“There is something that’s a great deal more important than parental approval: learning to do without it. That’s what it means to become an adult.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Child for Success
Take a few minutes to close your eyes and imagine your child as a graduating high school senior. What are the qualities that you most desire for them to have developed?
As a culture which is characterized by increasingly narrow measures of success, we have redefined the paradigm of parenting as focused on accomplishments and future prosperity for our children. Many parental acts are measured by whether they will tip the scale toward accomplishment or failure for our children, and the very definitions of “accomplishment” and “failure” have narrowed dramatically. With the stakes seeming so high, what are loving (and anxious) parents to do?
In our well-meaning quest to ensure our children are set up for success, we often inadvertently respond by hovering and micromanaging. We joke about being “helicopter parents,” but we can feel that the choices are beyond our making, and we do not always see what the other pathways are for our children to be happy or successful. We also can have blinders on when we step into—and often cross the line of—their lives.
Will Segar, Turning Point’s Elementary Division Head, likes to remind us that we are not solely preparing children for their future lives; they are living their lives right now. This is wise advice that we ignore at our peril. Anxiety fosters narrowed perceptions, dictated by our amygdala—the fight, flight, or freeze sections of our brains. We cannot see the bigger picture when our amygdala governs us; we just want the danger to be dispensed with and our equilibrium restored.
It is understandable that we get pulled into this daunting outlook. We love our children and want what is best for them. But we would do well to think more about what “the best for them” means. Raising children means always considering the long game, and we are better served by thinking about what kind of adult we want to send into the world at the end of their time with us.
The essential goal of parenting is to raise our children to leave us. It is a bittersweet goal, to be sure, but there is no more important outcome. It is heartbreaking to contemplate that in our zest to support our children, we may actually be limiting their abilities to be successful. You may be familiar with the research on grit and resilience, which posits that these qualities, more than any other, predict success—not standardized testing, intelligence, talent, grades, charisma, or where you go to college or graduate school. Grit, resilience, resourcefulness, confidence: will you stick with a project after its novelty wears off? Will you bounce back when someone tells you no or critiques your work? Will you be able to find new ways of solving a problem when facing a dead end? Can you define and appreciate your unique abilities and qualities?
It is my hope that as a community, we can support each other’s journeys as parents and educators of the next generation, we who are dedicated to help our children navigate their own lives—current and future—capably and joyfully.
To aid us in this vital work, I invite you to participate in Turning Point School’s first community read, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Lythcott-Haims is a former dean of students and freshman advising at Stanford University whose first-hand perspective and deep research of the overparenting epidemic demonstrates its dangers—not just economically, but psychologically. Through relatable and often humorous stories and insight, she offers strategies on how we can support our children’s growth and development in a way that can help them become thriving adults, and just might make families happier along the way.
How to Raise an Adult will be the focus of our Back to School Coffees and other parent-school programming. We look forward to some productive dialogue among parents and faculty in the fall. So please read or listen to a copy over the summer. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and impressions as we share the journey and responsibility of raising your phenomenal children to be happy, successful adults!
Dr. Laura Konigsberg
Head of School