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6.12.2015

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT [BOOK REVIEW]


I received a digital copy of this book for free in exchange for a review. Don’t worry though—all opinions are honest and all mine.

You guys, if you have kids (or ever want to have kids), I think you should probably read How to Raise an Adult. It’s a little academic (it’s written by a college dean, so what do you expect?) and a tad long, but the information in it is eye-opening. And kind of terrifying.


Julie Lythcott-Haims writes about the ways parents (and total strangers) go overboard when it comes to raising kids—how we’re essentially turning them into adults who can’t function on their own. She also discusses how other people are forcing themselves into the picture by judging and even stepping in to challenge parents’ child-rearing decisions.

There are stories in this book that make me sad for the world our kids will grow up in. Never mind the tales of women getting the police called on them or ending up in jail for leaving their children (even their 8-year-old children) alone in a car (parked in the shade on a cool day) for five minutes—that’s not anywhere near the worst of it.

How about the parents who demanded another child be moved to a new class, or even suspended, because he hit their kid on the head with a plastic toy shovel during recess? (Did I mention these were PRESCHOOL children? And that the teacher had already addressed the issue with the kids, who spent the rest of recess playing happily together?)

Or the parent who called a college official in the wee hours of the morning demanding to know where his daughter, who had just left on a study-abroad trip, was, because she hadn’t yet called him to let him know they’d arrived? (Her plane hadn’t even landed yet.)

How about the parents who do their child’s homework for them? Who call teachers and demand grade changes, who talk their child out of punishments for bad behavior, who write college admissions essays, or—and I’m not even kidding here—attend job interviews with their children?

And what about the strangers who call the police because they see a child playing at a public park alone or see two children walking down the street without an adult? (And we’re not talking about little toddlers here, either.)

What have we become?

We now live in a world where total strangers will not only judge your parenting, but call the police if they think you’re doing it wrong. (And the police will actually do something about it!) And parents themselves are setting their kids up for failure by acting, well, a little (or a lot) crazy in their attempts to make sure their kids are on a good path.

What happened to “live and learn?” Or to letting kids discover who they are and what they want on their own instead of setting out a predetermined life path for them beginning in day care? And don’t even get me started on strangers calling people in for things like letting a child play outside unsupervised. (Did you know that a kid is WAY more likely to be abducted by someone he or she knows than by a stranger?)

Furthermore, the research shows that over-parenting causes serious issues for kids. They don’t know how to function, they feel pressured and overwhelmed, and they can’t cope with life. Yikes.

And what about issues for parents? What about the strain on us, our marriages, our egos, our time? Lythcott-Haims talks about this, too, and it’s one of those angles most people probably don’t even consider on their own. But over-parenting has a huge impact on the parent as well.

Frankly, the stories in this book terrify me. They make me fear for Little Rabbit’s future. Not because I think I’ll be a crazy mom, but because the world around us expects, demands, and even mandates practices and behaviors that I’m not OK with. And even if I make decisions that go against the norm, there’s still the chance that someone who disagrees with me will call the police. Or that I’ll feel that emotional blow of “not doing enough” for my kid. It’s a crazy, crazy world we live in.

Now, I promise that the book isn’t just about scaring you into being a helicopter parent or setting your kids loose to be wild jungle babies. But it does provide a lot of good points to think about as we decide how to parent our littles. In fact, the whole third section of the book is focused on how to cultivate a positive parenting style that will have a good influence on kids. (Yay!) I found that part fascinating, and it’s the main reason I recommend reading this book.

Of course, I believe that every parent should parent in his or her own way, and every kid is different. But it’s really nice to have some advice, amIright? Pick and choose what you will, but keep in mind that it’s your job to not simply protect and guide a child, but to raise a competent adult.

No one is perfect, and every parent makes mistakes. I don’t want to say “here is everything we will do and it will be perfect and my kid will be awesome.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to parent without a plan, either. So, here are some things I’d like to commit to with Little Rabbit while she’s young (once she gets to school, there are a whole host of other ideas in the book to add to this list, but that’s not quite relevant yet):

+ I WILL FOCUS ON GIVING HER TOYS AND MATERIALS THAT FOSTER HER IMAGINATION.


