As I walk down the hall of my children’s school and see the photos of distinguished alumni lining the walls with accomplishments listed under them, I fantasize. How would I like to be remembered? Gradually it dawns on me that at this moment my dreamed of accomplishment is far less grand than those listed. I imagine under my photo a term no one would understand. I’d like the words “robin mom.”
There have been vigorous debates on the best parenting style lately amongst the mothers, stirred up by the “Why Chinese Mothers are Better” article by Amy Chua. Ms. Chua recommends her brand of tiger mothering which includes meticulous, never-ending control of her children with minimal play and endless work towards goals. Another author, Erika Christakis, argues rather for the dolphin mom, admittedly vastly more appealing to me. This mom knows how to play, to communicate and to be flexible. She encircles her pups in an invisible safety net.
I have been a tiger mom when my children were babies. Their chubby little legs wandered only near me. No TV allowed. Reading required. Although hopefully I avoided the harsher elements of tiger motherhood. More recently, I have been an adoring dolphin mom for happy years. How I have loved this phase! I swam circles deep in the ocean of childhood — whether admiring or partaking in my children’s play. The sun glints through these depths.
But the robin mom — I struggle with. The robin mom is required of me now, as my eldest enters full force into adolescence. He is a wonderful strapping, healthy, gifted boy with rock solid morals. He knows how to laugh and has begun to sing, in so many ways.
But he pulls back now. He shakes me off as I am too close. It is time. And so my great aspiration is to be the mom who he needs now. I can not put it off any longer. He needs a mom who tends to a nest in a sheltered corner and provides plenty of tasty opportunities or worms. No flashy feathers required. Rather, primarily, he needs a mom who lets the young do what they of course were born to do. They spread their wings. They fly.
And so, some out there will ask me which parenting style I endorse. As a child psychiatrist, some always do. Parenting is rough, and people long for clear answers. But I have no specific answer. In fact, vigorously I endorse no parenting style at all.
Rather, I endorse developmental parenting. Not only children develop over time — so do good parents. While, some mothers are skilled at gripping tight. Others know how to play. And others expertly let go. The great challenge lies in being the kind of mother your child requires at the moment he requires it — even if it is not your nature or what you want.
Being a tiger was not so hard for me. A dolphin was sheer joy. A robin, though. Do I want to do this? Can I do this? I’m not sure. Wish me luck.