In this episode we talk with Iris Chen about her new book, Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent.
Iris admits to being a parent who engaged in “yelling, spanking, and threatening with unreasonable consequences” – but far from becoming a well-behaved, obedient child, her son fought back. The harder she punished, the more he resisted. Their home became a battleground of endless power struggles, uncontrollable tantrums, and constant frustration.
But Iris didn’t know what else to do: she had learned this over-controlling style from her own parents: watching TV without permission, talking back to her father, and having a boyfriend before college were simply out of the question when she was growing up.
In her parents’ eyes, they had done all the right things: Iris got good grades, graduated from an elite university, and married another successful Chinese-American.
But through interacting with her son, Iris realized that all of these achievements had come at a great cost: a cost that her son was trying to show her through his resistance. Eventually Iris saw that her son’s behavior wasn’t the problem; he was simply reacting to her attempts to control him, and that it was her own approach that needed to change.
Now Iris is well along her own Untigering path: basing her relationship with her children on finding win-win solutions to problems, being flexible, and respecting each other’s boundaries.
As I do too, Iris sees this path as a journey toward creating a society where everyone belongs.
If you see yourself in Iris’ descriptions of her early days as a parent, and especially if you find yourself routinely overreacting to your child’s age-appropriate behavior, I invite you to join my Taming Your Triggers workshop, which will help you to understand the true source of your triggered feelings (hint: it isn’t your child’s behavior!), feel triggered less often, and respond more effectively to your child on the fewer occasions when it does still happen.
Click here to learn more about Taming Your Triggers
Jump to highlights:
- (01:34) Children’s dilemma between being seen/heard and being accepted
- (02:50) The trauma we pass on to our children
- (04:04) How to tame your triggers
- (04:59) Confidence in parenting that gives parents a sense of calm
- (06:39) Iris as a Deconstructing Tiger Parent
- (08:13) “I thought my responsibility as a parent was to push harder when my child resisted”
- (09:26) “I saw in my children a freedom to express their resentment in ways that I was never free to”
- (11:05) The walls that are created between parent and child because children’s authentic selves are not accepted
- (11:24) Our parents have their own traumas as well
- (13:18) The Idea of Untigering
- (14:19) Permissive parenting
- (16:06) Viewing children as full human beings
- (18:43) Adultism and Childism
- (20:05) Is respect something a child needs to earn from their parents?
- (21:26) Redefining our ideas for success as parents
- (27:29) Navigating the needs that drive behavior
- (31:30) Chinese somatization
- (33:57) The internalization of injustice and suffering
- (36:50) Holding space for one another and the greater community
- (41:19) The cascading effect of changing the way we relate to our children
Books and Resources:
- Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Join the YPM Facebook Community
Click here to read the full transcript
Hi, I’m Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you’d like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE Guide called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Won’t Listen To You and What To Do About Each One, just head over to YourParentingMojo.com/SUBSCRIBE. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners and the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you’ll join us.
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo Podcast. In today’s Sharing Your Parenting Mojo episode we hear from Iris Chen who I first found on Instagram and then started reading her blog on her website Untigering.com. Iris describes herself as an American-born Chinese who somehow ended up with kids who are Chinese-born Americans. She writes about navigating life and parenting at the intersection of her Chinese and American identities and as a deconstructing Tiger Mother who’s trying to become a gentle parent. She’s just published a book called appropriately enough Untigering: Peaceful Parenting For the Deconstructing Tiger Parent.
Before we meet Iris, I also wanted to mention you’re going to hear a lot in this episode related to trauma. Trauma that we parents may have experienced ourselves and also trauma that’s been passed down through the generations in our families. And this trauma shows up in the ways we interact with our children. Trauma can be the classic things you might think of like experiencing war or sexual abuse, but it can also show up in much milder circumstances like being ridiculed by a parent. This can be incredibly difficult for a child to bear because it represents a rupture of the attachment relationship that’s so important to our well-being. When our parent causes us to feel shame and humiliation because of something we did or said, we find it hard to accept that they could be wrong, because as far as we know, they see and know everything. And they tell us so often they love us so they must be right. And we ended up walling off the part of ourselves that was trying to meet the need we had when we did the thing that our parents disapproved of. It’s too hard for us to hold the two truths together, that we can need these things like respect and autonomy and the ability to make real choices, and that we also need to be accepted and loved by our parent. And very often our need for acceptance wins out and we put the other need on hold. We deny that it exists, but it does still exist, and it lives on somewhere deep inside us, waiting for a chance for us to be truly seen and known as whole people.
