If you haven’t read Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, you’re surely among the few. The essay was published in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, a few days ahead of the release of Ms. Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

The article sparked some controversy. (I do hope the award for “Understatement of the Year” is one of those nice Waterford crystal trophies.)

The piece has been called everything from “horrifying” to “heartbreaking”. Ms. Chua’s husband has been criticized for being too weak. Comments and tweets have speculated that her girls will spend adulthood in therapy, or worse. And as for Amy Chua? Well, she may be the second most hated mother in America right now.

According to critics, Ms. Chua is, at the very least, a horrible parent. Commenters and bloggers have spent hours and days publicly debating the merits and faults of her parenting style. We can be a judgmental society. The “funny” thing is, so much of the parenting criticism we dole out is based on our own parenting experience or cultural norms. That’s it. We’re parents. Imperfect ones. Just like Amy Chua.

I couldn’t help running some of the comments through my mental Successful Family filter. From that perspective, here are some thoughts on Ms. Chua’s essay and the public reaction that followed.

1. Do we really have nothing better to do?

I may have an opinion about every single parenting practice in the world, but spending hours debating them publicly provides no value to my own family.

We mothers can be so quick to judge each other. I catch myself doing it, too, every time I see a kid standing up in a shopping cart or a preschooler at an R-rated movie. I’m just not sure how condemning other parents makes my own family better or happier. Wouldn’t our families be better off if we used these situations to reflect on our own behaviors and values?

Many people have accused Ms. Chua of blatant emotional or psychological abuse. You know, emotional abuse comes in many forms, some of them subtle. Can those people honestly say they’ve never invalidated their own children’s feelings with any of the following comments?

  • Don’t cry.
  • Don’t worry.
  • Don’t be so dramatic.
  • Don’t be so sensitive.
  • There is no reason to get upset.
  • You’re overreacting.
  • You’re blowing this way out of proportion.
  • You should feel thankful that…
  • You should be happy that ….
  • You shouldn’t let it bother you.
    (Source: eqi.org)

Would our time be better spent developing and working toward our family’s personal definition of success?

More than one path to family success and happiness.

2. Ms. Chua’s family is (likely) a model of success.

Why would I judge someone who presumably has a successful family? Each family has to define success in its own terms, not mine. I don’t know them personally, but her essay makes me think their definition includes academic excellence; mastery of classical music and instruments; children who are emotionally “sturdy”; a home with both parents, one of whom may or may not feel emasculated in front of the world; maternal confidence; and overachievement in general. If that is the agreed-upon definition of success in her family, they’ve achieved it. The whole family might be very happy, for all I know. Who am I to criticize a happy family? I dream of seeing happy families everywhere!

3. It made me think.

I’m a sucker for thinking. Ms. Chua may not be completely right, but I don’t think she’s completely wrong either. Check out these actual before and after conversations that took place in my house.

The Takeaway

I’m not here to give parenting advice; I wouldn’t presume to know what’s best for other people’s children. However, I work pretty hard at understanding what’s best for my own. (By the way, they are completely different.) And the advice I feel confident sharing is this:

  1. Happiness and success mean different things to different people.
  2. People have different personalities and needs.
  3. It’s hard enough to really understand yourself and your own family, and what would make your own family happy. THEN you have the challenge of actually achieving that happiness and meeting those needs. And if I had time left over [sarcasm] after family success and happiness, I think I’d push the envelope and go for MORE success and happiness for my own family. I wouldn’t mind the occasional nap, for example.
  4. #3 should be infinitely more important to us than debating the parenting style of another family, who—frankly—seems to be doing OK.
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Happy New Year!

The start of a new year is always exciting to me. It’s a chance to renew my motivation to improve or achieve something—like a fresh start. I usually set a few goals for myself; I refuse to call them resolutions for some reason. I will admit I’ve gotten pretty good at setting realistic, measurable goals. And I achieve them more often than not, especially now that I’ve stopped setting any kind of exercise goals.

This year, when it was time to reflect on 2010 and set goals for 2011, it occurred to me that everyone in the family should be doing this. Now if I could just figure out how to convince them to do it with me. I tried the straightforward approach first. “Hey, guys, I was just reflecting on 2010, and I think it would be a great family activity if we all sit down and do this together.” That didn’t work so much, so I found a standard set of questions everyone could answer; I figured that would make the process easier.

Eventually, using a variety of strategies, I wore them down one by one. I interviewed my 11-year old daughter after agreeing to a fair trade, something about a family cupcake challenge. I interviewed my 6-year old son over a couple of days, 2010 questions one day, then 2011 questions the next. My husband even answered the questions without any nagging, bribes, or threats. (Not that any of those are in my arsenal.)

When all was said and done, I knew it was time well spent. Even better, my daughter thanked me later for doing it. She enjoyed it, especially seeing all of those 2010 accomplishments on paper. Sometimes we move so quickly, a year’s worth of events and accomplishments can become a blur.

I created a template based on my family’s 2010 reflections and 2011 goal setting process.

(Download Word doc) (View/Download PDF)

First, we answered the following questions:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with 2010? Why?
  2. What were your biggest accomplishments in 2010?
  3. What important lessons did you learn?
  4. What are the most important goals you want to achieve in 2011?
  5. What new habits are necessary to achieve your goals?
  6. What are your immediate next steps to achieve your goals?

