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Squawking Chicken and The Dolphin Way: 2 takes on motherhood

Categories: Books, Featured

One is a well-known Canadian gossip maven's funny mother-daughter memoir about being raised by an eccentric tiger mom. The other is a parenting guide by a Vancouver psychiatrist who shifted from high-pressured parenting to the laid-back attitudes of her traditional Indian mum. But both Elaine Lui and Shimi Kang's books are loving tributes that celebrate the women who ultimately produced two successful high-achievers — perfect reading for Mother's Day.

Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter to Do? A Memoir (Sort of), by Elaine Lui

Elaine Lui and momAuthor and online gossip maven Elaine Lui poses with her mom. (Dexter Chew)

Elaine Lui is the entrepreneurial powerhouse behind Laineygossip, an international blog on all things celebrity. Though her Ma — dubbed Squawking Chicken — may appear like the famed immigrant "tiger parent," she ultimately defies definition.

"She's Chinese, she squawks like a chicken, she is totally nuts and I am totally dependent on her," Lui writes. Moreover, "not only is the Squawking Chicken impatient, judgmental and unforgiving, she's also a chronic boaster."

You can't put Lui's book down: her mother is fascinating. She jumps out of the pages with her rhinestone jewelry, flashy running shoes and aviator sunglasses.

Bestowed the nickname (translated from Cantonese) because of THAT voice, Squawking Chicken nudges and shamelessly guilts her daughter to strive toward her potential by dispensing wisdom through ghost stories, the iron rules of feng shui, analogies from the mahjong table and plain old common sense.

One motto: "You should always walk like an elephant. A real woman doesn't creep into a room."

Other pearls from Squawking Chicken:

  • "Don't wear bangs if you are over 30" (deflects good karma).
  • "Never bring home an umbrella found in the street" (invites bad ghosts).
  • "If a boyfriend is too proud to respect your parents, how much does he respect you?"
  • Eat papaya every day (if you're Elaine) to stay lucky. (In the case of Lui's good-natured husband, a banana.)
  • "If you can tell the story of the worst thing that ever happened to you, you'll never be silenced."

"Many of my life lessons came from Ma's personal tales," according to Lui. "The moral messages embedded in Ma's stories form the foundation of my life code."

Lui writes of her Ma's hardscrabble Hong Kong upbringing. As a gorgeous young woman, Ma married for love, immigrated to Canada and struggled to make a life for her family, but — while Lui was in elementary school — returned to Hong Kong for several years because (she said) she wanted her husband to grow up. The family reunited upon her return, but Lui never fully explores the impact of those lost years.

Ma doesn't call her daughter on her birthday out of principle. "Why should I call you on your birthday? You should call me for giving birth to you. Now where's my money?" Lui recounts. It's Ma's spin on the concept of filial piety in traditional Chinese culture: that a child's primary duty is to honour his or her parent.

And Lui does this with all her heart: she understands and feels compassion for her mother — forgiving her failings, including the inability to make lasting friendships (except with her daughter) because she couldn't ever trust anyone enough.

Lui, who penned her memoir while her mother in hospital with a potentially fatal disease, concludes that Squawking Chicken only ever wanted for her daughter what she herself couldn't achieve.

"She did for me what her parents didn't do for her. She was my mother and my hero. I am the Squawking Chicken's daughter and her only friend. It can be a burden, sure. But mostly, it's my life's honour."

And, incidentally, "Ma didn't read the book herself," Lui recounted in an email. "She knows everything that's in it though and thinks the book is brilliant — because it's about her."

The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids — Without Turning Into a Tiger by Shimi Kang

Shimi Kang and momAuthor and psychiatrist Shimi Kang poses with her mother. (Shimi Kang)

The Dolphin Way is Shimi Kang's parenting how-to, written from a somewhat unusual perspective.

A Harvard-trained psychiatrist and medical director of Vancouver Coastal Health's community mental health programs for children and youth, Kang draws widely on her clinical experience working with depressed, anxious and addicted children. But she also defers to the wisdom of her uneducated South Asian mother, who raised healthy, happy, high-achieving children seemingly effortlessly.

Kang was a self-described "tiger mom" to her own three kids, until an epiphany on one busy, over-scheduled day, when decided to become a "dolphin," like her mother.

The dolphin parenting concept is that children do best when allowed to play freely, have balance in their lives and find their own way — under the guidance of positive role models. For instance, Kang says her mother never registered her for a single extracurricular activity during her years growing up in Vancouver.

"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 community," Kang said.

Kang concluded this was the secret to good parenting - particularly after treating a revolving door of Canadian kids strung out by parents who had over-scheduled and over-parented them. In one disturbing example, a Vancouver boy was so fed up with his mother's pressurized parenting that he had a breakdown and locked her in the basement for the weekend.

"When I became a mother, my mom told me 'Your children are not your own. They belong to the universe and just pass through your home for guidance along their journey,'" Kang writes.

"This statement helped me let go of my anxiety along with my need to control uncontrollable aspects of my children's lives."

Wise-cracking Lui and Harvard brain Kang are the products of very different parenting strategies — or are they? The former's wacky Ma and latter's grounded mom both gave their daughters the confidence to go out into the world and make their presence felt. How? In each case: with a lot of unconditional love — and maybe that's what truly matters.

— by Jennifer Clibbon

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