When we’ve experienced trauma, we may realize that while we thought we had it all under control for much of our lives, and it wasn’t really impacting us so much anymore. When we have children, we can find that just through being normal children doing things that normal children do, many of which may be the very same things that we did as children that upset our own parents so much our children trigger reminders of the trauma we’ve suffered. When this happens, we tend to go into one of three instinctive modes: Fight or Flight where we’re ready to take action back before many of us lived in houses. This would have prepared us to either fight a bear or run away from it. Or maybe we freeze which in our parenting often comes out as emotionally shutting down, maybe physically walking away from a situation that feels like more than we can deal with. Or if we’ve survived abuse, we may use a fawning mode or we try to placate the other person to minimize the rupture between us.
While we can’t say there’s a direct relationship between the trauma we’ve experienced and the likelihood we’ll pass this down to our children, we do know that trauma is transferred intergenerationally through a combination of the expression of our genes and our parenting style. And we can also be reasonably sure that if we don’t take steps to do things differently, this kind of trauma is going to keep on impacting us and our relationships with our children. This kind of stuff doesn’t fix itself or just go away.
If you’re realizing that maybe you need help understanding the trauma you’ve experienced both on a cognitive level in your brain and also on a physical level in your body, and that you need help finding new ways to cope in moments when your children’s behavior makes you explode, apparently, without warning, I do hope you’ll join my highly popular Taming Your Triggers workshop, which is now open for registration. So many parents have taken this workshop and found that even just the insight into the origins of their triggered feelings has brought a great sense of relief. One participant told me that the email about understanding our relationship with our mothers as a source of our triggered feelings “dropped a bomb on me that I never saw coming. Of course, I realized I had issues with my mom but not the extent to which it affected my actions on an hourly basis.” So we get insight into the origins of these feelings and begin to heal from that trauma, but we also go on to develop tools you can use to create space between your child’s behavior and your reaction.
Where it probably seems like there is no space right now, then once you have that space, you’ll learn ways to respond to your child that are aligned with your values as a parent, rather than reacting based on your trauma history will also help you repair your relationship with your child, so they don’t take on your triggered reaction as their own trauma and develop your self-compassion skills. So you don’t beat yourself up every time you don’t do things perfectly, which you won’t because none of us do. In the workshop, you’ll receive content released weekly over the course of 10 weeks, and you’ll get support from me and the other parents on this journey in a private community that isn’t on Facebook. Parents who have really engaged with this work find it seriously life changing, knowing that you can respond to your child from a place that allows you to feel your feelings, while not being yanked around them. And going from zero to apoplectic or shut down in a second, gives parents a great deal of confidence that they’ve really got this parenting thing, which brings an incredible sense of calm. If you’d like to learn more about the Taming Your Triggers Workshop, please go to YourParentingMojo.com/TamingYourTriggers. Doors close on February 28, 2021. So we can get started as a group on March 1 and sliding scale pricing is available. Once again. That’s YourParentingMojo.com/TamingYourTriggers.
Okay, so without further ado, let’s talk with Iris Chen about her own journey from overcontrolling Tiger Parent to being a parent who can respond to her children’s needs from a place of calmness and connection. Welcome, Iris.
Iris Chen 06:27
Thank you so much for having me again.
And so I wonder maybe we can start by hearing a little bit about what you were like as a parent in your children’s early years. Where did that approach come from?
Iris Chen 06:39
Sure. So yeah, I call myself a Deconstructing Tiger Parent, because I definitely started out as a pretty typical, you know, controlling Tiger Parent: was very strict, had a lot of rules, expected obedience. And yeah, I write about the story at the beginning of my book, were one of my children, as a toddler, I was like obsessed with getting enough sleep, you know, as young parents were so sleep deprived. And so regardless of whether or not he was tired, I was going to make him have a nap. And so I would, you know, place him in bed, I would flip him towards the wall. If he began turning his body at all, I would flip him back, if he like, got out of bed or did anything, you know, I threatened, I spanked, I yelled, I did all those things. And so that was just like one little snapshot of sort of the type of parenting that I practiced early on, where it was very controlling, very coercive, and created a really toxic and contentious relationship with my child. So it’s something that I look back on with a lot of sadness and yeah, but I’m just glad that I’m not there anymore and I’m really excited about helping other parents move away from that type of parenting.
