I was at the park with my three year old granddaughter this past weekend. As I was watching the parents running, fetching, pushing, I was reminded of some advice I received from a very wise woman when I had young children. She said, “If you are expending more energy than your children, something is wrong.”
- Organizing homework assignments and projects?
- Planning summer enrichment activities?
- Getting ready for the prom?
- Shopping for their clothing and school supplies?
- Researching colleges for admissions purposes?
If you are nodding yes, something is wrong. Certainly you are well-intentioned, but instead of creating space for your tweens and teens to become their best selves, you are robbing them of opportunities to develop self-efficacy and resilience.
Our rational brain knows this is true, but why is it so hard for us to live out in reality? Lythcott-Haims, in her book How to Raise an Adult, claims, “American parents seem to have equated ‘good’ or ‘successful’ parenting with ensuring our kids never experience even minor, short-term pain.” (p. 26)
As parents, it pains us to see our kids get disappointed, hurt, or even fail. But all the developmental research shows that children need to experience failure to build resilience. We have to resist the urge to “do for”, take over, or rescue.
What is driving your parenting decisions? Love or fear or both? Ask yourselves these two questions:
- What have you done to curb/control your own anxiety so that it doesn’t override good parenting and sound decision-making?
- What does loving your child well really look like?
If these questions intrigue you, I have a couple of suggestions:
- Listen to Lythcott-Haims’ TED talk or read her book.
- Become friends with parents who have demonstrated how to be present in their teens’ lives while also backing off.
Know that these parents are few and far between. You will be swimming upstream if you choose to parent differently. How will you gather the courage to do so? What will help you stay on track, and, if you go off-track, what will help you recognize that you have veered off course so that you can get back on track?
Respond to these questions by writing a note to your future self. Put that note in envelope, seal it, and then hand it over to friend with instructions to give it back to you in six months time.
Best wishes for the journey!