This morning I dropped my daughter, Dylan, off at preschool for her 3rd day of this brand new experience. It’s novel for us as parents, too. One the one hand, it was delightful to pull into the parking lot and hear her cry out with glee “It’s my school”; on the other hand, it was terribly painful to hear her cry and to see her flash me a look of confusion (dare I say betrayal) after I handed her over to Ms. Bertha and walked backwards to the exit door.
The experience resonates with something I have for many years told parents is true about high school. That is, high school is a journey of individuation. As an educator, I’ve observed and facilitated and led others through that journey for decades; as a parent, I’m now living it first hand, in a very real and raw manner, within my own household. And it leads me to reflect upon the parenting process as a life-long journey of helping our children individuate. To define oneself, to create oneself, to find one’s way on the path of life — that is the process of maturation from childhood to adulthood. And likewise, to help our children find themselves, to shape themselves, and to prepare themselves for the path of life — that is the process of parenting a child into an adult.
At York we keep this in mind with a certain mantra: we prepare the child for the path not the path for the child. To engage and inform ourselves and our community further in this pursuit, one of our Community Reading texts for this year is ‘How to Raise an Adult,’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims. We selected the text for it’s accessibility and it’s readability, and how it provides an excellent jumping off point for adults in our community to discuss the journey of parenting. I’m fond of Lythcott-Haims’ voice in the book. I also admire how she synthesizes and aggregates so many other valuable books and studies into a cohesive whole.
The New York Times review had this to say, “Lythcott-Haims’s central message remains worthwhile: When parents laugh and enjoy the moment but also teach the satisfaction of hard work, when they listen closely but also give their children space to become who they are, they wind up with kids who know how to work hard, solve problems and savor the moment, too.” That core message might also be described as, “Our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job.”
Last week, forty plus York parents gathered for a book talk conversation on ‘How to Raise an Adult’ at our October York Parents meeting. We broke into small groups and considered some suggested discussion questions from the book before holding an all group discussion:
1. As Lythcott-Haims discusses in her introduction, parenting styles, values, and methodologies in the United States have changed through the years and between generations. Does (or will) your parenting style differ from that of your own parents? In your lifetime, have you noticed a broader shift in the ways we, as a culture, think about and practice parenting?
2. As parents, it pains us to see our kids get hurt, or fail, or face any variety of disappointment. But LythcottHaims argues that the experience of failure is key to building resilience in children and young adults. To what extent, and in what ways, is failure a necessary crucible for growth? At what point, if any, should parents intervene to prevent struggle?
3. Developmental psychologists generally agree that there are four types of parenting: authoritative, permissive/indulgent, neglectful, and authoritarian. These types are diagrammed on a Cartesian chart on page 146. If your parenting style were a plot point on this chart, where do you think it would fall? Has its position changed over time?
4. On pages 166 to 174, Lythcott-Haims describes a four-step strategy for teaching life skills: 1) first we do it for you, 2) then we do it with you, 3) then we watch you do it, and 4) then you do it completely independently. She acknowledges that the third and fourth steps are often the most difficult for parents to carry out, and require an enormous leap of faith. In your experience, why is it hard for parents to stand back? What are the fears and hopes involved, and how can a parent mitigate them?
5. One of the book’s major concerns is the pressure that young people feel—to get straight As and perform well in extracurricular activities, and ultimately to gain admission to top-ranked universities and to obtain job offers from well-known companies—and the harms to mental health that result from this pressure. To what extent is it possible for individual parents to encourage effort and striving, and to reward achievement, without risking their children’s mental health and without fueling the “brand name brouhaha,” as LythcottHaims calls it on page 248? In what ways does our current collective value system resist individual efforts to turn the tide?
Clearly, the choices we make as parents and how we process every success and failure is deeply personal. Still, many of the parents at the book talk expressed that even without reading the book it was worthwhile considering these questions, and it was valuable to discuss them with fellow parents. Others commented how meaningful it was to read the book and then discuss it with others. In the spirit of civil discourse, York thinks it can be incredible powerful to discuss this text and these questions not only with parents who share your own parenting style and values but also with other York parents who might maintain different experiences, values, and perspectives.
Below I am including a link to Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Ted Talk. It’s an entertaining and informative talk as well as an excellent introduction to the book. I hope you will watch it, and I hope you will read the book as well. Then, let us know what you think.