Then we did a couple of fun activities, like our 2010 Top Ten and our Family Favorites. We were surprised at some of the answers to the “favorites” questions, like our favorite songs are different but all from the same band. And my 6-year old’s favorite junk food is apparently cinnamon rolls, even though I don’t think he ate a single cinnamon roll in 2010. Good to know.

Optionally, you can pick a theme for 2011. We started doing that in 2009 (Year of Adventure), and it’s a fun way to unite the family toward a common goal or interest. At the end of the year, you can look back at how well you embraced the theme throughout the year and how the family benefitted from it. It could be something noble (The Year of Volunteerism) or something silly (The Year of Knock-Knock Jokes); just make sure everyone can participate in some way.

Try these tips to make the process successful:

  1. With young children, help them remember some of their accomplishments. It’s OK to give them ideas and help them set goals for the next year. Just remember to take cues from them as you go; they will be more successful achieving goals that are important to them. And that’s what you want at the end of next year—success.
  2. If you have trouble remembering every event and accomplishment from 2010, look through your pictures. (I’m sure yours are organized and grouped by event, unlike mine were.)
  3. If you go through the process of picking a theme, remember that there are no bad ideas while you’re brainstorming. If your 5-year old suggests a year of hats, treasure hunting, or taking turns, write them down. (Yes, I copied those directly from one of our brainstorming sessions.)
  4. If your family takes the time to come up with goals for 2011, make sure they remain visible somewhere. Help the kids stay focused on them throughout the year. As a parent, remove obstacles to meeting their goals whenever possible. If it becomes obvious that a goal is unattainable, show them how goal setting is a continuous process. Explain that sometimes we need to reevaluate and revise our goals.

If you already do something like this with your family, leave a comment and share your thoughts or tips. If you try the template and the process above, let me know how it worked out for your family.

Here’s to a successful 2011!

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Chaos. Exhaustion. Guilt. Resentment. Stress.

Winning Family

Sound familiar? If you’re a mom, your answer is probably “yes”. Maybe you even display them jokingly on your coffee mug, notepad, fridge magnet, or blog. And why do we joke about living with such an obviously burdensome state of mind? Because as modern moms, we’ve come to accept it. It’s our not-so-secret handshake into the Modern Mom club. Our conversations with other moms sound like a round robin of complaints, all under the guise of sharing, venting, commiserating, or self-bashing. Super Mom solidarity. At least we have that.

Is that what we want?

I’m guessing not, since there are hundreds (thousands?) of books, blogs, articles and products geared toward helping us. Help us find balance. Help us stay organized. Help us reduce stress. Help us stay healthy. Help us parent. Help us run our households. Help us do it all.

Maybe we should stop doing it all.

Easier said than done, I know. We’ve all heard about the importance of prioritizing; some of us even have smart methods of making sure we focus on what we believe is important, not just urgent. Some of us do the best we can with a long list. And some of us organizationally-challenged moms (bless us) take it day by day and just hope we can remember to pick up the kids at the right time and place. We’re all Super Moms. Why? Surely we’re not doing it for the cape. (OK, some of us like the cape.) But most of us think we’re doing it for our families, because it’s all necessary—just part of the job of modern mom. Well, that’s not a good reason. In fact, that’s a very dangerous reason. That’s like saying we’re willing to add anything at all to our list of responsibilities, as long as someone tells us it falls under the “mom” role. Are we insane?

Think about why you wear the cape.

The answer should be something like, “I want my family to be . . ..” Then fill in the blank with your goal, whether that’s happy, healthy, loving, spiritual, smart, good, all of the above, or something else. I realize that little exercise did nothing to lighten your to-do list, but it should at least remind you that everything you do is a choice and you probably have a purpose behind your choices. If you think anything on your to-do list is a “have to do”, think again. Left undone, some may have more serious consequences than others, but I assure you the choice is still yours. This is where some people will talk about finding a balance—ah, the key to modern mom’s bliss, you just have to find balance.

With so many people looking for “balance”, why haven’t we found it?

Are we really searching for this ever-elusive balance, or are we just trying to figure out how to do it all and more, only better and faster? Are we actually taking anything off our list, or are we just adding “make time for yourself” and assuming that magically creates balance? Finding balance isn’t about loading up each arm with everything under the sun, such that both arms buckle at the same time. It’s about identifying what’s most important in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, focusing on those things, and letting the rest go, guilt free.

If you read this far, you may think Successful Family is all about moms—maybe an effort to convince moms to stop doing so much. Not exactly. Successfully Family is all about family.

The American family needs a lifeline. We’re drowning in an overabundance of choices and information, all while trying to navigate a recession. Many families aren’t equipped to handle the pressure, partially because family, in general, has taken a backseat to careers, money, children, individual pursuit of happiness, etc. Success is measured at work, at the bank, at school, and in the carpool line, instead of where it should matter most—at home.

I’m reaching out to moms, because I believe mom is the cornerstone of a happy family. At the very least I believe that if mom isn’t happy, the rest of the family can’t be happy. I’m advocating we all give up Super Mom in exchange for Super Family. Cancel our membership at the Modern Mom Club and apply for a new one at the Happy Family Club.

Successful Family’s mission is to help families achieve success at home, using tools and techniques that are based on fundamental business concepts—the same ones used by successful companies. These proven business practices can be adapted for families, personalized, and applied at home. Successful Family will show you how, step by step.

Stop looking for balance, and start living it.

Next week: What Your Family Isn’t Telling You, and Why
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