Yeah, and we’re going to dig very deeply into the moving away part. I’d love to spend just a little bit more time in the “in” part, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m wondering…
Iris Chen 08:05
…how did your children respond to you when you were trying to exert too much control over them?
Iris Chen 08:13
Yeah, they did not, especially my older child did not respond well at all. Like, he resisted my attempts. And I just thought that my responsibility was then to push harder. And to Yeah, like it was a battle of the wills and I was going to win, you know, that’s what I believed was my responsibility. And so I came down harder. I had harsher punishments, all of that. And it just kept on escalating and escalating to a point where I was at a loss, like, I did not know what else I should do, you know, so I really began to question but yeah, they did not respond very well. My second child was much more complain but my oldest child was like, very sensitive and overwhelmed easily and I read that, I interpreted that as rebellion and disobedience. And so yeah, I came down harder on him.
Yeah, I was also curious as I was reading as well about whether you saw yourself in either of your children’s responses, like did you look back and think, “Oh, yeah, I was like that as a child, or I totally wasn’t like that. And why is my child like that?”
Iris Chen 09:26
I think I like on the surface for me, I was a very compliant child where I learned to be, I learned to follow the rules. I learned to obey and do whatever was expected of me. But inside I was like, always simmering with resentment. And so what I saw in my children was sort of like them, feeling free to express their resentment in ways that I was never free to, like I never talked back to my dad. I never, you know, expressed, you know, like, slammed the door. Well, I can’t say never slammed the door, but just a lot of ways that they were expressing their resistance to my control in ways that I was never free to. So when they began to do that, I’m pretty sure it took me aback because I was never allowed to do that. But as I began to dig deeper, I realized that those were also the feelings that I felt as a child, like nobody likes to be, you know, shamed, or you know, threatened or punished in those ways. So, yeah, I think as I dug deeper, I saw that they were really expressing things that I also experienced as a child.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And when we look back on this, I think it becomes more obvious that we can see that we created these walls between what the authentic are us and the way we want to authentically show up in the world, and what we know to be socially acceptable. And we think to ourselves, well, this is how I really feel but my parent, whoever it is, cannot live with that cannot accept that. And so I’m going to present this compliant view of myself to the world, but the other part of us didn’t go away. Right?
Iris Chen 11:05
Right, exactly. So I think there are ways that like, in some ways, maybe my parents felt that they had raised a good daughter, you know, but there was a wall that was created because of that, because I couldn’t show them parts of myself, I couldn’t really be who I really was in front of them, because that was not accepted.
Yeah. Yeah. And you raised in the book as well about how some of this has roots in your parents’ traumas and the traumas that they’ve experienced. And I think that for so many of us, I mean, it’s pretty uncommon, I think, for parents who have not experienced trauma of some kind. And our parents experienced their own traumas as well. And how did you see that play out in your family? How did that dynamic show up?
Iris Chen 11:46
Well, I think as a child, we don’t really unpack that, because we don’t know what our parents’ traumas are. Right? So all we’re reacting to is how they’re treating us. And so yeah, but as I got older, as I became a parent myself, understanding their story more, yeah, so I’m a child of immigrants. And my parents experienced a lot of trauma as children, you know, poverty, the loss of parents, you know, war. My dad fled from Mainland China to Hong Kong as a refugee. All of these things that, obviously, you know, change who you are, and shaped who you are. And so I think they obviously brought a lot of that into the way they just saw the world the way they functioned, and the way they raised us. And so I don’t, you know, the immigrant experience as well, you know, moving from their homeland to America and needing to adjust to all the cultural changes, needed to assimilate in certain ways, he needed to, you know, perform a certain way in order to be accepted. So, yeah, all of that were things that I internalized that I’ve picked up as a child.
Yeah, yeah. They were having to do the same thing that they were asking you to do; to represent the view of the world that the world wants to see.
Iris Chen 13:07
That’s so hard. And so the main sort of thrust of your book and of your work writ large is this idea of Untigering. So can you tell us about what is Untigering?
Iris Chen 13:18
Sure. I just made up this word because I felt like it described my own experience of trying to detox and dismantle Tiger Parenting in my own life, but both as someone who was Tiger-parented and one who had Tiger-parented my own children. So it’s really this process of like moving away from controlling, coercive type of power over dynamic with children, and to a much more peaceful parenting, respectful parenting paradigm. So I it’s definitely a process. It’s not like a state or like, you’ve arrived, you are now, you know, it’s definitely a process and one that I continue to be in day in and day out.
