This is the title to my kids' school's sort of "assigned reading" for parents this year. Last week, the author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, presented to the students and parents, at times mollifying our over-achiever skepticism of her obviously dubious advice. Don't worry about where your kids go to college. Let them drop a class after you caught them cheating in it. Really?
Yes, really. So often, we allow these aspects of our kids' lives to define US just as much as them. Maybe more. In fact, with all of our over-parenting, how can we even know what's ours and what's theirs? Who are our kids, when we have shaped them into who we want them to be? And at what cost?
Well, young adults are more depressed, despondent, and dysfunctional than ever before. Its all about the helicopter parenting, the over-homeworking, the resume-building, and the quest for the name-brand college, followed by the Best Possible Life. The good news and the bad news are, it doesn't really work that way. It turns out our children are actual human beings that we have to get to know, teach, and challenge in some counter-intuitive ways.
Personally, I am not the "helicopter parent." But I am definitely the "concierge parent," doing things to make my kids' lives more comfortable, delicious, special, etc. Sometimes I feel like a tech crew for a big production; I do all the behind-the-scenes stuff, then my kids just roll on stage for their lead roles.
This is all quickly tempered by the fact that, now, I am a single parent. I am often trying to make things nice or easy for my kids so that they won't notice their missing parent, they won't see me over-stretched (also known as saying no) and either be mad at me or sad for me and mad at him or all of the above. Basically, I feel they have suffered sufficiently and now we should roll out the red carpet for them. But ultimately, that would mess things up even more. They are just real, basic kids who need a real life. Real life involves the future, and the future involves becoming adults.
Actually, my kids are like mini-adults already. I tribute Mike with so much of this, and I encourage you to read Love and Logic if you want to know his early childhood system (try to disregard the religious affiliation if this irks you). Basically, it's about critical thinking and personal responsibility. In fact, the Love and Logic guys coined the term helicopter parent back in 1990. There are so many things my kids can do and problems they can solve, they kind of blow me away.
So, why do I still do a bunch of stuff for them? (I feel guilty, etc.) Why do I still cut them off when they are solving problems (I am tired, etc.) I am working on it. A couple of days ago (after the Lythcott-Haims talk), I actually rehearsed and then announced that I would like to teach them how to do the dishes. They both quipped that they know how to do the dishes. Then why aren't they doing them?! Because I am doing them. But I am working on it.
In short. Lythcott-Haims's advise to our high school students: Be kind. Try hard. Think and do for yourself. Widen your options (colleges, professions). Study and become what you love.
Her advise to us parents: See your kids, listen to them. Let them struggle and solve their own problems. Take your ego out of it. Model being a kind and productive person. Have your own purpose. And remember, at the end of the day, all of it boils down to two things: LOVE and CHORES.
Ps. sometimes I summarize books so you don't have to read them. I didn't bother with hers, because it's too packed full of great information, so get the book! It combines everything I love and preach about grit, resilience, learning, parenting, and becoming a truly fullfilled person.
Man, am I glad to be parenting post-millenials. I am also grateful for many millenials I know that don't fit the stereotype.