I often feel unsure about what is harder: parenting or comparing myself to other parents who seem to have it more "figured out" than I do.
This video clip from Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the acclaimed book, "How To Raise An Adult," served as a nice reminder that it is okay--no, it's necessary--to remove our hands from the yoke on occasion and let our children figure out how to fly, even when that mechanical beast is pointed straight toward the earth!
Just Wednesday morning, my daughter, God love her, chose to oversleep, giving herself barely enough time to apply the copious amounts of expensive makeup she insists on buying (with her own money, I feel compelled to add), let alone eat breakfast and make lunch. While wolfing down a bowl of cereal she asked me if I would put a bagel in the toaster so she could eat it for lunch.
Was I doing anything of significance? No (well kind of. I was writing this article). Did I toast the bagel for her? Hell no!
Though the request seemed innocuous enough, toasting that bagel would have reinforced her failure to plan accordingly. Was she be hungry that afternoon? Certainly. Did she die of malnutrition? Certainly not. Did she rise fifteen minutes earlier the next morning? In fact, she did.
Our job is to equip our children to cope with life which--newsflash--is FILLED with frustration, disappointment, and failure. How can they learn to handle the bumps and scrapes if we never let them fall?
Though most parents say they over-function because they are afraid of how their children will feel if they don't, it is more accurate to say parents are afraid of how they will feel if they step aside and let their children construct and deconstruct their own messes. In other words, we parents are just plain uncomfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
Discomfort is the enemy of neither parent nor child. It is the precursor to self-advocacy, learning a new skill, making a new friend, or solving a problem, all of which are required for proper grownup-ing.
When our children lose or fail, they will feel badly for a while. This is a normal, healthy response to disappointment. Eventually, they will feel better and, each time they do, they grow a little more confident in their ability to overcome challenge.
More and more in my therapy and counseling practice, I see young people who are riddled with fear and self-doubt, struggling with even the most basic of decisions. This is no longer the exception. It is becoming the norm.
Research out of institutions like Keene State College and The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are suggesting a strong correlation between helicopter parenting and poor social adjustment, higher levels of anxiety, and depression. Not quite what we had in mind when we were busy forming a human shield between the the edge of the sofa and the coffee table.
Some of the most valuable lessons we learn come from what, at the time, would have easily been considered failures, mistakes--disasters even. Why deprive our children of such critical learning? So we won't judge ourselves for being neglectful? So others won't think we are bad parents?
According to Lythcott-Haims, if we want to foster our children's self-esteem and self-efficacy, here are some good places to start:
1. Give them chores. Children who do chores are happier and more confident than children who don't. If children live in a house, they should be responsible for some of its maintenance. This is not punishment; it is modeling of appropriate social responsibility. Do you want your child to be the roommate no one wants to live with because he leaves dishes in the sink and clothes on the bathroom floor? Me neither!
By age three, children are old enough to clean up their toys, load the dishwasher (yes, you read that correctly. Don't panic. You can rearrange them later when your child isn't looking), put dirty clothes in a hamper, etc. Increase the level of responsibility with age. My children (now 13 & 15) have been doing their own laundry for several years and it has been GLORIOUS! Sure, their socks and whites look like they escaped from the set of "Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat," but who cares? They don't. Neither should I.
2. Back off school. Stop asking about homework, stop doing it for them (sidebar: this should never have been started to begin with), and don't ask about school performance or grades. You already passed the K-12 grades; it's their turn now. If they are struggling, ask them what they think needs to happen to get back on track. If your kid needs extra help, hire a tutor. The headcount of parents who say tutoring their own child was more helpful than frustrating? Just about zero.
3. Stop calling their teachers and coaches. Instead, teach your kiddo how to respectfully communicate with authority figures. They need to know this stuff!
4. Teach basic life skills. I have a friend who is requiring that her teenagers know how to procure and prepare at least ten recipes before graduating high school. If you want your kids eating more than just ramen noodles and mac-n-cheese once they get to college, start taking them to the grocery store with you. Let them go through the check stand by themselves. Teach them how to cook. Show them how to use public transportation, apply for a job, open a bank account, balance a checkbook, fill out a tax form, etc. Think of everything they will be responsible for once they move out and show them how to do it on their own. Lythcott-Haims outlines a four-step method for doing this: First do it for them, then with them. watch them do it, and then let them do it themselves.
In lieu of asking ourselves what more we can do to help our children succeed, perhaps it's time to ask what less we can do instead. It can be scary to give up control. So many of us believe our children's choices are a reflection of our parenting. This is sort of true--they do absorb the values we model. But mostly it's not. Our job is to plant the seeds and show our children how to garden. The rest is entirely up to them.
Let's learn from each other! Got a self-efficacy success story? A question or concern? Feel free to share it in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Parenting struggles got you down? Schedule a free consultation to find out how parenting support and counseling and help you!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.