What is our primary role as parents? Is it to ensure that our children have access to the best of everything? To set them up for financial success? Where does teaching them to be happy fit in? As a mom, I find it difficult to choose even when I know what the “right” answer is. The answer should be that I want their happiness and well-being but I’m not sure I want it at the expense of the other things.
These are some of the questions brought up this past week as in a dialog I attended with author, Julie Lythcott-Haims. She wrote the book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success“. Parenting books tend to stress me out but this book came up in conversation several times over a few days with unrelated people so my interest was piqued. I haven’t read the book but plan to. Don’t hold your breath for any reviews in the near term though. Sadly, I don’t read as much as I’d like to.
As the former Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University, Lythcott-Haims had a front row seat to the effects of overparenting (helicopter parenting) on incoming freshman. She observed that today’s college students are good at being told what to do but are lost when they arrive in higher education institutes and are expected to make their own decisions.
To quote Ms. Lythcott-Haims, “Childhood has become about accumulating things to impress someone else. Children are not just being asked to perform certain tasks but to perform them perfectly.” But how do you let go?
While on the one hand, I grew up on a farm in Vermont with a lot of freedom. I went to the public schools in my hometown, graduated and went to a tiny liberal arts college on the North Shore of Boston. While in Boston, I met many people who were graduates of elite institutions and counted many of them as friends. I have never felt that my education (or maybe lack thereof) has in anyway held me back from doing the things I wanted to do. In fact, it wasn’t until my most recent stint in Silicon Valley where I felt that anyone cared about my education. I was in my mid-30s, long after anyone should care about it and certainly long after I cared about it.
On the other hand, my husband and I spent months trying to get my girls into the “right” elementary school so they could then get into the “right” high school and ultimately, the “right” university. I definitely get caught up in what I read and what I feel like “everyone else” is doing. What happens when they approach the next milestone of having to choose a high school? Do I steer them toward the school that has better admission potential to “I am the best” university? Or do I step back and start to trust my daughters to be able to make the decision that’s right for them? What if they don’t choose what my husband and I want?
Ms. Lythcott-Haims counsels parents to let go of our own egos to more clearly see what might best serve our children. She referenced the Harvard Grant Study which found that “warm relationships” and chores have a greater impact on an adult’s financial success and happiness than intelligence does. That certainly reflects my own upbringing but still I get pulled in the other direction particularly when I see the way children are driven academically in many of the Asian countries. How will my children compete if I don’t push them?
Maybe instead of veering off into the world of “everyone else”, I need to remind myself that I turned out fine with far less opportunities. Perhaps, I need to trust my children more, listen to them and allow them to have a bit more freedom. In our house, this means letting the girls vacuum and wash the dishes. It isn’t done perfectly because I usually rewash and vacuum after they go to school but they love helping out this way and they are learning to contribute. Maybe the sense of accomplishment that they get is worth it.
I’m still processing many of the ideas that were presented but for now I’m dutifully putting up a job chart for my children and trying to take more time to connect with them. I’ll figure out how to get them into Harvard or Stanford tomorrow.