And, what a book this was! I devoured it over the weekend with both kids at their grandparent’s house for two nights. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (unless it’s blogs, photography magazines, or super awesome memoirs) but once I started, I couldn’t put it down. The book? How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.
As a parent of young kids, I found the book to be as useful as I imagine it is for the parents of teens or young adults because the book sets forth problems happening with today’s young adults, and then backs those problems up with age-appropriate solutions to set forth or celebrate (if we already do them) in our parenting. We parent out of love and we think we’re doing what’s best for them, but are we stopping our kids from reaching their potentials by over-protecting and overworking them? With safety fears, a college admissions race and our own egos on the line, are we actually doing right by our kids?
Childhood today is safe, scheduled and going according to plan. In some ways that is necessary – such as stricter car seat and bike helmet laws to prevent fatal car and bicycle accidents, but on the other hand, are our worries about the world and the economy preventing us from teaching our children important life skills? More and more psychologists, universities and workplaces are reporting that today’s young adults don’t know how to ask for help and directions, cook, clean, and navigate the towns and cities and other parts of our world. Are they making their own decisions? Are they dreaming their own dreams?
To be fair, I’m remembering being older than two and five – the ages that my children are – but I remember being free to roam our neighborhood on foot or with my bike, all day long. I wore a helmet on my bike, and I wore sunscreen and bug spray. I learned how to cross the street, how to stop, drop and roll in case of fire (do they still do that?) and how to find appropriate strangers to ask for help, in appropriate situations. By kindergarten, I boarded the big yellow bus, found a seat (with no seatbelt!) and went down the slippery hill to school. In reading this book, I thought of the ways I could cause psychological harm for continuing to do for my kids what they can or almost can do for themselves. And I thought of the ways I can fix this.
Not only are today’s young adults more depressed and anxious than before, parents are too. In a world of incessant information and bad news, with fears of climate change and conventional strawberries instead of organic, and with marriage hanging in the balance. I have a relative who taught first grade for 12 years, and has seen kids getting more stressed. My mom owns an art school and has seen a skyrocketing number of parents who stay in art class and hover. They used to drop the kids off and run! Even if the parents do trust my mom to do her job and teach their children, some of them admit to feeling lost. They have nowhere to go without their kids, nor do they want that free time. As outlandish as that sounds to me, I’m guilty of it too! I could have signed up Scarlet to take the school bus but I haven’t been able to let go. She’s the second smallest kid in school and I see her with her big backpack and her big eyes and her cute face and I can’t turn away.
It doesn’t have to hurt all at once. It doesn’t even have to be fast, but I do have to teach her to get herself on and off a bus for school, because I know she is capable of doing so. Maybe even more capable than I have been!
Childhood is the training ground for adulthood, but our children won’t learn life skills if we keep padding and paving the way for them, and overworking, overbooking and overpraising them too. It’s a delicate balance of letting in and letting go.
There’s one story in the book that struck me about parents seeking advice for their daughter who loves to write. They asked, “What can we do with this? How can we get her to enter writing contests when she doesn’t seem interested?” And the advice given was so simple and wonderful: “She loves to write? Great! Leave her alone! Let her write! Provide opportunities that fit your kid, rather than trying to make your kid fit the notion of who or how they should be.” That really stuck with me.
It will tell you all about how much play matters. Value free play and know your kid. Model play too. Teach life skills at appropriate ages – small chores, basic grooming, memorizing important names and phone numbers, feeding pets, and taking on more complex chores. Learning the value of money, and learning how to help with the laundry. You can teach them basic cooking techniques, and taking pride in their personal belongings. You can eventually teach them about staying home alone, and then.. putting gas in the car, interviewing for jobs, the sky is the limit! How do we get there? It’s a series of steps. They learn from us and we learn from them. Talk to your kids and ask them questions in details. Teach them to problem solve.
Stop thinking of them as any particular thing – like a doctor or lawyer. Listen for clues as to who they are and lead them towards promising options. Be interested and helpful, but prepare them for hard work. The best thing you can do is allow your kids to be creative and experimental, and to follow their bliss.
Ultimately you will also have to look after yourself, and reclaim yourself. Prioritize your health and wellness. Make time for important relationships. Interrogate your relationship with money. Practice kindness and gratitude. Your kid doesn’t need a superhero..
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.