There’s all kinds of information out there on why this is good, so I won’t rehash it. But basically I want LR to learn to use her brain. To think in her own unique way (and to just plain think!). Imagination is an important asset for everyone!

+ I WILL LET HER FAIL.


This is hard already. Every time LR takes a spill and starts to cry, I want to run to her and snuggle her distress away. But she’s got to learn to cope with failure, even as a wee little kid. So I try not to rush to her every time she falls.

In all things, I want to impress upon her that failure isn’t the end of the world—that she can, in fact, get up again and come back even stronger. I want her to recognize that failure is a necessary, beneficial part of life, and I want her to know how to handle it. Part of doing that means letting her face failure as a kid, when the consequences are small.

+ SHE WILL LEARN TO WALK OR BIKE PLACES ON HER OWN.


I won’t actually let her wander around town all by herself until that’s age appropriate (and I’m not sure exactly when that will be just yet), but I want to teach her to be comfortable with it at a young age. I’m thinking this means showing her how to navigate our neighborhood, sending her to pick out items across the grocery store on her own, etc. Things that, little by little, build her confidence and independence until she’s ready to truly get out by herself.

+ SHE WILL LEARN TO COOK, CLEAN, AND DO LAUNDRY FOR HERSELF.


I want to be the queen of dealing out age-appropriate chores that develop basic life skills. I can’t cook to save my life, and it’s partly because I never had to (and also partly because I’ve never committed to doing it because I don’t like it). I want LR to be able to do all those things so she feels confident when it’s time for her to take care of herself.

+ I WILL PLACE LIMITS ON EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. AND SHE’LL BE ALLOWED TO CHOOSE THOSE ACTIVITIES FOR HERSELF.


The book talked about how kids these days feel overwhelmed and exhausted because they’re doing way too much. I want to take steps to protect down time and family time, so our kids have the chance to actually enjoy their childhood. That means limiting the activities they get to be involved in.

I also want our kids to be able to be themselves, so they get to choose the activities they get involved in. I won’t force LR to take art classes if she really wants to play soccer, for example. Kids should be who they are, not who their parents want them to be.

+ I WILL TEACH HER HOW TO SPEAK TO STRANGERS.


This was a really interesting point brought up in the book: young adults are increasingly unable to navigate life independently because they were taught not to talk to strangers for safety reasons . But talking to strangers is a skill every adult needs to have. How else do you make friends, network, land job opportunities, get directions, etc.?

Instead, I want to teach Little Rabbit how to talk to strangers appropriately. And part of that means teaching her how to recognize a person’s intentions—and how to get the hell out of their if those intentions aren’t good ones.

+ I WILL VIEW HER TEACHERS AND COACHES AS PARTNERS, NOT ENEMIES.


One of the most prevalent themes in the book was that of parents arguing with other authority figures in their kid’s life. Challenging school discipline, arguing about grades, or telling a coach they’re being too harsh… not OK in my book (unless that coach really IS being a class A jerk, of course). A kid has to learn that actions have consequences. And in the case of a real issue, they have to learn to advocate for themselves. I want to be partners with those authority figures—we need to work together to shape my kid in those instances. That means reinforcing consequences, helping LR figure out how to speak up for herself, and letting teachers/coaches do their jobs.

+ I WILL EMPHASIZE RELATIONSHIPS OVER ACCOMPLISHMENTS.


Accomplishments are cool and all, but the people in our lives are far more important. I want our kids to understand that from the get go.In fact, I want them to gave a better understanding of it than I do. I want it to be natural for them. So, start ’em young!

+ I WILL KEEP MY OWN ISSUES TO MYSELF.


This stems from another point in the book about how parents are so involved in their kid’s life that their own identity and self-worth gets tied up in their kids behavior and success. Not good for anyone! It’s not Little Rabbit’s job to make me feel like a good parent. It’s just my job to BE a good parent. I’ll do everything I can to keep whatever insecurities I feel to myself.

There are a lot more (very specific) ideas in the book, and ones that I really want to implement (hello, Montessori education). There are even tips on how to have conversations with your kids that help them learn how to think (instead of just teaching them what to think).

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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