i have some opinions abt parenting

By Laura Gao • 21 min read
April 2023

I sit on the plush red subway chairs, southbound to Union Station. Trees and highway cars whizz by the window to my left. On my phone, I pull open a pdf copy of How to talk so kids would listen.

The book starts off:

I was a wonderful parent before I had children. I was an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs. Then I had three of my own.

Living with real children can be humbling. Every morning I would tell myself, “Today is going to be different,” and every morning was a variation of the one before: “You gave her more than me!” . . . “That’s the pink cup. I want the blue cup.” . . . “This oatmeal looks like throw-up.” . . . “He punched me.” . . . “I never touched him!” . . . “I won’t go to my room. You’re not the boss over me!”

Ahh, maybe this would be my problem too. Right now, it's easy for me to point out flaws with my parents... maybe I'll get humbled

Direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave. When kids feel right, they’ll behave right. How do we help them to feel right? By accepting their feelings!

hmmm interesting... i"m not sure if i agree. "When kids feel right, they'll behave right."

Problem—Parents don’t usually accept their children’s feelings. For example: “You don’t really feel that way.” “You’re just saying that because you’re tired.” “There’s no reason to be so upset.” Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them not to know what their feelings are—not to trust them.

Hmm I think I have experienced this. "teaches them not to know what their feelings are—not to trust them." I have definitely experienced this.

A nebulous pressure against the walls of my stomach hints that I'm full. I stand up, grab my water bottle, head upstairs. I'm midway up the stairs when dad walks out of his office. "Laura, ni chi hao le ma? (have you finished eating)"

Translation: when I was a kid, sometimes not enough to eat, would go hungry. I dreamt of days where I'd had a mountain of bread, and I could eat through it all. I want my children to live a better life than me. To never experience that.

"Yes, I'm full."

Mom: "can't finish the vegetables. can you help me?"

I have a habit. I sit at the buffet. These vegan prawns in my chopsticks they jiggle back and forth as I raise them up. They taste like flavoured rubber.

But fuck. I have 3 of them on my plate. Hmm. Let's combine this with [rice], close my eyes and try to turn off my taste buds and chew chew chew as fast as possible. Then quickly wash it down with water.

Finishing my plate was the right thing to do. Before the age of 17, I never felt hunger or fullness, unless it was chinese new year buffet and I ate till my stomach physically hurts to drink water, -> that's how i knew id eaten too much. I eat at mealtimes, I eat as much as necessary to help mom finish everythign she cooked.

Then I went to WARP and met Harry and Damon and I realized that it's worth paying attention to my feelings, because they contain information. The vague outward tension in my stomach = I am full and probs stop eating.

"Sorry, mom. I'm full."

"C'mon, I'm full too. Just half a bowl of vegetables left. We can split it."

When I grow up, when I live on my own, I don't want to make myself eat more than necessary to "finish what I cooked." I'd rather eat leftovers.

After the session I remember thinking, “Maybe other parents do that. I don’t.” Then I started listening to myself. Here are some sample conversations from my home—just from a single day.

CHILD: Mommy, I’m tired.
ME: You couldn’t be tired. You just napped.
CHILD: (louder) But I’m tired.
ME: You’re not tired. You’re just a little sleepy. Let’s get dressed.
CHILD: (wailing) No, I’m tired!
CHILD: Mommy, it’s hot in here.
ME: It’s cold. Keep your sweater on.
CHILD: No, I’m hot.
ME: I said, “Keep your sweater on!”
CHILD: No, I’m hot.

Oooh I have experienced this too.

I'm three years old. I'm walking down the sidewalk next to Zhejiang university, holding my mom's hand. A tickle in my nose, and Ach-ooo!

Mom: you must be cold. Luckily, I got a sweater here.

Me: I'm not cold. I actually enjoy this breeze on my bare arms.

Mom: If you weren't cold, then you wouldn't have sneezed.

Me: I think my nose was just itchy.

Mom: I think you should put on this sweater anyway. Be careful. You don't want a cold.

Sure, I guess so. I put on the sweater. 5 mins later, I notice the "闷" feeling inside, stuffy and humid and suffocating in the hot air between the cloth and my skin, but wtv. Mom knows best.

I'm five years old. I'm walking next to my mom. I feel a tickle in my nose, and I will myself not to sneeze. I'm not cold.

CHILD: That TV show was boring.
ME: No, it wasn’t. It was very interesting.
CHILD: It was stupid.
ME: It was educational.
CHILD: It stunk.
ME: Don’t talk that way!

