Iris Chen is a recovering Tiger mother and founder of the Untigering movement. In her book Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent, she shares her journey and reflections on shifting away from parenting rooted in power to parenting grounded in partnership.
She's an American-Born Chinese who ended up with kids who are Chinese-born Americans. She's a peaceful parenting advocate, intersectional unschooler, anti-oppression activist, and deconstructing Tiger Mom.
In this episode, Iris shares how a workshop about brain science began a long journey to deconstructing everything she thought she knew about parenting, school, and even religion.
She began to move away from Tiger parenting which is based in control, which was the way she was raised and the culture she was surrounded by and began a process of re-parenting herself. She shows gratitude for her strong-willed firstborn, resisting her control and pushing her to learn and grow and find another path. She speaks to the regret of not learning it sooner, and how she was able to share her journey so publicly in her book without shame.
We also dive into a deeper conversation into her shift from getting all the accolades and awards and formal schooling to finding and loving unschooling as a family.
So wherever you're at in your reckoning or movement towards more positive discipline approaches, I know that you'll be able to find gems in this episode that will keep you going for years to come.
// CONNECT WITH IRIS CHEN //
Untigering: Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent book
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Their early childhood years is that time when it's so formative, you know, all that childhood development is when I was Tiger parenting and causing a lot of harm with my control and my anger and my punishment and all of those things. But, you know, when I started shifting and pivoting, there was a lot of healing. And a lot of trust has been rebuilt. And so now that my children are older, we have like a great relationship. And there's so much love and trust and appreciation of each other now...Danielle Bettmann:
Ever feel like you suck at this job? Motherhood, I mean? Have too much anxiety, not enough patience. Too much yelling, not enough play. There's no manual, no village, no guarantees. The stakes are high. We want so badly to get it right. This is survival mode. We're just trying to make it to bedtime. So if you're full of mom guilt, your temper scares you. You feel like you're screwing everything up. And you're afraid to admit any of those things out loud. This podcast is for you. This is Failing Motherhood. I'm Danielle Bettmann. And each week we'll chat with a mom ready to be real. Sharing her insecurities, her fears, your failures and her wins. We do not have it all figured out. That's not the goal. The goal is to remind you, you are the mom your kids need. They need what you have. You are good enough. And you're not alone. I hope you've happened ear buds somehow sneak away and get ready to hear some hope from the trenches. You belong here, friend. We're so glad you're here. Hey, it's Danielle. Welcome back. In this episode, I'm interviewing Iris Chen. Iris is a recovering Tiger mother and founder of the Untigering movement. In her bookUntigering:
peaceful parenting for the deconstructing Tiger parent. She shares her journey and reflections on shifting away from parenting rooted in power to parenting grounded in partnership. She's an American Born Chinese who somehow ended up with kids who are Chinese born Americans. She spent over a decade living and raising her kids in China and now resides with her family in California. She's a peaceful parenting advocate, intersectional unschooler anti-oppression activist and deconstructing Tiger Mom. In this episode, Iris shares how a workshop about brain science began a long journey to deconstructing everything she thought she knew about parenting, school, and even religion. She began to move away from Tiger parenting which is based in control, which was the way she was raised and the culture she was surrounded by and began a process of re-parenting herself. She shares a lot of correlations and wisdom connecting how we relate to ourselves is interconnected with how we show up as parents. She shows gratitude for her strong-willed firstborn, resisting her control and pushing her to learn and grow and find another path. She speaks to the regret of not learning it sooner, and how she was able to share her journey so publicly in her book without shame. We also dive into a deeper conversation into her shift from getting all the accolades and awards and formal schooling to finding and loving unschooling as a family. So wherever you're at in your reckoning or movement towards more positive discipline approaches, I know that you will find aspects of your experience in Iris's story, and be able to find gems that will keep you going for years to come. So please enjoy this interview with Iris. Welcome to Failing Motherhood. My name is Danielle Bettmann. And on today's episode, I'm joined by Iris Chen. Welcome. Thank you so much for being here.Iris Chen:
Thank you for having me, Danielle.Danielle Bettmann:
So I know we originally connected on Instagram a while ago, and I had been following you because you're just cultivate all the best from like all of the, you know, parenting influencers. And there's so much good out there that I did not know, was a thing, at least in my first few years of motherhood. And I know probably there's a lot of moms that are either just finding it or overwhelmed by it or haven't found it yet. And that's okay. But I'm excited to be able to share your journey and your story because it's very relatable and you are just a mom that is sharing her journey of kind of figuring it all out as you go. Reconciling that with the way that you were raised and the culture that you're in. And I just so appreciate your transparency. So thank you for your willingness to come on and share with us. Huh,Iris Chen:
