Checklisted childhoods

Julie Lythcott-Haims isn’t just a former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford and the author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success. She’s also a parent herself, one who openly admits that at the same time in her life when she first began chastising Stanford parents for hovering over their kids, she also caught herself doing the same thing with her own young children. I think that’s why her advice resonates so much with me, and why I share her as a source so often here. She knows the difficulties, the grey areas, the uncertainties a parent can face. But she’s also seen Stanford freshmen, some of the world’s brightest and most accomplished 18-year-olds, who were unable to face even the most common of daily challenges without calling Mom or Dad for instructions.

This recent Time article, adapted from her book mentioned above, shares Julie’s story of how she came to the realization that someone needed to speak out against what she had seen for herself as a harmful parenting practice. If this passage below resonates with you, if you’re a parent who wants to step back but worries that doing so will put your student at a disadvantage, I hope you’ll give both the article and the book a read.

“… I’m here to tell you—warn you—that this way of parenting is harmful to kids, to parents, to us all. You know it, I know it. We all know it. We see our children withering under the pressure of the checklisted childhood, feel ourselves struggling to keep up, and we imagine a different, saner way, exists elsewhere. Wyoming? Yet we look over our shoulder and see the galloping herd of other parents who are spending more money, hiring more help, taking more time off just to ensure their kid makes the grade, makes the cut, and gets admitted to that school over our kid, all the while bragging about their outcomes. We want to trust our instincts, wish we were brave enough to walk away, focus on family time not test prep, incite laughter, prompt joy, let our kids just be, but we fear the herd, and the short term win their kid will achieve with all that help. The overparenting herd has become a bully we feel the need to go along with.”