certainly don't remember being seven years old and trying every excuse in the book to get out of work, including the old standby "I've got to go to the bathroom!"

I've read it twice. I remember being seven. Ms. Chua has some insights. Getting to them requires determined open mindedness, careful reading and willingness to believe she is not a monster. I believe they are worth the effort.

Tune in next time to find out why.

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