Musing on Parenting in the 20th Century

Now that I am a parent, I am reading a bunch of parenting books.  My most recent reads have been, Hold Onto Your Kids, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate and How to Raise an Adult, Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims .  Did you notice?  The titles on these 2 books sound contradictory. 

Hold Onto Your Kids is all about losing your authority and influence over your children, and in replace of you, children instead look towards their peers.  While peer interaction is very important, it is more important that your children still look to you for guidance.  Advice between peers, more often than not can be the worst advice for your children.  Children are wired to want to follow someone, typically their parents, but when peers become the center of your child’s life then it is something to take note of, to take time to “reclaim or hold onto” your children.  It seems like a simple concept, but in reality we can unassumingly push our kids towards their peers and lose our connection to them.

 As I read this book, I reflected on my childhood.  I remember distinctly through my tween and teen years, that my parents did not allow me to go out with Friends on the weekends.  I was allowed to go out if I was involved with a school event, extracurricular activity or working in the family business.  I was not allowed to just go and “hang” out with my friends.  During the time, I felt this rule was very unfair.  I would be frustrated/angry with my father that he did not allow me to go out.  One day, I blurted out to my father, “why do I have to just hang out here at home?  I mean we are not even doing anything together.”  My father’s response, “that is exactly the point.”

His point was the weekends were time to be home and spend time with the family, even if it was doing our own independent activities in different parts of the house.  The key was that we were together and we would have our meals together and just “be”.  Having weekday dinners together was also a high priority for my parents.  Even if my mom and I would be working in our family business until 8pm at night, my father and typically my siblings always waited and we had dinner together. 

These 2 things while simple, I think really influenced me to become a successful adult.

1)      I always saw my parents as the authority, and was never strongly influenced by my peers.  Even when my peers were sneaking out, drinking and experimenting with drugs.  I had no desire to participate even with peer pressure. In college I opted to live on the substance free floor, where residents commit to not drinking or doing drugs in their dorm rooms. 

2)      Working in the family business really boosted my self-esteem and my belief in my own abilities.  At age 18 I was pretty much the co-manager for the business with my mom.  I certainly gave me the confidence to start The Wellness Center 16 years ago. 

Now onto the current book I am reading, How to Raise an Adult.  This book is about helicopter parenting and the negative effects it can have on your child/children.  It is very very eye opening.  A majority of parents today are helicopter parenting to some degree.  I fit this category also.  We naturally want to do things for our children to make their lives easier, but when we do too much we end up stunting their ability to learn to do things on their own.  If we never let them fail, when they actually become adults and experience failure it can be a lot more devastating.  The author asserts that we need to start at a young age, teaching our children to do things on their own.  It is not only good for them to develop independence, but it is also key to helping them develop their self-esteem and confidence levels.  When we trust that kids are capable of doing certain things independently, it gives them confidence in their own abilities.  Also, if a child has small set-backs or failures, they can learn how to cope with disappointment under the safety of your watch.  If your child has set-backs and can bounce back it is giving them the powerful characteristic of “grit” that has been deemed as a key characteristic of successful adults.    

Here are some things you can do to combat overparenting:

1)      STOP doing everything for your child, starting in pre-school.  Give them age appropriate chores, that become routine (and do not give them allowance for this).  These are habits for living independently, and they will not be paid for them when they are on their own. 

2)      Try not to over-direct and schedule your child’s life.   Today’s children are overscheduled, and have little free time to play or do chores for that matter.  Create space in your week for household duties and down time. 

3)      Your child doesn’t need to be perfect and get straight As, and be the highest in their class.  All of us want the best for our child, but we can put too much pressure on our children to become something that we want them to be, not necessarily what they want.

4)      Don’t hover, give your kids some independence.  If you have a project you would like them to do, explain it to them and then walk away, don’t jump in when they express frustration. 

While the book can be a little redundant, I would still recommend for all parents.  If you have tendencies to overparent like I do.  Just start where you are, and make small changes.  I have already moved all of my daughters cups, bowls and breakfast items to a drawer she can reach.  Now she can make her own breakfast in the morning, and she can also pack her own snack for school.  I will also be implementing a “fun” short list of chores for her to do on a daily and weekly basis.  My husband and I say we should have Maya pick up her toys… more often than not we end up doing it. 

Parenting certainly is not easy, but at the end of the day we want to create thriving young adults.  We don’t want kids always having to look to us for support and help.  We want them to develop resiliency.  When things get hard or they experience failure, we want them to under our watch.  When they are off on their own, we will know that they will be able handle the inevitable tough times and setbacks that life brings.

Onwards and Upwards,