Mm hmm. Okay. And so parents who are thinking about this and maybe recognizing themselves as potential Tiger parents from the way that you’ve described to interacting with your children might be thinking, “Okay, so she’s a permissive parent now?” Are you a permissive parent?
Iris Chen 14:19
Some might view me from the outside and see that, think that I’m a permissive parent, but I definitely don’t think so. I mean, I still feel like I have tendencies towards being more controlling just because that’s sort of like what I’m trying to, you know, detox from, so I definitely have more controlling tendencies. But though I feel like permissive parenting is really about lack of boundaries and about, in some ways, like hyper individualism and fear. Like there’s a lot of things in there that are inconsistent with my beliefs about Untigering and about peaceful parenting. Because I think that Untigering and Peaceful parenting is really about relationship. It’s about neutrality. It’s about sharing power. So it’s not like we’re giving kids all the power and that they run the roost. It’s about this shared power and this relational dynamic where just like you and a partner would relate in not hopefully not power over ways, but in ways that are mutually respectful, that where there’s a lot of communication and trust. So in those same ways, we relate to our children in those ways. It’s not through, like authority, power rules, and all that. But through communication, through trust, through connection, all those ways that we build connection with other people in our lives.
Yeah, I think it requires a real shift in terms of how you see children, right? Because you can’t see children as incompetent. And also parent in this way. And so what’s your view of children? How do you see children? And how do you think as different from maybe Tiger moms and even often sort of regular parents view children?
Iris Chen 16:06
Sure, I am learning to see children as full human beings who are worthy of love and respect and dignity. And I think I say learning because, like, the way the messages that we receive from society, and just like mainstream parenting, and all that does not see children in this way, you know, we see children as things to shape, and mold as empty vessels, as extensions of our own identity, who, like are connected to our own system, self-worth, or, you know, our own ambitions or whatever. So that’s very much like a Tiger parenting view of children, where whatever they do reflects on us and, you know, we need to get them to achieve and behave in ways that reflect well upon us. And in Asian culture, you know, this collectivism is, you know, just pervasive in the culture, and there’s nothing necessarily inherently wrong with this collectivist culture. But I think when we learn to disrespect and dehumanize a child in that way, where they just become something that we can manipulate, then that’s just so dishonoring to who they are. And so I’m really learning to shift my thinking in that and to see children, as you know, their own selves, with agency with autonomy with their own being. Yeah,
Yeah. And as you’re saying that I’m thinking, Okay, yeah, I can see how this would be a very big shift from the way that maybe children are raised in a collectivist culture. But even in the US, which is, I think, veers very far to the other end of the spectrum, where it’s highly individualistic, and everybody’s supposed to succeed on their own merits, even though we know that that’s not actually what happens. But we still, even within this culture, where we’re supposed to see the merits and the benefits of each individual person, we still see children as less than ourselves. And so it seems that this concept is, even if you’re not even if you and by you, I mean listeners who are listening to this, you’re not an Asian parent, you’re not raising children in a collectivist culture, you don’t see yourself as a “Tiger mom” we are still operating in a culture that sees children as less than fully autonomous individuals. And so that’s I think the part that really resonated with me and your work is that you write from this one perspective, but your work is applicable to parents across the broad range of situations.
Iris Chen 18:43
Yes, absolutely. Because I think this, like, I call it Adultism, there’s like Childism and Adultism, they’re sort of like, both sides of the same coin. But just Adultism is everywhere in our society, where we, we do see children as less than. We believe that adults have the right and the responsibility to do things to children in ways that are totally unacceptable to adults. Now, we would never allow it to be done to adults. You know, we control what they eat, what they wear, how we educate them, you know, all like the range of things. parents feel like it’s absolutely our right to do so. And so it’s something that we really need to challenge and to question like, do we see children as less than as less than human beings really, and how can I begin to shift that so that I do see them as a human being and respect them so much?
Yeah, yeah. And I think it most clearly came home to me when someone asked if we’re going to respect them as fully human beings as adults, maybe when they leave our house, when does the shift happen? Like When do we start respecting them? At the moment they leave our house, or did it happen at some point in the intervening years and what did they have to do for us to respect them?
Iris Chen 20:05
Right. So is respect something that they need to earn?
Iris Chen 20:08
You know? Or is it just something that we, as all human beings are naturally, hopefully imbued with that worthiness? That dignity that yeah, that desire and need for that.
