A rooster, according to the Chinese Zodiac, possesses the following attributes: acute, neat, meticulous, organized, self-assured, decisive, conservative, critical, perfectionist, alert, zealous, practical, scientific, responsible, can be over zealous and critical, puritanical, egotistical, abrasive, proud, opinionated, given to empty bravado. Okay, I can own up to some of these qualities—yes—even some of the less flattering ones. But how would a rooster mother interact with her kids who have sensory issues?
One of my daughters is identified as a sheep on the Chinese Zodiac. A sheep is described as righteous, sincere, sympathetic, mild-mannered, shy, artistic, mothering, peaceful, generous, seeks security, indecisive, over-passive, worrier, pessimistic, over-sensitive, complainer, weak-willed.
As you can probably guess, I just finished reading, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” by Amy Chua. I was curious to know what all the hype was about. I was equally shocked and horrified by her rigidity, demands, restrictions, screaming tirades, and shaming parenting techniques as her critics (see the NY Times review).
On the other hand, it took great courage and vulnerability (or narcissism?) for Ms. Chua to put herself out there for the world to scrutinize. What is most confusing for me about the book are the references to Western culture. The implication is that “Western” parents are permissive, overindulgent, and coddle (overpraise?) their children (who are underachieving hoodlums) and allow them to beat up other kids at the park with no consequences. These sweeping overgeneralizations leave out the subtleties and nuances of individual differences.
First, I must say that I don’t subscribe to such concrete, obtuse, and one-dimensional descriptions of people, as implied by the Chinese zodiac templates and the cultural stereotypes. While temperament does determine some of a child’s personality, we all know that a person’s unique history, experiences, interactions, and yes—culture, make up that person’s reactions, thoughts, and feelings, which are not static.
Parents of kids with sensory issues are keenly aware of the rapidly shifting nature of their child’s mental and emotional states. A child’s mood can change like a light switch, and both the precipitating event and the child’s reaction to it are often unpredictable. This can be jarring for the parents as well as for the kids.
If I were, indeed, a rooster mother, which I probably am sometimes, I would have great difficulty with the dependency, indecisiveness, passivity, and anxiety displayed by my Sheep daughter (and I would be blind to her many positive qualities!). The rigid picture in my mind of how my kids are supposed to behave, think, and feel would be completely destroyed by the reality of our situation. The truth is, while I can certainly be critical and perfectionistic, I make every effort to refrain from criticizing my children, especially knowing they are dealing with their own internal struggles. This is not always easy, especially when my daughter is struggling to complete tasks like brushing her teeth, getting dressed, and completing homework. The piece that is missing from Ms. Chua’s long treatise is the effect of her authoritarian techniques on her daughters’ social-emotional well-being. While she acknowledges at one point that her youngest daughter was suffering due to the detrimental effects of her brute parenting practices, she does not ever seem to be able to put herself in her daughter’s shoes.
If nothing else, we need to be able to put our own feelings aside and empathize with our children’s experiences, regardless of the type of parenting techniques we ascribe to. They are little people with developing minds and sensitive feelings, and we must be attuned to how our nervous systems mesh with and impact theirs. Our sensitive kiddos can also pick up on nonverbals, even the rhythm of our breathing! This is not to say that we have to be perfect all the time, or that we should try to mask the raw emotions, perceptions, and experiences that make us human. Rather, becoming more aware of what triggers our reactivity, working to uncover the ways in which our past experiences shape our reactions, and discovering and integrating new ways of being and connecting are the keys to nurturing our own as well as our children’s well-being, self-understanding, and secure sense of self in relation to others.