Susan talks with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, about raising children who grow into confident, capable, resilient adults. Many parents feel they should do all they can to help their kids get good grades. But are we shortchanging our children when we do? 

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of the New York Times best-selling book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. The book emerged from her decade as Stanford University’s Dean of Freshmen, where she fiercely advocaded for young adults. She was also known for her strong critique of the growing trend of parental involvement in the day-to-day lives of college students. The book gave rise to a TED talk that became one of the top TED Talks of 2016. Julie’s memoir on race, Real American, will be out in Fall 2017. Julie is a graduate of Stanford University, Harvard Law School, and California College of the Arts.

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Our kids only develop independence and confidence when we don’t do for them things they can do for themselves 

  • One of the areas in which kids get to practice being responsible is homework — and it’s something that parents often think they need to manage for their kids
  • When we step back and HELP our kids develop responsibility, slowly and steadily, we help them grow into confident, resilient adults

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Read the entire episode!
Transcript here:

Speaker 1: (00:11)
Hello and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m Susan stifelman. I’m your host. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of parenting without power struggles and parenting with presence, which is an Eckhart toilet edition. This podcast reflects my work with families for over 40 years as a teacher, a parent coach, and a family therapist. I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning a lot from all the wonderful parents who are in my monthly membership program or who take my classes and I learn a lot from collaborations with fascinating and bright speakers like my guest on this episode, Julie Left Scott Hames. Julie is the author of how to raise an adult. Isn’t that a great title? She’s the former freshman dean at Stanford University and she took part in an online series I did called raising tweens and teens. I loved our conversation, so I’m going to share part of it with you today. Now, one of the things you’ll often hear me say is that we aren’t just raising children, we’re raising adults, so Julie sensibilities resonate completely with mine too. She really understands that our kids only develop independence and confidence when we don’t do for them the things that they can do for themselves. You’ll find what we talked about particularly relevant in the aftermath of the college admissions scandal. So I’m going to play you the clip and then I’ll have more to say afterwards.

Speaker 2: (01:42)

Speaker 1: (01:43)
can you, can you talk about what it means to be an adult?

Speaker 2: (01:47)
Huh. It’s such a big question and such an essential question. I think based on watching so many young people setting about the task of becoming an adult, live in my own life and raising two teenagers, this is what I think it means to be an adult. It means to feel you have agency in your own life, that life isn’t, you know, acting upon you only, but that you have some agency, you have an ability to get up, make a decision, make a plan, go in some direction, discover what happens, reroute yourself when it goes badly. Pick your stuff up. Keep going. That you’re the, you’re in the driver’s seat of your own life. Obviously. Your parents hopefully love you forever. You love them forever, but at some point, each of us needs to know this is my life, not theirs. Mine that my friend’s life, not my dad’s life, not the life my dad wished he had my life.

Speaker 2: (02:54)
And I think the marker of whether you can behave as an adult is things like can you earn a living that supports the expenses you have, but also a more, um, existentially can you make a decision and live with the consequences and not expect somebody to make that decision for you or rescue you from it. Okay. So it’s when I, when I was working with my students that would have been made, what do you want to do with your life professionally? Well, I want to be a this, but my parents expect to have that. And then I would say to them, well, it is a sign of childhood that you kind of make a decision about the course, the direction in which do you want? Oh, even if the people love you the most, think it’s a bad idea or the wrong choice, who feel adult enough to say, no, this is what I want to do and I’m going to give it a try.

Speaker 2: (03:49)
Even if it’s not what they want. That I think is to have the agency, um, that you want to have in your own life. Wow. Which flies in the face of so much of what has been absorbed into us through our pores as parents. That parenting means protecting your kids, buffering them from difficulties and challenges, bailing them out, rescuing them and, and really hyper man at micro managing their day to day activities with this idea that you speak about in your Ted Talk. That’s incredible. That, um, when the ultimate goal is this fabulous name brand college that somehow ensures that they’re going to have this great life. Can you touch on that or expand on that? Yeah. So we adore our kids fiercely, right? Susan, you do? I do. We all pay. All of us parents, we love our kids fiercely. We want the best for them.

Speaker 2: (04:47)
We’ve just gotten really misguided about what the best for them is. So the buffering and the protecting, you know, we’re doing that for years and years and years after it is appropriate. When you have an infant baby in your arms, you’d better protect them. You set them down, you know, they cannot fend for themselves. But we’re supposed to take an interest in our kids developing into that adult who will replace us one day as the adult in life, right? We’ll be elderly, we’ll be gone. At some point, we need to know our young people can actually fend for themselves rather than expect us to be there to buffer and protect. So when childhood is full of buffering and protecting our kids become chronologically adult, they reach the age of 18 or 21 or 25 but they know I need my parents with me at all times so that I’m safe or I need them to tell me what to do.