Yeah, yeah, just kind of staying with a dichotomy idea for a bit, because I think it makes your book so relevant to such a broad group of people, I thought it was really interesting. I didn’t know this about the contrast between the way Chinese parents and White parents view, what’s going to come out of the effort that they pour into their children. And from your perspective, Chinese parents put so much effort into raising their children, because their children will be obliged to take care of them in later life. And White parents don’t necessarily have the same expectation, but they at least want the child to make enough money. So they’re not coming around and asking the parents for money over and over again, that seems to me to be the kind of the comparable situation. And then I was thinking, “Okay, what are the commonalities?” Well, cutting across both groups is this idea that when we get our child into this elite school, and they go on to the job at the consulting company, or the investment banking firm, or wherever it is, that society is then going to say, “You know what, parent? Yu did a good job!” And so I was thinking, well, what’s there? What are the implications of moving toward an approach where that’s not a goal for us? How do you see that?
Iris Chen 21:26
Yeah, so in my book, I do talk about like, redefining our ideas of success as parents, and how we sort of need to separate our own ambitions and our own desires from our children’s, because again, that’s just a way of like, one term that I use, as if we’re passing on our own ideas of success to our children is really a way of like colonizing their lives, where we have our own ideas, and we’re going to come in and take over and create this world that may be totally irrelevant to them. Maybe something that they don’t want themselves, they haven’t consented to it. And so how can we as parents really create for ourselves, our own lives our own, like, really step into our own dreams and ambitions so that we don’t project them onto our kids, and then allow our kids to fully explore and realize for themselves what their own definition of success is, you know. So for myself, I am an unschooler, so I, you know, really try to follow the lead of my children and to, to see, “Okay, what are your passions? Who are you uniquely made to be?” That’s not the same as me, like, for me, I am sort of like more of a creative mind, a quiet mind, I like to read I like to write, but my kids are total gamers. And so like that, I can’t sort of force my own definitions of what I think is valuable onto them, because they are their own people. And so I think, you know, whether or not you’re Asian or not, that that’s something that we can really learn to, you know, just honor the consent of our children really trust that they are the experts of their own lives. And I think, you know, when I talk about transactional relationships, within Asian culture, this is very, sort of something that I observed that a lot of relationships within Asian culture are very contractual, like, it’s mutual, you know, it’s like I just do for you, you do something for me. But within a parent child relationship, especially, I think, that just makes the child feel very insecure, because then it’s not, it’s very conditional, right? Like, if there’s an expectation, there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of duty. And what I have learned, you know, because I’m still part of an Asian culture, and my Asian family dynamics, is that when I feel more free to make those choices for myself, I do want to honor my parents, I do want to give back to them, I do want to, like gift them and help support them or whatever. But it has to be from a place of agency, and a place of freedom, where I do it, because I love them because there is that relationship. And there is that honor and that respect, not because of a top-down expectation that is using shame or using whatever pressure of all those different ways. So I do feel like in the collectivist culture, there are ways to express that in authentic ways just can’t be in power over demanding course of ways.
Iris Chen 24:44
Yeah. Yeah. And I think that this dynamic is really also present in the dominant culture in white America as well. And in other places, too. I work with parents all the time, who I mean they get to their midlife and through oftentimes working with me, they realize that the ways that they’re interacting with their children doesn’t reflect their values. And then they realize, okay, how did I get to be where I am, and maybe for the first time they start to see, okay, I never actually made the choices that got me here. Right. My parents told me I had to do well in school. And then when I graduated, there was only, like, I was interested in this thing, and there was nothing else available. So I did that at college. And the next step from that was this other thing. And I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, because all around there was this validation of Oh, yeah, my parents introducing me as well, you know, so and so is this is in this career now. And all the time, there’s certainly this society and our parents and our broader families put these guardrails around expectations for us. And we get to midlife. And we think Well, did I actually make any of these choices? And we look back and we realized that maybe we didn’t, and that if we don’t think about this differently, then we are probably going to do the same things to our children, as we’re done to us. I think it’s so important for parents no matter where you are, to see how did this play out in your own life? And is that the same way that you want it to play out in your children’s lives? And if not, that needs to be a conscious decision in your part? Because if you just kind of go with the flow is probably going to end up repeating itself.
