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How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter

The Mommy Brain Blog

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Il Cervello Delle Mamme!

The Mommy Brain was published in Italy today! Me piace moltissimo!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Please join the Buzz!

With my new facebook page

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

just in case you haven't read enough of the Tiger Mother backlash...

....I will just point out that, at least in my experience, the approach can be disastrous for some cubs.

I was certainly determined to foster excellence in my two sons, even if they hated me for it. After all, some of their same genetic material had produced three physicians (my siblings) and two well-educated, devoted journalists (their parents). Thus it was that my instinct, on hearing my first son's excellent Apgar scores, was to think: "Harvard, here we come!"

Then life, as it so often does, intervened. Nine years later, my verbally gifted, adorable son was diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, with a side order of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, the latter of which I suspect at least in part arose from my relentless efforts, and his teachers', to get him to do quite a lot of things that were in truth beyond his ability. With our family in constant conflict, and my son so chronically angry that we could barely get him to school each day, I learned the hard way that I needed to back off of the mandatory music lessons and homework tutors, and even to let him fail academically if need be, rather than keep up the pressure.

It has been one of the hardest challenges of my life, this balancing act between efforts aimed at external and internal success.

Yet with more than 5 million US children now diagnosed with ADHD, motherhood for millions of women has become just this sort of test of coping with ambiguity. How much does personal happiness count, compared to someone's net impact on the world? Where is the line between explanation and excuse? And will I have succeeded as a parent if my son ends up never fulfilling his considerable potential -- as long as he stays on the right side of the law?

In my own quest for answers, I sought out mothers I respected who had gone through something similar. One of the wisest of these was Lyda Rose, whose son Todd had dropped out of high school as a senior, with a GPA of .09, and narrowly avoiding juvenile hall, after which he got his teen-aged girlfriend pregnant and sold fences for minimum wage. Today he teaches education neurosciences at – you guessed it! – Harvard.

As a teenager, Rose, who had serious learning challenges, was scolded by teachers and brutally bullied by peers. He didn’t tell his mother about any of the worst of it until years later, but she soon realized on her own that he needed her warmth and acceptance much more than high expectations. “Todd was dying inside, and for awhile, I would never get that,” Lyda told me. “But I finally decided that this kid cannot be attacked everywhere. I have to change at least what happens between him and me.”

She began paying less heed to Todd’s teachers and principal, instead coming up with her own plan to help him survive adolescence. When he brought home his report card with all F’s and one D, Lyda recalls, “I looked at the D, and said, what did you like about this class?”

Another wise mother I've talked to much more recently is psychologist Wendy Mogel, the best-selling author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” who told me that she herself was diagnosed with ADHD, as an adult. While her main message for parents involves encouraging independence and resilience, she advises parents of learning-challenged children not to worry so much about overindulging them. “These kids are battle-weary,” she says. “They get post-traumatic stress disorder of confidence, of their intrinsic pleasure in learning and trying new things.”

Aristotle, who might agree with Amy Chua, wrote that happiness is the realization of "unimpeded excellence." Yet modern science has shown us that happiness may more often rely on healthy human connections. Ultimately, in my home, I had to make sure that at least my son's connection with me remained strong. So today I tread that line between high expectations and nurturing. It's never easy, but I guess that's one reason they call it a job.