I was with my two grown sons and their spouses this past month for a family wedding. I have to say that they have turned out well. They seem to have great relationships with their spouses and children; they are working productively in their fields of interest; they care about the communities they live in. And they rarely call me for advice. 🙂 Yes, I am blessed, but I am not taking credit. These outcomes are not due in large measure to great parenting skill on my part. But there are a couple of things I learned along the way through trial-and-error:
- Parent with the long view in mind. It is so easy to get caught up in the short-term gains (like getting good grades and picking the most enriching activities) because all the parents around us are focusing on this very thing. Then we justify our over-involvement (helping with homework; problem-solving for our students; taking care of all the household chores to free them up) to ensure certain results. In my parenting classes, I ask parents to “work backwards”. Start with the ultimate outcomes you desire for your soon-to-be grown child and then ask yourself, “Is the way I am approaching this situation right now going to contribute to these long-term outcomes or am I actually interfering with my child’s progress?” Choosing to solve all your child’s problems (academic or social), choosing to absolve them from chores so they can fit in one more enriching activity, choosing to micromanage your child’s school projects…will not get you where you ultimately want your child to end up—a self-directed, socially adept, healthy, caring and productive adult. If you really want to fight the urge to be your child’s concierge/personal manager, as Julie Lythcott-Haims suggests in How to Raise an Adult, please take 15 minutes to listen to her powerful TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3Jl-IPVjDU. You might even need to bookmark it and listen to it on a monthly basis to give you the courage to swim against the powerful parenting current of over-involvement.
- Parent from a basis of love, not out of fear. Fear justifies almost any poor parenting decision. How many times have I heard myself (and others) say, “I only want my child to be safe and happy.” We can convince ourselves that almost every decision is meant to keep our child safe and on the “right” path. Guess what? Living life involves risk. Growth requires taking risks. Yes, risk needs to be managed, but it can’t be eliminated. We can also convince ourselves that we know best what will make our child happy. Really? It takes courage to believe that what our child needs is not our constant protection and over-direction, but a parent who will create space for the child to become his/her best self. Space for mistakes...even failure. Space for our children to take flight and return. As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg states, "We do this by noticing their growing wisdom and development and honoring their increasing independence."
I agree with Lythcott-Haims’ assessment of the impact that this fear-based, short-sighted, over-involved style of parenting has on our kids. She declares that our teens are “breathless, brittle, a little burned out, a little old before their time”…wondering if what they have done is enough and if this life will turn out to have been worth it.
Do you want to consider a different approach to your parenting? Here are a few suggestions:
- Read Lythcott-Haim’s How to Raise an Adult or listen to her TED talk linked above.
- Gather a group of parents to discuss this over lunch. Don’t be a lone ranger. This is a long, uphill battle against current societal trends.
- Attend a parenting class with a curriculum that provides space for you to become your best self.
Best of luck!