The phenomenon of spirit animals exploded in grade schools, college campuses, and click-bait sites like Buzzfeed a few years ago. It’s a more interesting version of the “What’s your favorite color?” query of elementary days. A self-described sloth probably likes to sleep in, friends might label their track friend to a horse, and the whimsical intellectuals will brag about their self-discovered spiritual connection with the white-cheeked macaque. The concept’s utility was once limited to icebreakers, lunch-table jokes, and internet quizzes, but no more! Now you can find your very own parenting spirit animal, to find the best way to raise your kid.
For instance, we’ve all heard of the helicopter parent, those who are excessively present and controlling of their children, hovering above them like a helicopter, perhaps to the point of doing their school projects or fighting their arguments. First described in 1969, this overprotection often comes from good intentions of a child’s welfare manifesting as fear.
In 2011, Amy Chua, Yale professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, proposed a new or spirit animal to guide parents, purportedly based on Chinese parenting: the tiger mom. Like a tiger, the tiger mother is strong, fierce, and unwaveringly strict. The philosophy posits that the parent should punish their child for poor academic performance, focus intensely on music practice, ban social activities, and restrict extracurricular activities. Again, the basis for this parenting style is only the best of intentions – the belief that a child is capable of great things if they are pushed to the limit.
As glamorous as the authoritarian parenting regime may sound, studies show the results are mixed at best. While Asian-American students do perform better academically than their non-white peers, the strictest, most tiger-like moms have children with worse grades, and who suffer mentally, emotionally and socially. Chua herself found she could not even keep up her harsh parenting as her children grew older and needed more social independence. Similar to helicopter parenting.
Unfortunately, finding a parenting spirit animal is not a parenting strategy. There is no fun quiz or simple list of steps to raising a successful and complete individual. I am grateful that my own parents understood this and employed a mixture of discipline and rules with freedom and support. Parenting is nuanced, complex, and requires a human, not a large predatory cat.
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