Ahahah look at that. That kid has more boldness than me. If I thought an educational video an adult put on for me was boring and badly made, I'd almost never say it. I learnt not to.

at home, i read fiction books. hmm. unshatter me seems like, im 30% in and i already can kinda predict what the rest of the plot will be. im guessing it'll probaby be just like red queenl, and every other scifi book with protagonist victim or smtn. but hey, im 10, who am i to judge what this adult author wrote.

there is a voice at the back of my head, a vage intuition, a cloud, a nebula dust settling the beginnings of a star but still a haze, peeping hmm maybe you're bored of this book but i finish it because im a good student that reads book

i put down things to make and do in the 4th dimension and look at the x being moved to the other side of the eqn, just simply +2 on each side to cancel out the -2, because, hey, maybe i don't actually know this concept

now, looking back, with the clarity of being an ivy league student and successful and woohoo, i can see, u fucking gaslit urself hard babe

i want to go back, hold her in my arms, and tell her, hey laura, your taste is valuable. david perell wrote taste is one of the fucking most important things in ur career. taste is steve jobs think different minimalist apple campaign, taste is choosing to talk about the string of fairy lights on the balcony and ceramic fire rather than [another sensxory detail] when ur writing an essay about atlas, taste is when you choose penn over cambridge, choose to write about filmmaking for ur common app essay, choose to not date [UO]. i can look back, as a "successful" high school student, and say, hey laura, your intuitions contained information, that class really was boring, that teacher not letting you read really did hurt your learning, that book had a see-through plot and you didn't have to finish it to prove that you are a good student that finishes books. building accurate models of the world is like, one of the most important things to decision making, to knowledge work, to startups and investment, to doing creative work with agency that's not a rote repetitive task. YEARS OF MY LIFE discarding my data because an adult knows better!

Can you see what was happening? Not only were all our conversations turning into arguments, I was also telling my children over and over again not to trust their own perceptions but to rely on mine instead.

"not to trust their own perceptions but to rely on mine instead"!!! exactly. exactly the point.

Once I was aware of what I was doing, I was determined to change. But I wasn’t sure how to go about it. What finally helped me most was actually putting myself in my children’s shoes. I asked myself, “Suppose I were a child who was tired, or hot or bored? And suppose I wanted that allimportant grown-up in my life to know what I was feeling . . . ?”

Fuck. When I felt tired or hot or bored... did I even tell the grown-ups?

Over the next weeks I tried to tune in to what I thought my children might be experiencing, and when I did, my words seemed to follow naturally. I wasn’t just using a technique. I really meant it when I said, “So you’re still feeling tired—even though you just napped.” Or “I’m cold, but for you it’s hot in here.” Or “I can see you didn’t care much for that show.” After all, we were two separate people, capable of having two different sets of feelings. Neither of us was right or wrong. We each felt what we felt.

GOSH. YES. Damn it. My home would be a different place if my parents ackhowledged that "we were two separate people, capable of having two different sets of feelings. Neither of us was right or wrong. We each felt what we felt."

For a while, my new skill was a big help. There was a noticeable reduction in the number of arguments between the children and me. Then one day my daughter announced, “I hate Grandma,” and it was my mother she was talking about. I never hesitated for a second. “That is a terrible thing to say,” I snapped. “You know you don’t mean it. I don’t ever want to hear that coming out of your mouth again.”

That little exchange taught me something else about myself. I could be very accepting about most of the feelings the children had, but let one of them tell me something that made me angry or anxious and I’d instantly revert to my old way


Also, god, I love these comics in this book:

SEE. LOOK AT THAT. KIDS ARE SMART. Kids are much much smarter than society gives them credit for. Look, I understand, when you see a 5 year old, the girl's head is at your bellybutton, her hair in the pigtails her mom tied for her this morning and carrying a barbie backpack, you'd think she's just a little cutie who likes her cute little dolls.

But if you give them space, they are able to think of their own solutions!

[I have some examples in my childhood of this. perhaps fill in later.]

I think. This is similar to what Harrison did for me. Harrison, my TKS director in 2020, one of the first non-parent adult/auhtority/mentor figures whom <33

I tell harrison that I'm sleeping later than I'd like, I'm procrastinating my focus, I have many character flaws. "Why?" he asks. "What stops you from sleeping early?"

"Hmm," I'd say, "perhaps activation energy of getting up and shower."

He'd ask, "how can you lower the activation energy?"

"i guess by showering right after dinner. or deciding that if i don't want to shower one day, i could just not bc sleeping is more important than showering to me, but im afraid of building that habit."

and by the end of the talk id be coming up w my own solutions.

Today at Socratica, Aadil tells me that the job of a therapist isn't to give advice. A good therapist asks the right questions. Helps you explore your problem. Sometimes, as you understand the problem better, the problem fixes itself. [1]

I think when I was a kid, an adult sitting down with me and listening to my problems, really caring to understand how I feel, would've gone miles.