Speaker 2: (05:44)
Or I need them to argue with the person who I think is being mean to me or disagreeing with me who is my friend or my employer or my professor. Or the store clerk, you know? So we end up undercutting chances to thrive as adults when we over help. So we actually have to continually back away from buffering and protecting and doing before and teach them to think and do and plan coke for themselves. It’s not a lack of love that drives that. It’s the most loving thing of all. Just prepare them for that adult life. Now where when elite college comes into play, what the desire for our kids to be admitted to the school, who’s bumper sticker we want on the back of our car? When that’s driving it, we think, well that school requires a GPA over 4.0 that school requires however many aps that school requires a test score that is this high or this much leadership or whatever.

Speaker 2: (06:46)
We think, well I need to make my child look like that. And then they’ll get to the school and then they’ll be successful. And what I’ve learned by watching so many young people and my years as a dean is if you manufacture them to that point, they know they haven’t gotten there on their own. They still need you to do for them. Then you end up editing their college papers, making the choice for them about which activities to do. Again, you’ve arrived at that point, you’ve delete that. I mean that’s a strange way to phrase it, but I’m going to say it again. You’ve arrived your child at that point, meaning you’ve got them there. Yeah, you got them to this place. It’s like you’ve looked at them to the summit of a mountain and they stand there builder and hold them a flag knowing they haven’t summited it themselves and they need you to stand there and tell them you know what to do and they need you to help them get to the next thing. So what we’re supposed to do as parents for the longer term, not to get them into the certain brand name college, but to have confidence that they’ve got skills, habits, a mindset and emotional wellbeing and wellness so that they can thrive wherever they go.

Speaker 1: (07:59)
Okay. Wow. Well, honestly I couldn’t agree more about what Julie said. The importance of parenting with the longer term in mind. And that means focusing less on getting our kids into a prestigious college and more on cultivating the attitudes and habits that they’re going to need to thrive in life. And some of that comes from letting our children take responsibility for one of the few things that they get to practice being responsible for. And it’s something that we often take charge of and that is their homework. Now I know this is a sensitive subject and you may not agree with my views on this one, but I’ve seen too many high school kids whose parents are still organizing their binders and checking their math homework. First I want to say I have nothing against parents taking an interest in their kids’ academic life. And in fact it’s really good to show that you care about how they’re doing in school and to support and be there to help them when they have a problem.

Speaker 1: (08:58)
And of course when kids are young, they need us to show them how to organize their schoolwork and manage their time and how to ask for help when they don’t understand something. But it’s important that we do that instead of sitting them down every day to do our math or our science project or our book report, because remember you already finished the fourth grade so you don’t have any homework. Yay. And now I know some of you are thinking, well, if I didn’t sit beside my son or Nag my daughter, homework would never get done. What about that? There are definitely times when kids need extra support or they need us to help them structure how they get their work done. And I’ll be devoting other episodes to talking about that and talking about power struggles that happen over homework. But for now, just think about the message that your kids get when you make their homework your homework.

Speaker 1: (09:53)
I once had a mother and daughter in my office and homework was a huge issue, a huge source of conflict. Mom was really upset because she said her daughter had a terrible attitude about her schoolwork and and mom would visit her daughter’s online homework portal every day to see what was due and how she was rating and what kind of grades she was getting. And then every afternoon when this young woman came home, they had arguments about the daughter’s sitting down to do her work and of course then mom checked it and made her do things over that hadn’t been done well the first time and her daughter was in the ninth grade. I said, imagine that between the two of you there are 100 units of concern over homework. Mom, if you have 99 of those units of concern, then your daughter can only have one in.

Speaker 1: (10:43)
In other words, you’re doing all the fretting for your daughter, all the worry, all the focus. So she has almost no investment in pushing through obstacles for the sake of just feeling good about how she’s doing in her work or getting positive comments from her teacher. It’s really all about you mom managing your anxiety about your daughter’s homework and she resents that because it is not our children’s job to manage their parents’ anxiety. And you know, of course the daughter is just nodding her head vigorously as I’m saying this cause that’s how she felt. She felt like there was no room for her to be concerned because her mom was making it such a huge issue for her in terms of her worries about what college she would get into and so forth. Now again, I know this is a touchy subject and that some of you feel passionately that it’s your duty and your obligation to be intimately involved in your children’s homework.

