The author, who served as dean of freshman and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, tells the story of a college freshman who lived in the dorms. After he’d been on campus a few days the boxes he’d shipped from home, via UPS, arrived…and sat on the sidewalk outside his dorm for several days. The boxes were big and heavy—a two person job—and he did not know how to get them to his third floor dorm room. Thanks to a call from the boy’s mother, faculty member living in his dorm ended up arranging for assistance because the boy did not know how to ask for help .
“This is a parenting failure,” states Ms. Lythcott-Haims. “Kids don’t acquire life skills by magic at the stroke of midnight on their eighteenth birthday. Childhood is meant to the training ground. Parents can assist—not by always being there to do it or to tell them how to do it via cell phone—but by getting out of the way and letting kids figure it out for themselves.”
The book is a fabulous and fascinating read, recommended by the doctor in charge of Utah State University’s medical center. Across the country, colleges and universities are seeing a trend of increasingly incapable students, paralyzed by their inability to make decisions, plan actions and cope with failure, a paralysis caused primarily by over-involved parents who have consistently made their children’s decisions, plotted their courses of action, and shielded them from failure and/or the consequences of their actions.
Alarming (and accurate) as the book may be, I have also found it somewhat affirming. The parents the author references are almost exclusively motivated by a desire to see their children succeed. In their admirable desire they overzealously over-involve themselves and, in so doing, rob their children of the opportunity to develop the very life skills that are necessary for success.
I now have two young adult aged children. When they were in my home, as youngsters, I too had a great desire to see them succeed. What I did not have was much time or energy or money to dedicate to their success. Even back then I was often old and tired; I just did not have the necessary energy to make things happen. I did not force them to take piano lessons (I tried and failed); I did not successfully enroll them in Little League wrestling, baseball, or basketball; I did not help them develop their own business or participate in service project in far off countries (or even locally…); I did not pressure them to take AP classes or graduate early. I never helped them with homework and rarely checked their grades online.
I did not direct them much at all. I did not direct them because I did not have the energy or economics to do so. I really did not make the decision not to direct; it was a matter of resources…..or lack thereof. I just did not have the energy to engage. And, at times (okay, often actually….), I felt guilty about it…very guilty. I should have done more…..
Now, it seems, the decision I did not make was a wise course of action. I have two children who know how to “get their boxes from the lawn to the third floor” so to speak.
Amie asked me how much tuition is at USU. “I don’t know,” I replied honestly. I honestly do not know. Chick is taking care of it.
During her first quarter at SUU, Tanah had some intense (VERY) issues with her landlord. She ended up filing a police report, talking to the county’s prosecuting attorney, engaging a civil lawyer, selling her contract, and finding a new place to live, all while attending school full time and all by herself.
I still have moments of parenting guilt…..I should have more of some things and probably less of others…and there are certainly things I would change if I had a chance to re-do….but not as much. In parenting, sometimes doing less is more.