But I had no one in my life to do this with. So I had to do it to myself. Journalled daily/weekly for a few years on and off (grade 4 to 7 ish). Wrote blog post reflectos. So many of them, god. 200+ daily updates, consistent daily for half a year before switching to weekly ones. Pepped talked myself, with the questions Harrison asked me. "Why is this bothering you? Why don't you like sleeping early? Why do you go on discord even if you aren't enjoying it? What makes it hard to leave?"

These are basic questions! It's not hard! And I think you, parents, should try this out.

Dad tells me that he has lots of daily problems with Daniel and Angela (my brother and sister, 7 and 10 yrs old). One of his biggest bothersome ones is getting Daniel to brush his teeth every day.

I observe them.

It's 9pm, bedtime. Daniel calls dad upstairs. "I brushed my teeth! Now shower with me."

Dad: no, you didn't actually brush your teeth.

Daniel: I did!

Dad (to me): so, look, his toothbrush is dry, it's very clear he didn't brush his teeth. but if he claims he did, there's no way for me to argue with him.

No shit daniel has evolved to lie to you, I think. when he tells you that he didnt brush his teeth, you scold him, put on your angry face, tell him "you're supposed to brush your teeth. you have a long way to go before being mature if you can't brush your teeth. didn't mom and I and your teachers all tell you the importance of brushing teeth? why aren't you listening to us?"

So obviously if he gets negative experience when he says he didnt brush teeth, he doesnt want to. and when he lies, you don't scold him. pavlov conditioning!! simple!!

I pull daniel aside. Kneel down so I'm eye level.

"Hey daniel, I want to ask you a question, okay? I'm curious if you enjoy brushing your teeth. I know when I was younger, I didn't really enjoy it."

He looks at dad. looks back at me. looks at the ground. "not really."

"can I ask why don't you enjoy it?"

"well... when i hold my toothbrush, my hand hurts."

genuinely be curious about their problem!!

"does it hurt every time you brush your teeth?"


"wow, that sounds painful. to go through that twice a day."

he nods.

"if your hand doesnt hurt when you brush your teeth, do you think you'd enjoy brushing your teeth?"

"maybe. but i think i would feel bored."

"haha it's okay i feel bored too. but usually i make myself do it anyways. sometimes i don't though and i get lazy. oops."

I turn to dad. "did you know that his hand hurts when he brushes his teeth?"


"daniel, have you tried wrapping a towel around your toothbrush, maybe? or a sponge? or, hmm, there are rubber grips around pencils to make them less painful to write with, perhaps they exist for toothbrushes too. have we tried searching online for them?"


"dad, is that possible to try out?"

mom comes over. "yeah we can try that. or we can go to the store and see if there are toothbrushes with better grips."

anyways. i turn to dad. "see. you had this problem with him for months. and you never once thought to ask why is it hard for him to brush his teeth. if i were you, this would be the first question i'd ask. understand the problem before trying to solve it."

what i dont say: you were so focused on giving advice. enforcing your worldview of correct morals. that. you. didnt. even. think. to. have. empathy.

i walk away. small W, i guess. maybe dad would respect my problem solving abilities more now, smh.




naman: “yeah that's a bitch innit." amy, "unlike most people, you like disagreement. you try to make friends by engaging in disagreement but you end up pushing them away. although i know you don't intend to be judgemental." harrison, "yeah, you want to leave discord, but you stay on bc it's the path of least resistance. bc u dont have the activation energy. yeah that must feel terrible to repeat that cycle every day."


tears press against my eyelids and threaten to fall into the trance of gravity. i'm on the subway staring at my phone, but i don't care.



no one. ever. talked to me like this. [2]

If anyone can refute me--show me I'm making a mistake of looking at things from the wrong perspective--I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth has never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

-- Meditations 6:21

[everywhere everythign all at once scene]

Ok. dad. to recap, here's where ur philosophy is wrong.

BEING SCOLDED FEELS RLLY BAD so they'll just avoid u when they make mistakes lol. if you scold them, u live in a world where ur kids [do not go to u when they have problems or make mistakes and try to solve them on their own]. alternatively, u can choose to live in a world where ur kids see u as a mentor figure/role model who can help them with their problems.

if you listening to kid and them being heard (this requires you to be genuinely curious about their problems), they think of their own solutions. depending on the situation, this is more effective than advice.

  1. smtn about feelings matter. when kids feel right, they act right. when kids feel right talking to you, they, um, [sjdkfjdsk cant articulate this point rn come back]
  2. something about teaching kids to not trust their own jdugements abt the world when u tell them to trust ur observations over theirs [do u want to raise sheep?]