Iris Chen 26:28
Yes, absolutely. And like you’ve mentioned, I think, you know, we go through life, unconsciously we, yeah, we’re just going with the flow. And we don’t actually understand why. Why we’re doing the things we’re doing. Like, when you initially asked me, you know, why did I choose this type of parenting. It wasn’t even a conscious decision. In terms of Tiger parenting, it’s not like I decided I’m going to be a Tiger parent. It was just unconscious, right? And so yeah, really, to bring our consciousness into it to become more aware, like, why am I being driven to do this? Why am I living the life that I am living? And to slow down and actually take the time to see like, what do I really believe? Am I aligned with those values? And to begin shifting.
Yeah, okay, so then let’s make this super concrete and for parents in terms of thinking about behavior, and sort of how you see behavior and maybe some ways that you maybe your children are engaging in behavior that you don’t like to see, how do you navigate that?
Iris Chen 27:29
Mm hmm. So I see all behavior as attempts to get needs met. And so these needs are absolutely legitimate. And we can approach it without judgement. But the behaviors, we need to sort of teach children to have appropriate ways to get their needs met. So that might mean adjusting their behavior, but never like we don’t deal with the behavior in a punitive way, because they’re just trying to get their needs met. So we should validate that desire, while teaching them more appropriate ways to meet their needs.
Okay, and so what how do you do that? Like, what’s an example of that you’ve been through recently, maybe?
Iris Chen 28:13
Yes. So I guess there’s like a conflict between my boys were one of them came to me, and he had a scratch on his face. And he said, like, Oh, my brother scratched me on the face. And so instead of just coming in, and like being Oh, my goodness, how could you scratch on the face? What’s going on? Like, I, you know, first regulated myself and then gave them time to, Well, I went and asked like, because, you know, this doesn’t happen without any reason. Unless it was an accident, right. And so what I learned was that the younger brother who had scratched his older brother in the face, like they were sort of like wrestling, and the younger brother had asked him to stop, and the older brother didn’t stop. And so he was like, trying to get out and, you know, protect his space, protect his boundaries. And so I think just understanding that, like, not coming at it from like, a punitive way, where like, okay, you shouldn’t have done that. You need to stop; you need to separate whatever you’re in trouble. It’s like trying to understand, okay, why did you do that? What was going on? And then understanding and validating. Oh, yeah, that would have really bothered me if I asked somebody to stop and they didn’t stop. And then next time, so I was talking with them. Like, if you guys want to play in this way, is there a way that you can have a safe word, or, like a tap on the shoulder or something to express? Because then the older brother was like, Oh, I didn’t hear you. So that’s why I didn’t stop right. So like, just been giving them tools used to be able to like, okay, you want to wrestle and that’s totally fine but are there safer ways so that you guys don’t hurt each other? Right? So yeah, that’s just one example that came to mind about not judging the behavior and not punishing the behavior, but understanding what’s the underlying need? And then try to give them more tools to meet them in appropriate ways.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think what’s key there is I hear so often from parents, you know, I’ve told my child over and over again, why it’s really important that they do X, whatever activity X is, or not to do activity x. But I so rarely hear that they have truly heard the child’s perspective in this and what’s going on for the child and you were talking about, and that particular example was something that happened in the moment. But very often, there is even deeper stuff underlying it as well, where Oh, well, something happened at breakfast, and that didn’t feel fully resolved to me. Or even deeper than that, you know, I’m kind of feeling like you’re paying more attention, you know, your parents are paying more attention to my sibling than you are to me. And I’m feeling as though I don’t have the connection with you that I need. And so peeling back those layers, I think is super, super important.
Iris Chen 31:01
Yes, yes, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, just having the view, like, not just seeing that behavior at face value, but really having that understanding that there’s so much going on underneath. And if we approach it with more curiosity, with, like, you know, being an observer, instead of like, just coming in and pronouncing judgments, right, that can really ease a lot of the conflict that you have with your child, and that they have with each other.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And so shifting gears a bit, I learned a concept from you that I have not heard before, it was this idea of Chinese somatization. And I’m about to start a series of episodes on the intersection between the brain and the body. And I wonder if firstly, you can define what is that phrase?
Iris Chen 31:48
Sure. So I think this is just a trend that researchers found of people within Chinese culture, who express emotions, particularly emotional distress through their bodies, rather than through, like, emotional or mental issues. So for example, instead of, you know, feeling depressed, a person within Chinese culture or influenced by Chinese culture, might feel like might be insomnia or might have headaches, or ulcers or chronic pain, so that their emotions, I guess their feelings are really internalized and expressed through their bodies, instead of through other means, emotions or mental distress.
