Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Remember Amy Chua, the “Tiger Mom?”

I’m not a Tiger Mom. If anything, I might be considered the extreme opposite.

Amy Chua and I do have one thing in common, though: We both want what is best for our children. The difference is in our approach. Instead of being strict, using insults, overriding their preferences and demanding perfection, I like to play the role of cheerleader in the background, allowing my kids to explore life and discover their own interests and passions.

My husband and I have five children with ages ranging from 15 to 31. Three of our kids have reached adulthood safely, and the other two are well on their way. As parents, we figure were doing something right. So whats the secret to our success? We attribute it to letting our kids be who they want to be. Allowing that kind of freedom isn’t easy, but no one ever said raising healthy and happy children would be.

Letting your children be who they want to be means celebrating them as individuals with their own interests and hobbies, regardless of what society or their friends think.

All of our children are incredibly different: one son is an Army vet who would rather play video games than date, marry and give me grandchildren; one son has Down Syndrome with a smile that brightens each day; one daughter has married and given me that much-wanted grandchild; our youngest son filled our home with the constant sound of drumming and singing as a child and now plays guitar and wants to be a filmmaker; and our youngest daughter who literally dances through life.

As different as they are, they all share an amazing sense of self that I believe comes from the way our family celebrates everything about who and what they are. Even when it would be easier to say, No, be like this. Be like us. Think like we do.

In our home, we approach parenting this way:

  1. Offer compliments when they do a good job. I’ve learned that if your child is confident about who he or she is, the less likely he or she will succumb to peer pressure. My daughter wasn’t comfortable in her own skin in middle school. Rather than run out and buy her the most expensive clothes to conform to what the popular girls were wearing, we consistently reinforced her with how amazing she was for just being herself. We complimented the decisions she made, the way she looked, the strengths she had. The result of all of this? She began to feel better about herself. As her confidence grew, her peers turned to her for advice, complimenting her about how cool she was for setting her own style and not conforming.
  2. Encourage them to form their own opinions and interests. When kids are raised in an environment where being who they want to be is tolerated and encouraged, they begin to expect others (including their friends) to like them for who they are and not for what they are willing to do. It’s a powerful message that becomes internalized. Our oldest son is nothing like us. Hes conservative and we’re liberal; he’s obsessive and we’re relaxed, he’s quiet and we’re loud. Yet rather than judge him for being unlike us, we embraced the differences and helped him realize that being different is ok. We would say out loud to him, “We love you. Period. No matter who you are, no matter what you do.”
  3. Let them know differences are what makes them special. Our youngest daughter has two parents and four older siblings influencing her world. With her, we’ve found it especially challenging to help her understand that she is free to be and think and do what she wants. When we see that she is conforming to get the attention of an older sibling, we tell her, “It’s ok to do what you want to do. It’s ok to say no if you don’t want to do what they do.” We encourage her to ask questions, voice her opinion, and explore the world around her. We let her know that her differences are what make her so unique and amazing.

As parents, I think we all secretly want our children to grow up valuing what we value, placing importance on the same things we do. Unfortunately, we can’t control who or what they become and how they live. Our children only come to that from being given the freedom to get there on their own.