[i dont think these args are convincing rn to dad, who holds the opposite viewpoint, so im going to uh refine these.]

this following section is kinda a tangent, so feel free to skip to "childhood/authority was traumatic, and i want to take a gap year to heal."

[insert marcus aurelius quote]

i think there's also some other point i want to articulate. about, like, hmm sometimes there is thing u think is right. but. kid doenst think so. hmm. what do u do.

and like i tink u shouldnt scold them for asking questions! like asking "why brush teeth?" 9/10 kid is genuinely curious and not rebelling. "oh bc ur supposed to" is a very nonanswer, or "you'll understand when you're older," and -_- cmon ur not even trying to foster independent thinking.

if u dont do this enough times, kid learns to not ask questions. when kid disagrees with you, kid learns to

it genuinely hurts to work on smtn when u dont believe in it!! [i have lotslotslots examples of this]

have genuine conversations! talk for hours abt burshing teeth or smtn. go on a deep dive in google together (ur modelling good behaviour/figure it out mindset/researching science asw!! 2 birds w 1 stone.)

if at the end of a genuine attempt, they still dont understand, i think it's like fine to default to "trust mommy, you'll understand when you're older."

but this relies on ur kid trusting you! and i beleive should be used sparingly. like. last resort.

how is kid gonna trust u and feel comfy with u if u repeatedly deny their feelings.

ok there's one last thing i want to articulate in this ~~mumble jumble of words~~ essay.

childhood/authority was traumatic, and i want to take a gap year to heal

Like i mentioned.

That line about kids growing up not trusting their feelings, because adults tell u to listen to theirs, hit SO HARD. Look - that's what happened to me, like, exactly. Now I have the language to talk about it! ~~i wanna cry, gosh, getting ur internal state acknowledged feels so good~~

and then, I read the cook and the chef by waitbutwhy. I went to tks and atlas and warp type communities, where i realized that my intuitions about this world are useful! and often right, look, someone gave me $50k because my independent thinking produced interesting opinions, okay. and i shouldnt dismiss my thoguhts bc an adult "knows better."

now that i got into an ivy league school, maybe itd be credible if i say now that i was correct, since i was like 9 years old, that school is a load of bullshit that doesnt uphold the purpose of education. i knew this. i didnt admit that i could be correct until 15ish. i thought i was being a bad student and a rebel by questioning school.

to this day, i still have trouble believing authority is wrong. i get so scared when an authority figure expresses displeasement with me. walking into the recreation center, dennis at the ping pong table and me "are you allowed to go there," him, "yeah probably, dude u own a condo here. what, are you scared?"

at the cash register, the cashier huffing about my debit card not working and i wanted to crawl into a corner. the dude at the ida pharmacy scolding me about using the bathroom without asking him-

(a public bathroom, mind you?????)

no joke, the fastest way to scare me is to dress up as authority and scold me.

anthony said the thing where, "labels are cringe, just like whoever u like it's not that deep." and i realize. fuck. that's exactly what i believed?? when i was in gr 7 and they brought lgbtq speakers over and i realized that idk whether im straight or bi or ace or smtn? or hmm sometimes i dont like being a girl does that mean i have dysphoria?

and then id ask a q about it, and the speaker would say, it's ok to be unsure, one day you'll figure it out. for me, i just knew that i am [gay/trans].

and years being like "fuck what's wrong with me why cna't i just know already."

but anthony said it! and wow. that's legit. yes. i agree. based.

smh only when someone else said it, i felt like i could believe it.

i thought i fixed my independent thinking problems 2.5 years ago, during that tks sesh on unconventional paths

anyways. i think the only way i can heal from this is to like, just, not follow authority and be bolder. i tell rishi this and he's like, yeah, that's common sense. so.

gap year babes

let's get farrrr away from any fucking authority in this life

i own my life now!!



heroic responsibility. extreme ownership. i am responsible for everything that happens in my life!!!

fr this time.

fuck is it bad that. "i am responsible for everything that happens in my life" is all i ever wanted 😭😭😭😭

dad i hope i proved it to you with this essay and the other ones that im able to be responsible for my own life and self-improvement 🥺 pleaseeeeeee can you trust me

[1] this is also my experience w that "therapy session” w damon btw. can fill you in, dear reader, if you are curious

[2] (at least not for like. the first. 14. years. of. my. life. ty naman actuallyyyyy our recent conversations and u acknowledging my feelings helped a lot <3)


ah that conversation with dad with the autism/social thing and it was 3h and turns out i just wanted my internal state acknowledged but he didnt.

leave a msg for laura

i respect your emotional rawness. keep introspecting, maybe a little less inspirational quote posting...

msgs are anonymous. optionally leave ur name & discord (or other contact info) if u want me to respond