thank you.Danielle Bettmann:
So go ahead and introduce yourself. I already shared your bio but just who are you and who's in your family?Iris Chen:
Yeah, so like you mentioned I'm Iris, I am now a mom to two teen tweens. So I have two boys who are 12 and 14. And we were living in Asia for many years. But in 2019, moved back to the states and so have been back for a few years, right before the pandemic. So yeah, like you mentioned, this really, like Untigering has really been about my own journey of shifting away from that authoritarian, hierarchical, controlling high demand parenting that I grew up with, to embrace peaceful parenting. And, yeah, it's really been my own journey. And like, everything that I share on my social media, is stuff that I need to remind myself. So I really approach this not as an expert, you know, I don't have any degrees behind my name. I'm not a therapist, I'm not any. I'm just a mom, who is learning and is trying to practice this. And so I feel so much for the parents who struggle because I'm that parent, but also encouraging all of us like to, we still need to hold ourselves accountable, we still are responsible to grow and heal, and that in community, we can do it. Yes.Danielle Bettmann:
So just to qualify, have you ever felt like you're failing motherhood?Iris Chen:
is like, whose standard am I trying to meet? Like, there's so much more grace. Now, now that I understand more about peaceful parenting and myself is really about embracing my own humanity, so that I can embrace the humanity of my children. And so it's completely okay to mess up. It's, I think the idea of failure is that sort of Tiger parenting mindset where it's like, there's a certain standard, you need to get 100%, you need to ace this thing. Otherwise, you should be ashamed, you should feel you're the mom guilt or whatever. And I'm really trying to move away from that, where it's like, it's not about those expectations. It's not about doing everything perfectly. It's about how can I really hold space for all my emotions, understand my own needs, have good boundaries, like, show myself so much grace and compassion, just like I want to do with my children. So this path of peaceful parenting has definitely been a lot about re parenting myself as well.Danielle Bettmann:
Hmm, exactly what you said, embracing your humanity to embrace their humanity. So much of how we treat ourselves is interconnected. Yeah. And related to how we ended up treating our kids then and how we see them and the story we tell ourselves, and you know, all of that, meaning that we correlate to the discipline moments, and it's all in so interconnected. So I know that that wasn't a light switch, you know, from one day, one day, I'm over here, and then next day, everything is different. So walk us through a little bit of the beginnings of that journey paints a picture of the parent that you were the first few years of your kid's life.Iris Chen:
Yeah, so I called my own journey Untigering because I was that tiger parent, that tiger mom. So for those who might not be familiar with the term it comes from, in each was both the Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother, and she just sort of, you know, paints the picture of the Chinese immigrant parent that is very strict, or has very high expectations for their children to obey and achieve, so that they will be successful in life, you know, and so I think that's really tied, perhaps, to the immigrant mentality. And that's the type of parenting that I definitely grew up with. And it wasn't just my parents, you know, in some ways, they might not have been that intense, but it's just the culture around me, as well as school expectations, all of those things. And so I grew up just being the quote unquote, good child like obeying, doing everything I was expected to do, but feeling a lot of resentment along the way. And when I had kids of my own, I just assumed that that's what they should do as well. You know, like, regardless of how they felt they should still obey still make me proud still excel and whatever they tried, and particularly with my oldest child, who was a sensitive and anxious child, and I didn't understand that about him. I thought like that he was difficult. I thought that he was disobedient, that he had tantrums all the time. And I didn't know how to handle it, I thought I just needed to come down harder on him, control him more, punish him harder. All of those things that were used on me that worked on me because I was a more compliant child. But for him, it just wasn't working. It was escalating it more and more. And I felt so much tension and anger and frustration with in my relationship with him. And I was not enjoying him not enjoying being a parent. And that really scared me where it's like, Oh, my goodness, I don't actually like my child, like, how did I get to this point? What do I need to do to heal this. And so coming to this point, where I realized that the problem was not with him. But with me, when aha moment that I had was just going to like a parenting workshop and the speaker was sharing about neurobiology and about how children are really unable to regulate without our help. And if we come down harder on that, and yell at them, punish them, that further dysregulates their brains and their bodies. And she showed us brain scans of, you know what that looked like. And that was like a big lightbulb moment for me, because I realized the expectations that I had, for him to obey, and to be calm and rational, and all of those things were unrealistic and unfair. And I wasn't really seeing the needs, underneath all of that behavior, he was really crying out for help, he needed my help, he was having a hard time. But I just took it really personally and want to just do like, you know, squash all of those emotions, so that I could feel good about myself, and I wouldn't have to deal with those behaviors or those, you know, emotions. And so that was a really big turning point for me, where I just learned to have a lot more empathy and compassion and understanding, instead of just judging the surface behavior. From that point, realizing that I had so much to learn, I started diving into, like, you know, all these books, and podcasts and resources online. And that's what I really began sharing my own journey to as well and have learned so much just by trying to find resources that really helped him challenged me and have begun sharing this with others.Danielle Bettmann:
Which is so needed, and so appreciated. And that's why your movement has grown and your platforms are at the place they are because it attracts like minded moms who want the same things and are working so hard to find the same resources. And they just benefit so much from that sense of community that, oh, I'm not the only one with a kid like this, or I'm not the only one that is, you know, trying to figure this out. And it feels really hard. You think, but I know, the place you were at, you know, with your understanding of discipline at the time and the strategies that you had. It's not coming from a place of, you know, manipulation or not wanting good things for your child, I'm sure that you are functioning from very good intentions. So what were some of those thoughts? Or maybe fears, or things that you felt like you had to do to make him successful? Yeah,Iris Chen:
so I think, you know, also just coming from like a conservative religious background as well, I think, played into, I really did think that I was doing the right thing, you know, like I was raising responsible children, there were values that I wanted to instill in them, whether it was like sharing, or apologizing, or obeying, or being thoughtful, and all of those things. But I think what ended up happening was I was doing it in a very controlling and demanding way. So it was sort of like an outside in approach where I was trying to make them behave in a certain way instead of really cultivating it from inside out where it was actually part of their character. And part of that is really, they need freedom and autonomy, like it cannot be forced upon them. Because that doesn't actually produce the character qualities that we want. It actually produces a lot of resentment, a lot of like performing showing you a certain face in front of you and then turning their back and like doing something completely different, right. So that's not actually like even though there are certain values and qualities that we want to see in our children and model for our children. Doing it in that way is very counterproductive and really shooting ourselves in the foot and so yeah, I think there was after I learned about these things, Things about, you know, peaceful parenting and all of that. There was like a lot of, you know, sadness and guilt and shame for what I did thinking that it was right thinking that what I was doing was good for them and good for our family, and really seeing all the harm that it caused. But I think the beautiful thing is that when we take the time to repair, to, you know, take responsibility for our mistakes, to actually show that we are working hard to change, and all of those things, that healing is possible, like, the trust that I have rebuilt with my children is possible. So I didn't find this way of parenting until, you know, my children are quite a bit older, you know, like eight, six and eight. So their early childhood years is that time when it's so formative, you know, all that childhood development is when I was Tiger parenting and causing a lot of harm with my control, and my anger and my punishment, and all of those things. But, you know, when I started shifting and pivoting, there was a lot of healing. And a lot of trust has been rebuilt. And so now that my children are older, we have like a great relationship. And there's so much love and trust and appreciation of each other now, and so it's never too late, I want to tell parents that it is definitely never too late. And it's not necessarily about those dramatic, you know, when ad changes, either, even though like, after that parenting workshop, I did, you know, stop spanking cold turkey, that was one thing that it was like, Okay, this is causing so much harm, I've got to stop it. But you know, we might have those moments. But a lot of it is just like the daily moment by moment, interactions that we have to where we're sewing back into that love and that trust and connection.Danielle Bettmann:
And that's so beautiful and so important to make the point to share, because at any point, when a parent begins to work on themselves and work on their parenting journey, there's always a before. And it's hard to reconcile with that before, because when you know better than you can choose differently, or have more tools, or have more understanding of even just yeah, what's neurologically going on, or why you get so upset in those moments. But until you have that information, you're doing the best you can with the knowledge and the tools that you have. And that is kind of a reckoning that every parent has to kind of go through if they decide based on new information to start to do things a little bit differently. And there is guilt, and there's shame, and there is regret. And so for you to be able to speak about that. So publicly. How did you view that in a way that was healing?Iris Chen:
Yeah, I mean, needing to write about it. In my book, a lot of people asked like, how could you be so honest and vulnerable in your book about all your parenting failures. And I think part of it is like, the very thing that we want to do with our children, which is to look past their behavior, to understand the needs beneath the behavior, that to show them empathy, and compassion, those were things that I needed to offer myself as well, you know, that re parenting that we have to do, where, yes, I was behaving in certain ways, but it was trying to meet a need, it was like a lack of understanding was like, you know, just to understand my inner child and the wounds that I was trying to meet by like needing to control another, you know, to control my child. So, again, like being rooted in that unconditional love for myself, and the resistance of shame, the very things that we want to offer our children is like no matter what they do, no matter how they behave, even the mistakes they make, even though they might be really bad and have dire consequences that I as a parent, you know, want to communicate that I'm always there for them, that we will work through this together, that they are safe that they are loved the the law. And so a lot of that was having to, you know, like work on healing those messages for myself and know like, no matter what, no matter, my quote, unquote, performance as a parent, I am loved and I am worthy of belonging and I'm safe, you know, all those, those matches that we want to speak to ourselves. So I think that helped me to get less defensive. Instead of like, if my identity is threatened, when I am not perfect when I fail, then it's easy for me to get defensive and to like hold on to those ways of being without being reflective. about it. But when I know that my identity is secure, and I know that I'm safe and loved, then I can be more reflective and take responsibility and separate my actions from my worth and who I am, you know, like, oh, I made a bad choice there. And that was wrong. I can call it that. And I can label it that because that doesn't, like, totally make my sense of self crumble, you know. And so I think that's something that I had to strengthen throughout the years, and especially, you know, now doing this more publicly and reading about it more publicly, needing to be really secure, because it's easy for us to feel like imposters, right? Like, yeah, we talk about parenting, and we encourage other people to parent a certain way. But then obviously, we're not perfect, either. And so yeah, just being secure, more secure in who I am, has been really helpful.Danielle Bettmann:
Oh, that's huge. That's huge. And I think, as sad as it is a little bit of still a foreign concept to grownups at this stage of their life, if it wasn't modeled for them. And that foundation wasn't laid, by the ways that they were treated by their parents were hence the term re-parenting, going back to laying kind of those building blocks of the meeting those deepest needs we have as humans. So for you, was that something that you could go back to? Or was that a new foundation that you had to lay? And if so, what steps did you take to do that?Iris Chen:
Yes, it was definitely new. I think, you know, because what I the messages that I received when I was young, was that I needed to be good, I needed to perform, yeah, just do what was right, perform, achieve, not complain, all of those things in order to be loved. And all of that stuff is really implied. It's not like explicitly spoken, like our parents, or our communities would never say that. But I saw how others were treated when they disobeyed, I saw, you know, the messages other people got when they didn't do well. And I also saw what happened when I did do well, and the affirmation and all of those things that I got from that. And so I felt like a lot of it was, you know, based on behavior, my relationship, like my core relationships were all about the year and pleasing the parent or doing what was expected. And so I had to unlearn a lot of that. And for me, personally, like I mentioned, I grew up in like a conservative Christian upbringing. And so some of that was reinforced through that. And part of my journey has been sort of like deconstructing a lot of those beliefs, and experiencing my personal faith in a different way that is based on unconditional love, so that I can offer that to myself. So it has been a huge healing journey. And I continually get opportunities to practice it because it's like, a lifelong journey.Danielle Bettmann:
Yes, so true and important to remember as well. Because again, if we have that conditioning to want to achieve, we want to be able to check the box, we want to be able to arrive, we want to be able to either cling to something or know that I've done thing or arrived and that's very hard with motherhood. There is no arriving.Iris Chen:
It's evolving. Yes. And what's the name of your podcast again, failing...Danielle Bettmann:
Failing Motherhood.Iris Chen:
yeah, Failing Motherhood. And I really feel like that's, like, in some ways, helpful perspective in terms of like, instead of like, winning motherhood, or like perfecting motherhood, I mean, those are just really unrealistic expectations. And if we can accept that we are going to feel sometimes you know that it's going to be messy and imperfect, that there's just so much more ease and grace and playfulness. And yeah, all of that for us.Danielle Bettmann:
Hey, if you're new here, I'm Danielle. My company, Wholeheartedly, offers one on one and group coaching programs to help families with strong willed kids aged one to seven, prevent tantrums, eliminate power struggles, extend their patience and get on the same page. It's kind of like finances. You can read lots of info about what a Roth IRA is and how the stock market works. But if you really want to get serious about paying down debt or growing your wealth, you go see a financial advisor who can give you very specific recommendations based on all the unique facets of your situation. I'm your financial advisor for parenting. And I've designed the way we work together to give you nothing less than a complete transformation. While we work together, I'm able to help you figure out why your child is losing their mind, and why you are losing your mind and guide you to master effective long term solutions through three main focuses. Number one, my cultivating cooperation guide, teaching you the tools of positive discipline. Number two, managing your mind by working through my triggers workbook. And number three, establishing your family's foundation by writing your family business plan. My coaching is comprehensive, practical, individualized and full of VIP support. So if you struggle to