I just accomplished my childhood dream of becoming an author, but my mom will not be able to read my book. You see my mom never went to school – not even grade 1 so she can’t read well. Because of this, she never hovered over my homework and didn’t even know I applied to medical school when I was 19. She didn’t read any parenting books or blogs either. My mom parented me (and my four siblings) simply with what she felt in her gut was right for her kids and family. Like most parents of her generation and those that came before her, my mom raised her children by looking and listening to her parental intuition. As a psychiatrist and medical director, who has worked with thousands of kids and families over 10 years, I have seen firsthand how modern day parents are fast loosing that knowledge gifted to us by nature. I believe this disconnection from our parental intuition partly explains the great paradox of our time - that we are the most involved group of parents in human history, yet our children have the highest rates of anxiety, depression, obesity, and addiction than ever before. Today’s trend of over-parenting is seriously under preparing our children for a rapidly changing and ultra-competitive 21st century by interfering with their self-motivation and ability to adapt. This mother’s day, I will thank my mom for not over-parenting, for nurturing my nature, and for ensuring my self-motivation. My mom was a dolphin mom and this is how she parented.
Dolphin moms are balanced and collaborative. My mom was not an over-controlling, overbearing tiger mom. Nor was she a permissive, directionless jellyfish mom. My mom was the balance of these extremes and was firm yet flexible. She had rules and expectations – including clearly expecting us to do well in academics with respectful behavior. Yet, she also valued our freedom to be kids, individual passions, and independent choices.
Dolphin moms do not overschedule. I was never in a single scheduled activity. Not one – ever. My parents didn’t have the time, money, or interest in putting me in an activity. My mom believed that the smartest people were not the busiest, but the most peaceful. Like many of today’s grandparents, she is horrified at our hurried lifestyles – and I agree. I’ve seen far too many kids who are sleep deprived, stressed out, and burnt out simply because of the schedules imposed on them by their parents.
Dolphin moms do not over instruct. My mom believed in classroom learning, but also real world learning. I learned math by counting change for passengers in my dad’s taxi. I learned spelling by translating English for my mom. I learned that living in the real world is what ultimately prepares you for the real world. And without schedules and constant instruction, I learned to play freely and vigorously. It was not until I became an expert on the science of self-motivation, did I realize the awesome power of play. Play is directly linked to the development of our brain’s powerful prefrontal cortex and helps a child develop vital social, intellectual, and emotional skills that cannot be acquired from any other activity.
Dolphin moms do not over-protect. Of course, my mom protected me from serious harm, but she did not shelter me from life’s ups and downs. She let me make my own mistakes – plenty of them! And as long as I was ok, she didn’t rescue me when I fell down. My mom was known for saying “it’s your choice, but it’s also your mess to clean up if it doesn’t work out.”
Dolphin moms create a pod of support. My mom made sure I knew that connection and contribution is the centerpiece of our human culture. Dolphin moms encourage their children to bond to others in a meaningful way. This forms essential social skills, character, values, and a sense of community for themselves and their children.
Dolphin moms adapt. My mom did not parent all five of her kids the exact same way, nor did she stick to the same methods as her kids grew up. My mom constantly adapted to her changing kids and their changing environment.
Dolphin moms have the highest of expectations for their kids. My mom expected me to do well in school but more importantly; to do well in life. She expected me to be independent yet fully connected to my family and community. She expected me to live a healthy life of balance, meaning, and purpose.
My mom was not my academic tutor who hovered over my homework nor was she my personal assistant, slave, or slave driver. As a dolphin mom; she guided me, not directed me. She encouraged me, not instructed me. She let me play freely but also had rules and responsibilities for me. She didn’t teach me math or spelling but she taught me values, role modelled balanced living, and showed me the power of a pod. As a mom of 3 myself, I have learned more about parenting from my mom than from my 15 years of academic training, my 12 years of clinical practice, and from all the books and blogs that I read. So although my mom will wait for the audio version of my book; The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into a Tiger to come out, she doesn’t really need to as she has lived The Dolphin Way her whole life.
Dr. Shimi Kang is an award-winning, Harvard-trained doctor, researcher, media expert, and lecturer on human motivation. She is the Medical Director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver community, a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, and the founder of the Provincial Youth Concurrent Disorders Program at BC Children’s Hospital. She is the author of The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into A Tiger (Penguin Books 2014) and writer whose articles appear in major media outlets including the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Dr Kang has helped hundreds of children, adolescents, and parents move toward positive behaviors and better health. In 2012, Dr Kang received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her years of outstanding community service. She is the proud mother of three “awesome” children!