Yeah, and I thought that was absolutely fascinating. And not something I mean, it sort of starts to get at the Bessel van der Kolk, stuff of the Body Keeps the Score and the way that trauma manifests itself in the body, but I hadn’t sort of seen it, particularly from an entire culture of people potentially experiencing certain things that we would typically perceive to be mental problems or things that are happening in our head and having a bit there be a very physical experience of that in the moment. And so as soon as I saw that I started Googling Skill Scholar, what can I find? And I couldn’t find much, unfortunately. But I did find a study that said that there was a link between parents who didn’t meet children’s needs most of the time at around age 18 months, and somatization appearing at around age five years, and also a connection between adult attachment insecurity and somatization. Actually, that article was in a place that I couldn’t access it. But the summary of the article said the researchers were Canadian. And so I thought, Okay, well, the sample was probably mostly White then. And so potentially, it’s coming up in other cultures as well. But the part in your book that really intrigued me was that you took it one step further and looked at suppressing the experience, and so denying that the suffering even exists, what’s the impact of doing that?
Iris Chen 32:40
Yeah, and I think a lot of it is like, when you think of like Chinese history, and all the suffering that this people group has experienced is very understandable. And then they’ve had to suppress it and like, keep it try to keep it under control. Because there’s been famine, there’s been war, there’s been poverty, imperialism,, and so much oppression that they have experienced, and yet they have survived. The Chinese culture in general, like, we’re survivors, right? But what happens, I think, is that yeah, when we internalize it, that just like ventricle, or whatever, you know, that becomes part of our genetic makeup, we pass it on to future generations. And so something that we really need to address and hopefully heal from so that we don’t continue to pass on this internalized trauma in our bodies to the future generations, because what I see within a lot of, you know, my own culture is like the lack of ability to ask for help, you know, asking for help going to mental health professionals within the Chinese culture is not very welcomed is sort of frowned upon, you know, that’s changing, obviously. But we definitely need more shift in that area where it becomes acceptable to us for help acceptable to have issues that we need support in.
Iris Chen 35:25
So I think that’s one thing. I think another thing is also just, it really keeps us from being empathetic and compassionate to other people who are suffering. Because if we have had to, you know, keep on keeping on and, you know, we have survived all these horrible things happening to us, when somebody else goes through something similar. It’s just like, well, you know, that’s just life, you know, too bad. Yeah, you got to do it. That’s just life. And there isn’t that compassion for other people who are suffering. Another thing is also just, like we’re so we accept and receive, like, injustice, and oppression without questioning it, without pushing back is to something that we think is part of life. And so we don’t try to make change for other people, or for the next generation or whatever, we’re just going to, you know, push through and survive it. And, you know, make what little gains we can and not question and I think that’s another problem. Another thing that we really need to challenge and not accept, because, you know, there’s so much so many social justice issues that we should not accept, and, and we need to learn to push back on.
Yeah, there’s a lot in there. Yeah, I mean, it just even on the idea of it not being okay, in Chinese culture to go to mental health professionals, and in Western cultures, I think it is now, particularly for females, maybe lesser for males, you know, there is a, it’s okay to have therapists to be in therapy. But it’s not okay to express to our friends to our neighbors that we’re struggling and that we need help. And that we it’s okay to pay somebody to tell them how we’re struggling. But it’s not okay to be in community with other people and to show them our vulnerabilities, and to allow them to show us their vulnerabilities that I think is a really key way that White supremacist culture shows up here in the US and probably in other places as well. But it’s just not okay to expose our whole selves. And you wrote about that in the book as well. And we all know, we’re supposed to accept our children’s emotions. If you listen to the podcast, and you know, you’ve been doing respectful parenting for some time, you know that you’re supposed to do this, even though it’s hard. But there’s also this very real sense of needing to keep a lid on our emotions, and make sure nobody sees the messiness of our emotional lives. I’m wondering how this has played out for you a little bit.
Iris Chen 38:07
Yeah, I think it is this sort of like, what I’m learning in my parenting also definitely affects my whole life in terms of like learning to accept emotions, learning to ask for help. Learning to be vulnerable, like you said, I think just a recent example, is my father passed away recently, and a friend offered to set up a meal train for me. And at first I was like, I’m fine. You know, I don’t like…
Iris Chen 38:35
I didn’t lose my ability to cook.