Speaker 1: (11:42)
But when we’re scrambling to make sure that their gps and their extracurriculars are impressive enough to get into a great, impressive, prestigious college, we’re depriving our kids have the chance to develop skills like organization and time management, things that they’re going to need in the grownup world. When we step back and help our kids develop responsibility slowly and steadily, we helped them grow into competent, resilient adults. And this is so important. Many people will tell you that their kids go off to college and they just kind of fall apart or their grades plummet because there’s no longer somebody, they’re looking over their shoulder to make sure they’ve done their assignments. There’s nobody there unplugging the router at night or limiting their screen time. I remember reading an article about a young woman who was a freshman at college and there was a fire in her dorm and instead of calling the fire department, she called her mother.

Speaker 1: (12:39)
So you guys, I know that we want the best for our children. I know that we want them to grow into confident and responsible and resourceful young men and women who can navigate life and deal with whatever comes their way and take responsibility for their mistakes and organize their time and manage their obligations. And we have a chance right now while they’re with us, while they’re under our roof, to guide them, to support them, to kind of gently ease them into taking more and more ownership over the things that they’re meant to be responsible for. And homework provides a great opportunity to practice all of that. Now, of course there are going to be exceptions. Of course there are some kids who really do need lots of structure and involvement from their parents and tutors and all kinds of things to supplement what’s going on in the classroom.

Speaker 1: (13:29)
You’ll hear in this podcast lots of examples and references to alternative ways of learning and different schooling opportunities and different ways of processing information that should be honored and that schools don’t always do a great job of integrating. So there are for sure times when parents have to be involved, but think about the message and the message is the most important, the message that says to our children, this is an obligation that you have from your teacher and I’m here to support you in fulfilling it, but it is not my responsibility and I am not going to make lying anxiety become the driving force in you getting your homework done. Again, I know some of you may find that a little hard to accept, but you know, take part in the conversation. You’ll find me on Facebook under my author page. I’d love to hear your comments and we’ll just keep growing together and learning and entertaining new ways of looking at the ways we can raise our kids to become loving, compassionate, confident, secure, well-adjusted, big people, grownups.

Speaker 1: (14:38)
So I want to wrap up with a tip this week. Start noticing how much you talk with your children about their homework when they get home from school and see if you can hit the pause button before you ask about their homework. Think about why you’re asking. Do you doubt that they’re going to do it? Are you concerned that they don’t know how to do it? Are you worried that if they don’t do an assignment or if they don’t do it really well, the teacher will think you’re a bad parent or you’re falling down on your responsibilities. When we consider what fuels our behavior, we’re better able to address the underlying concerns and identify problems when something needs attention. For instance, if you believe that you have to push your kids to do their math homework every day because your underlying fear is that they don’t understand what’s going on in math class than if you’re doing every problem with them to alleviate your worries.

Speaker 1: (15:34)
You’re really not implementing an effective longterm solution. And if you’re anxious about what grade they’re going to get on an assignment because you want the teacher’s approval, well we’ll talk about that in another episode. Or remember, it is not your children’s job to make you look good or to make you feel like you’re a good parent. Try saying something to your kids when they get home like this. I’m pretty sure you have some math. Is there anything you need from me to get that done? And then let you child show you what they can do. It might take awhile and you may of course need to intervene if they completely ignore their work, but when you demonstrate that you have faith in their ability, it’s a great way to start making some important shifts if you have been micromanaging your kid’s homework. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode.

Speaker 1: (16:22)
Lots of food for thought. If you would like more parenting support, I hope you’ll check out my monthly parenting without power struggles membership program. We have a lot of fun. I work with parents on everything from homework and chores to bedtime and screen time and we cover everything parent related twice a month in these interactive coaching sessions. And if you’d like to hear more from me in this podcast, please subscribe so that you automatically get the next episode. You can leave a rating or a review if you’ve enjoyed it. We really appreciate it when you do that. And if you have a question that you would like me to answer, you can visit Susan to find out more about Julie’s work. Julie lift, Cot Hames visit Julie, lift cot, if you’d like to listen to the full interviews from the summit’s like raising tweens and teens, which Julie was part of, or if you want to get my newsletter so you’ll get a lot of free tips and inspiration. You can visit Susan meanwhile, remember that no matter how busy life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. Let yourself have some fun with your kids this week. Ask for support when you need it, and thanks for showing up. I’ll see you next time.

Speaker 3: (17:40)
Yeah. [inaudible].

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