manage your child's big emotions, if you and your partner's arguments seem to center around parenting, especially if one of you is too kind, and one of us too firm. If you struggle to stay calm and be the parent that you want to be, it's possible to stop feeling like a deer in headlights when a tantrum hits, effortlessly move through simple directions and care routines without an argument. And go to bed replaying the way you handled the hardest moments and feel proud. If you have a deep desire to be the best parent you can be, and your family is your greatest investment. Find me on Instagram, send me a message that says SANITY. And I'll ask you a few questions to see if we'd be a good fit to work together. I can't wait to meet you back to the show. Yeah, because it takes away that shame of the need to hide in the corner and keep this away from others. And you know, bringing that out into the light and finding community with that. And then it normalizes, oh, I'm not the only one. And this is something that's unexpected part of this journey, and I'm not far from where you need to be, then I can feel okay with seeking out more resources or asking for help or talking to a friend or a professional. Because I do see a path to where I want to be either in my relationship with my child, or you know, the mentality that I want to portray. And so yeah, I want to agree like I am a quote unquote, parenting coach, parenting expert. And you know, this weekend, my daughter, like, kicked my husband in the stomach. And he didn't react according to the textbook. So like, we're still very much having human reality. And yeah, everything is going to be perfect and look perfect as much as you want to. And as much as you're learning and growing. There's always going to be an error for normal-ness, I guess?Iris Chen:
Yeah, I've heard it. I don't know if I have my numbers. Correct. But like even just parenting peacefully and gently like, was it 30% of the time or whatever is like, a great, like, children experienced that as a great childhood when we get it right. 30% of the time. I don't know if that's the right number, but that's a failing grade. Right, very, so it's a failing grade, but it's like enough. And his experience that is still like a wonderful childhood. And they have good relationships, you know, even if we only get it right 30% of the time. So, yes.Danielle Bettmann:
Yes, I think that is an accurate percentage of like, how often like the attachment relationship, their needs need to be met in order to create like a secure attachment. It's like 30%. And so that's it, I think it can be a very comforting thing to hear. Because we focus on the percent that isn't that much more. Right.Iris Chen:
Yeah. So aim to fail!Danielle Bettmann:
Yeah, exactly! And I think you'll probably surprise yourself by how well, you're doing or you're not giving yourself credit for I guarantee it. Yeah. So one thing that I had found on your website was the phrase, you're moving from parenting that is rooted in power to parenting that is grounded in partnership. So tell us more about what that means to you.Iris Chen:
Yeah, so I felt like a lot of my parenting strategies or perspective before was based on hierarchy was based on like, the parent knows best. They have the right to control you and to like trump, your desires and your needs to afford their own comfort and all of those things. But I wouldn't have said it that way. But it is definitely rooted in our dynamic where the parent has all the power and the child doesn't have any say doesn't have any autonomy. And I think learning more about peaceful parenting and Then starting to practice unschooling as well really challenged me to be partners with my children like they are their own people. So instead of being trying to shape them into what I want, or expect them to be, really to honor them to recognize that all of us have different needs, how can we negotiate them together? How can we find Win Win solutions for everyone. So it's not top down. It's not just one person's needs, just like the ones with more power, or even the children like placing the children's needs completely and all the time above the parents needs is not sustainable either. So this idea of partnership has been really powerful. But it's also not, I think I write in my book that it's not necessarily like an equal partnership, where everybody gets a 5050, you know, everybody chips in the same percentage or whatever. It's like equity and not equality, so that every person like is supported and given the resources that they need to thrive, and that is very personalized and unique for each individual and dependents on development. And so those with more power actually, are responsible for more and are responsible for sharing their power more than the members with less power. So yeah, I feel like this idea of partnership where we are working together as a team so that all of us thrive, instead of an antagonistic relationship, which I think is what is created when we use power over people just creates antagonism and tension and conflict.Danielle Bettmann:
Mm hmm. And what you saw with your son's behavior, was the direct result of kind of that rejection of that power?Iris Chen:
Yeah, yeah. He was saying, No, I'm my own person, I'm not having any of that. And my initial response was like, okay, more power, I need to up my game, I need to, yeah, exert more power overhead until it just became clear that that wasn't going to work. So just seeing how I initially came to this in a very pragmatic way, like, I say this, where, if my child by especially my firstborn, and have been compliant, I might never have found peaceful parenting, because I wouldn't be like, Oh, this is working, this is great. I would have never questioned it. And so sometimes it's like the conflict and where we come to the end of our robes, where it pushes us and forces us to really re evaluate and question these patterns that we've accepted, you know, Mm hmm.Danielle Bettmann:
And I really refer to that as like the gift of having a very strong personality child. You know, whether you've heard of that, and strong willed or deeply spirited or somesuch ever. However, you know, that comes off to you, these kids are a gift because they do challenge the norms, and they do push you to look in the mirror and see weaknesses and things that you need to address that you did not realize or a temporary you didn't know you had and there isn't growth, there's growth that we would not have had without these kids in our lives and 100%. That's my story as well. My first was very compliant child, very even keel emotions, not a lot of questions. And you know, so it felt like, Okay, this is a direct, you know, this is a direct reflection of me, I'm doing great as a parent. And I had my second daughter, and that was flipped upside down. And they were only 15 months apart. So it was very much like, this is not me at this point, like what I'm doing isn't working for her. And that's when I had to find a whole new batch of insight and perspective to be able to deal with much bigger emotions and the reactions that were zero to 60. And the things that really bothered her because it felt controlling. She just absolutely could see right through that and really wanted to fight for her own voice and her own path and feel empowered. And that can feel very threatening. If you're seeing things very hierarch-ly? that's not a word. Through the hierarchy...Iris Chen:
hierarchical. Yes. Yeah. And I'm so grateful. Because I think this really helps our compliant children too like when we shift our own parenting, we empower our compliant children to have more boundaries, to have more voice to know that they don't have to perform in order to, you know, please us and all of those things. So I think yeah, I'm so grateful that it shifted our whole family dynamics, so even those compliant children can be more themselves.Danielle Bettmann:
Yes, because you know, you were that child, I was definitely that child growing up. And like you said, it's not spoken expectation is the unspoken expectations and the way that you just really begin to create this reality in your head of how you need to be and who you are to other people, that the more explicit we can be in creating the opposite or just holding space for that they can have emotions, or that they don't need to be perfect, and they are loved. Even if they don't get a perfect grade. That can be exactly the balm that that child needs that we didn't know, they even needed to hear. Yeah, so important. So like you said, you're a self proclaimed overachiever. And you have all the accolades to prove it. Right. You were very successful at school, graduated early with honors from a prestigious university. And now, you're unschooling? So tell me a little bit about that...evolution?Iris Chen:
Yeah. So that's all part of Tiger parenting really, right. You know, it's just like, where are you going to go to school? That's, like, all wrapped up in that. And that's something like culturally as Asian Americans, that is, like a high value for many of us. And, yeah, so what happened was, we were living in China at the time, my husband and I moved there, you know, a few years after we got married, and he was teaching English there at university. And so we started, you know, having kids. So my children were both born overseas in China, and definitely had the expectation that they would, of course, do well in school. That's just unspoken, that they would do that. And I think what happened was, we couldn't get them into the local school, because we were, you know, considered foreigners, and they needed to serve their local community first, and so they didn't have any spaces for us. And so we were sort of running out of options in terms of what we could do for schooling, you know, we didn't want to send them to the international school that was really expensive and Way across town. And so realizing like, Okay, I'm gonna have to homeschool full time, what is this going to look like? And probably just knowing myself as like a deconstructing Tiger parent, like overachiever, perfectionist, that if I was responsible for schooling, my children that that would cause a lot of tension that I would expect them, even though I know that I shouldn't, I would just really have a lot of expectations of them and get upset when they didn't, you know, tick off all the boxes. And so I just heard about unschooling during another parenting conference, one of the speakers was an unschooler and I was like, so fascinated by it, like, what is this thing, I've never heard of anything like it, and went online, learn more about it and just resonated so much with it, I think I was already on my peaceful parenting journey as well. And it just pretty much peaceful parenting, really, it's like respecting the child, honoring who they uniquely are, creating space for them to be children and their authentic selves. And so the more I read about it, the more it's like, Okay, I think this is how I can homeschool in a way that won't tear our family apart, you know, just throw out all the expectations, and just really pay attention to who they are and what they're into. And so it was like, a huge choice for us. Because both of you know, my husband and I are both traditionally educated, we went to public school and did all the things. So this was like, Oh, this is going to be really different. But I think both of us having jumped through all those hoops also saw all the harm in school, like even though we thought it's sort of like that good child syndrome, right? Like, you know, to do all the things. But there was all this harm that came from being that good child. And the same thing with being a good student. Like you can be a good student, and you can thrive and do other things. But you internalize all these negative messages about your worth being tied to your grades, your performance, all of these things. And so we really saw, like the negative effects of schooling in our own lives. And so we just treated it like an experiment where we weren't going to like have any curriculum that we decided on, we weren't going to have homework tests, grades, any of that. And just, like follow our child's lead, follow their lead and see what they were into and support them in that and just learn to live together. Yeah, and so we started that in 2017 and just have been going strong with that ever since. And I really feel Like that has been so transformative to our lives and our relationship with one another. Because we have time to be together, we have time to work through, like conflicts, to really get to know one another, to listen to our bodies to really experience, autonomy and agency in the ways that we want to live our lives. So it's really been transformative for us.Danielle Bettmann:
Wow, I'm so glad. And so what does that look like now as they're a little bit older, on like a day to day basis.Iris Chen:
So I think we moved back to the states and then the pandemic hit. So we were sort of like cloistered in our home for months on end. And it was hard for us to build relationships, right, because we had just moved here and we couldn't meet in person with people, it's hard to find community. And then so I think, especially as my children get older, and those peer relationships, like become really valuable and meaningful for them, my oldest was really asking for more ways to connect with other people with other, you know, peers, on a regular basis. And so we found like a self directed learning center for them that they go to twice a week. So it's not school, in the normal understanding of it. It's like they offer courses and classes, but you're not required to go and there's no test. It's just like, offering learning and information. And so they do that twice a week, and then the other three days of the week, they are home with us. And, you know, they can wake up when they want to and just spend their day, like usually in the beginning of the week, they might have some goals that they set for the week is like, Okay, this is what I wanted to do for this week. And oftentimes, like it doesn't look schoolish it's not like, Oh, I'm gonna write a five paragraph paper, and, you know, the history of whatever. It's like, I'm going to be coding, I'm going to be animating something online, I'm going to be drawing, doing an art collab with somebody, I'm going to read this book that I want to read, I'm going to be playing video games. And so yeah, all of those things. I think, for me, like the unschooling, deschooling process has been to, like, remove those, or to redefine my beliefs about what learning is what education looks like, you know, and it doesn't have to be in those very schoolish ways where we're just fed information that some adults somewhere decided that a fourth grader needs to learn, you know, but then you grew up and like, I don't remember any of that. This is really about, yes, seeing what it is that they love and are passionate about, and supporting them in that and there's so much learning that happens within the context of their passion and their interest in their curiosities. Hmm.Danielle Bettmann:
And I bet they actually have a love of learning that you have cultivated.Iris Chen:
Yeah, exactly because it's not forced on them. But I think it's also something that we that I need to check for myself too, because, like, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to be go out and be engineers, or like, create their own company or whatever, like, it can be very more casual. Like, I think it's easy to choose unschooling, when you have a very driven child, who's going to, like, meet all those Tiger parent expectations anyway, just outside of school, but really, this process has been like, they get to live their own lives. And if they don't want to, like become a professional, you know, animator, that's fine. They're just doing this for fun, they're just engaging with it and learning from it. I don't have to, like, funnel them into becoming like, you know, just this excelling, quote, unquote, in that field. Because I feel like, again, that's just projecting our adult expectations on them, like really focusing on capitalism and making money and what's your career going to be, instead of just allowing them to be who they are and enjoy, enjoy their interest in the moment and, you know, next in a couple of months, those interests might shift and that's completely okay as well. So again, following their lead in just enjoying it with them. Yeah.Danielle Bettmann:
Which can feel so backwards and uncomfortable, when you know, that's not the way that you were raised. That's not the conditioning of the society and the other culture that you have been raised in. So it can feel a little bit scary to trust your child or to trust that process. So, I'm sure that it helps to have a little bit of checks and balances or some overall principles, you know, that kind of ground you or some, you know, plans of other resources that you can connect with, to make sure that you have other places to put your confidence in other than just their, I guess, lack of report card. Right?Iris Chen:
Right, because it's so easy for us who've gone through the system to put our trust in the system, right to believe like, okay, they've graduated, or they, you know, got promoted from eighth grade. So that means that they're okay, when it really doesn't mean anything. And there are no guarantees. And so, it does take a lot of faith and trust to pursue this way of life where, you know, we haven't really seen it done as much or so we don't feel like there are safety nets or guarantees. But when we really think about it, there aren't those safety nets with school, either, you know, you can graduate from college and still really struggled to find a job, you know, there's so many factors that are in play. And so instead of putting our trust in those systems, how can we put more trust into our children into like, equipping them with the ability to learn the ability to figure out life to know themselves, I think that's a big thing about unschooling is like, where children really are given the space to know themselves. Whereas when you're in school environment, you are taught to really suppress a lot of your own knowing your own desires, your own priorities, your own interest, your bodily needs, all of that gets suppressed in order to fit into the system. So, unschooling really allows us to live, like not need to submit to that system and really know ourselves instead. And then to choose a life choose the path forward that is meaningful for us, instead of again, trying to fit ourselves into those systems.Danielle Bettmann:
Mmm..Which is just such a huge life lesson, powerful skill set that we can empower our kids with, for the long haul, that, you know, isn't always an immediate gratification. Tomorrow, we see that payoff, but, you know, years and years down the road.Iris Chen:
Yes, absolutely. Because I think a lot of you know, just as we grow up, and if we look at the society around us, like we need more people who can stand up to systems, right, stand up to injustice know themselves, and won't just say yes, to every thing that comes their way.Danielle Bettmann:
Yeah. And I think that's something that we're just beginning to awaken to, and a lot of ways, but still needing to do a ton of work on really questioning almost everything. Exactly. Yeah. So I love that you can just kind of share what that has looked like for your family. Because sometimes it's... you don't know that it's possible unless you actually kind of see what that journey looks like, or even know that unschooling exists. And so I'm excited to kind of share that from that first person lens, and that your boys are thriving.Iris Chen:
Yeah, they are. And it's just, I'm so amazed and encouraged by this process. And I think, you know, I've been asked like, what, what's the one thing that you appreciate most about unschooling, and that, I definitely have to say, it's like the relationship that we have with one another because of it, you know, just being able to be together and to build that connection and that relationship. And also, when you're around each other all the time, you really need to learn to communicate that you really need to have boundaries, right. So it's not just a free for all. It's not like everybody off doing whatever they want, because that can just lead to so much chaos and tension. And that's not what we're about, you know, it's really about like, all of us matter. And all of us need to figure out how to live in harmony together. And so how can we all get our needs met?Danielle Bettmann:
Yeah, so much opportunity for collaborative problem solving, and creating plans. And yeah, speaking up for yourself all the life skills that we want to, you know, have practice with creating a safe container to do that, so that they feel confident being able to, you know, do that with themselves and later on with friends and coworkers and you know, their future partner and all of that. That's great. So, to start to wrap up, if there is like one pedestal that I can give to you that you can stand up on and you can just speak from, what do you feel like? You would love to make sure to drive home to other moms? What do you feel like they need to hear?Iris Chen:
Yeah, I think it would just go back to what I was saying in the beginning about like, we get to be human, you know that we're all human. And so embracing that humanity, you know whether that means, like our vulnerability, our mistakes, our emotions, all of that, I think that has been really pivotal and healing from me to like, again, let go of those impossible expectations that we often place on ourselves, and really just show ourselves a lot of compassion and grace.Danielle Bettmann:
So needed. Yes. And so how can listeners connect with you in your work and your book?Iris Chen:
Yeah, so you can buy my book, which is called Untigering, Peaceful Parenting for the Deconstructing Tiger Parent, you can find that on Amazon, or pretty much anywhere where you buy books, and also my blog, Untigering.com. And the social media pages or platforms that I'm most active are Facebook, and Instagram. I'm also just @Untigering on those platforms.Danielle Bettmann:
Perfect. I'll put the links to those in the show notes for easy click. And so lastly, what I ask every guest that comes on Is how are you the mom that your kids need?Iris Chen:
I think I am the mom that my kids need by being fully myself. So by not trying to be the mom that they need, but by being honest and authentic about who I am, and taking, you know, repairing and apologizing when I'm not what they need. So I think again, it's really about myself and the work that I need to do on myself and embracing myself and coming to them as fully myself in all my messiness as well.Danielle Bettmann:
No, I know that they are so lucky to have had you on that journey. And be loving that journey out loud and bringing them alongside all of your healing with you. That's such a gift that you can give them and I know your relationship with them is so strong. So they are so blessed to have you as their mom.Iris Chen:
Thank you. Of course.Danielle Bettmann:
Thank you again, for your time. This is a great conversation. And I really appreciate all of your honesty and everything you shared.Iris Chen:
Thank you. It's a great talk.Danielle Bettmann:
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Failing Motherhood. Your kids are so lucky to have you. If you loved this episode, take a screenshot right now and share it in your Instagram stories and tag me. If you're loving the podcast, be sure that you've subscribed and leave a review so we can help more moms note they are not alone if they feel like they're failing motherhood on a daily basis. And if you're ready to transform your relationship with your strong willed child, and invest in the support you need to make it happen. Schedule your free consultation using the link in the show notes. I can't wait to meet you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I believe in you, and I'm cheering you on