Iris Chen 38:35
I don’t bother. I know. And just like, yeah, like, I was making a lot of excuses or not excuses, but just like downplaying my need for support. And then, but I think the more I thought about it, because I do have a lot going on, there was like, planning my dad’s Memorial at that time getting this book out, and all that stuff. And I was realizing like, oh, it would just be so wonderful to have this off my plate. And then so I let her do it. And it’s been wonderful. But it’s still like there is that part of me still, where I feel a little bit ashamed, you know, that I’m not able to take care of myself and I need to rely on other people. And yeah, so I think that’s something that our culture, yeah, not just Asian culture, obviously, but just, you know, cultures around the world where we are, well-meaning specifically American culture, where we are taught to, you know, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and be independent, be pioneers and like, go out and take over the world, you know, but how to really learn to be in community how to learn, to be vulnerable, to ask for help and not see that as a weakness, but as an opportunity to be loved and cared for and to be able to do that for others willingly and gladly and without judgement, when they are in need of help, you know, I think that’s so important is like, a lot of what I talk about in my book is also not just what’s happening within our own families, but within our own communities. Like how can we create this mutuality, this respect, this holding of space for one another? In our greater communities?
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s a big part of where my work is headed as well, I think and hopefully, I know of other folks out there, you know, Kelty and Hannah of the Upbringing Podcast and other places as well, where these barriers are starting to be broken down little, little by little. And I think that that sort of brings us to where I was surprised that you went with the book, in the end, you know, I read the first quarter of it. And I thought, okay, yeah, Iris is on the same page with me about respectful parenting, we should, we should do an episode about this. And I hadn’t read the whole rest of the book, and then you really, you draw the reader down this path of Okay, you know, I was a Tiger Parent. And you may see some of me in you. And here’s how we can together and navigate this in relationship with our own children, our own families, and then you broaden the view to how this can bring about social change on a whole variety of issues. Can you tell us a bit about your vision for that?
Iris Chen 41:19
Yeah, I think just seeing how when we change the way we relate to children, and we see them as full human beings, and we respect them, and give them you know, listen to the power in their voice and respect their autonomy and all that stuff, I feel like that totally can transform our culture, because then we raise up this generation that no longer will accept all different kinds of abuse, who will stand up to it, who will speak and use their power, who will know how to relate to one another in not these power over ways, but in power sharing ways, who know how to build trust and communicate with one another when there are disagreements. I mean, there’s so many ways that in the ways that we parent, it can really ripple out into our society and into the ways, you know, we’re relating to one another as people. And so it really is my hope that it can start there. But it can also start in the bigger ways to where we’re recognizing how the bigger issues also affect. So it’s not just like this one way of like, inside out, but it’s also obviously outside in where the cultural influences around us are affecting the way that we parent, and how to question it, how to challenge that, so that the cultural messaging around this is also changing. So yeah, I’m hoping and I’m seeing it, you know, just through your podcasts through all these different resources out there now, hopefully, you know, what we consider mainstream parenting is going to shift so that these, you know, strategies that are dehumanizing will begin to, you know, fall away, and we recognize that those are no longer acceptable just like that has happened for us, you know, where things that our parents used and were acceptable to them are no longer acceptable now. So.
Yeah, well, I’m so glad that you’re out there in the world during this. I feel like we’re in community here. And..
Iris Chen 43:23
Yes, thank you so much,
Iris Chen 43:25
…and that we together are working with all the other parents who are following you on Instagram, people, your Instagram is a force to be reckoned with, and who see the things that you put out there and it just resonates with people so much, and I’m so glad that we found each other and that we can have this conversation and that your book is out there spreading this message out into the world.
Iris Chen 43:48
Yes, thank you so much, Jen.
As a reminder, listeners can find information about Iris and her book on her website at Untigering.com and also at YourParentingMojo.com/UNTIGERING. Don’t forget that registration for the Taming Your Triggers Workshop is also now open through midnight Pacific on Sunday, February 28 so we can get started as a group on Monday, March 1. Learn more about the workshop at YourParentingMojo.com/TamingYourTriggers.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of Your Parenting Mojo. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show YourParentingMojo.com to receive new episode notifications, and the FREE Guide To 13 Reasons Your Child Isn’t Listening To You and What To Do About Each One. And also join the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. For more respectful research-based ideas to help kids thrive and make parenting easier for you, I’ll see you next time on Your Parenting Mojo.
About the author, Jen
Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.
Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership
She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com
And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school