The greatest misconception about parenting, and how to correct it.

Photo:  Irene Lasus

Photo:  Irene Lasus

When I became a mom at age eighteen, I went into the job blind to the sheer level of mental and physical sacrifices it would take.  Well, maybe not completely, as I'd had a fair share of babysitting experience during my teen years, but a few hours (or even a weekend) in charge of other people's kids pales in comparison to the enormity of stepping into the very full time role of motherhood.  And the greatest misconception I had going in was that the way I had been raised was the "right" way (only way) to go about the task.

Five kids and decades of trial and error later, I know a lot of what my parents did while raising myself and my younger brothers was helpful in my own parenting experience.  However, the world is ever-changing and while some of the ways our generation was raised may still work today, much of it doesn't anymore.

In fact, some of what was done previously (and continues today) can now really hamper the parent-child relationship, and kids ability to launch successfully.

In my continual quest to discern what works and what doesn't  about raising children today, I was led to review Julie Lythcott-Haim's 2015 book How To Raise An Adult:  Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

I LOVE this book!  Not only does the author thoroughly articulate why over parenting (a/k/a dominant parenting) does not work long-term, she tells us (with lots of statistical back up) why and how we've ended up where we are today...basically, with a warped sense of over purpose in our kids' lives.

Lythcott-Haims claims there are four shifts that occurred during the 1980s which set in motion major changes regarding parenting:

The first shift, in 1983, was an increased awareness of child abductions.  Beginning with Adam Walsh and the made-for-television movie, which 38 million people watched, called Adam.  The movie spawned a movement of missing children pictured on the back of milk cartons all over the country.  Adam's father, John Walsh, went on to lobby Congress to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and founded the FOX television series in 1988 called America's Most Wanted.  Herein lies the birth of our incessant fear of strangers and kidnappings.

The next shift has to do with kids not doing enough in school to keep up, attributed to the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk, which strongly suggested American kids weren't competing well against their peers globally.  The ensuing years generated an achievement culture which emphasized rote memorization and the idea of "teaching to the test."  Several books have been written in the past few years about families buckling under the weight of excessive homework.  And a recent documentary, 2010's Race to Nowhere, aims to shake America awake as to the harm over-emphasizing academics is having on our kids.

A third shift, perhaps going hand-in-hand with the second, was the 80's onset of the self-esteem movement, a philosophy built on the notion we could help our kids succeed in life if we valued their personhood rather than their outcomes.  Shortly after this, arrived the notion of "every kid gets a trophy".

The final shift, which erupted in the mid-80s, was the "invention" of the playdate.  This became the practical scheduling tool at a time when moms were going back to work, allowing working parents the ability to schedule play, observe play, and participate in play as well.  And for those moms who stayed at home it was a terrific way to socialize!  Playdates catapulted the idea of leaving kids at home as taboo, as well as the idea of granting unsupervised time...and of course, the advent of organized activities as a way to pass the after school and weekend hours in pursuit of sport, music, and fine arts greatness.

A great influence on our parenting is derived from the impact of media.  How many frightening news stories or tragedies did you hear about today alone?  The influx of information through the Internet, television, and social media has had significant impact on the world's perception of safety and security, directly impacting the discussions, actions, and guidance we share with our kids (at age-appropriate levels of course).

Now that we understand where the shift began, what does parenting (in a nutshell) look like for those of us in the midst of it today?  

For many, it means overprotecting, enabling, and basically coddling our kids to a point of their not being ready for the "real world." There is a a disconnect between the idea that we [parents] have control over our children and their destinies...knowing better than they do the best path to their "greatness".  In the name of this we rob them of dreaming up, inventing as it were, who THEY are.

We’ve been given the awesome, humbling task of helping a young human unfold. What they need most of all is our love and support as they go about the hard and joyful work of learning the skills and mind-sets needed to be a thriving, successful adult.
— How To Raise An Adult , Julie Lythcott-Haims

Our kids are quite capable of speaking for themselves, and the more often we give them the opportunity to do so, the more confident they will become in self-advocacy.  For example, my 13-year-old son recently had surgery on his elbow, his first post-op physical therapy appointment was this week.  On the way I told him I wasn't going into the room with him and that he was capable of telling the therapist exactly what had happened and how much pain/mobility he is having today.  He looked at me as if I was crazy (which made me realize I'd done too much talking for him already during the past several weeks of doctor appointments, blood work, and surgery).  But he went in and handled everything just fine.  I know this because the therapist came out after the appointment and regurgitated the details of the escalation of his elbow problems and thanked me for allowing him to come in alone and speak for himself.

Our job as parents is to support and encourage our children to become who THEY are meant to be.  Never to fulfill a dream WE have FOR them.  Lythcott-Haims does a beautiful job of discussing all of the areas we potentially hold our kids back in when we do too much for them in the name of convenience, of believing they aren't ready, or they aren't capable.

Although there are many, many favorite passages in her book, this one stands out most...

Each of us humans is on a life path that ought to be constructed by our choices, paved with our experiences, and aimed in the direction of our dreams. For parents, our path included having children who in turn have their own paths to follow. But our path continues on. If we walk our kid’s path with and for them, we’re not only depriving them of the chance to build their self-efficacy - that basic human need to do for oneself - we’re also depriving ourselves of the chance to continue to construct our own path.
— How To Raise An Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims

What an on your path, me on mine...hand-in-hand together we'll both uncover our fullest potential!