No one-size-fits-all approach works in parenting

three

Me and my two kiddos.

In an article in The Boston Globe, different parenting styles are discussed, from helicopter parents to the new buzz about snowplows—plus those lawbreakers who crossed the line with cheating on college admissions. According to Rebecca Pacheco in “Forget the buzzwords about parenting styles, let’s just be present.” she makes good points about how important is to be there and be present in the moment, regardless of your “style.”

Every generation has a fresh take on parenting, its own personal stamp on how children should be raised. Lately, though, it seems we hear of a new style every few weeks. First there were attachment parents and helicopter parents, and now come the snowplow parents.

This last group is particularly infuriating because it means just what one might expect: to remove all obstacles in the path of a child. In other words, instead of preparing the child for the road ahead, the parent prepares the road itself. They plow it and pave it and block traffic. Sometimes, as in the case of the parents in the college admissions scandal, they even commit fraud.

As far as parenting styles named for heavy machinery are concerned, it seems that snowplows deserve more ire than helicopter parents — characterized as those who hover too close — because snowplows do more than hover. They do the work, sometimes even the dirty work, for the child.

Of course there’s a big difference between over-parenting and engaging in criminal activity. Either way, I’m curious if there’s anything positive to glean from the revelation of how far some parents go to shelter their children from the travails of growing up. How did we get here, by the way? And what can parents of more modest means (and probably stronger ethics) do instead to better prepare their children to succeed in the world?

She goes on to say, let kids experience failure. Failure is good for our kids and especially when the stakes aren’t too high. For example, if they fail at a test in high school, it’s not as important as in college when classes cost a ton of money. Failure needs to be looked at as an opportunity to learn. If we swoop in each time to save the day, our children won’t learn the lessons they need to move onto the next phase of their lives. Their days “adulting” will be filled with anxiety and stress, because we robbed them of necessary experiences. Just saying, from my own experiences.

Here’s what the writer from the Globe said about it:

First, let’s remember: Failure is good. Not all the time, not as a way of being or way of life. But failure teaches kids resilience, creativity, and prioritization. Through failure, we learn what matters enough that we are willing to work relentlessly toward it no matter how many times we fail; or we learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out.

Jessica Lahey, New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” and a longtime educator, puts it this way: “Kids need to have a positive, adaptive response to failures in order to learn from them, so every time we swoop in and save kids from a consequence, that’s a learning opportunity lost.”

The best thing she said, in my opinion, was “Be present.”

When it comes to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each kid is different. The strengths and resources of parents vary greatly. And yet, one technique stands out for me, which can be summed up in two words: Be present.

Practically speaking, babies and toddlers do not exist anywhere other than the present moment. When they are hungry, hunger is all that exists. When they are in pain, pain is all-encompassing. Older children understand the concept of time, but their needs are only slightly less immediate. You can reason that you’ll go to the playground not today but tomorrow or request that no one wake you before 7 a.m. on Saturdays, but a child of any age still often needs a response in the moment.

When it comes to parenting, the most important question might not be which style we choose, but how we show up for our children in a given moment. One moment after the other. Every day. Year layered upon year, like tiers of birthday cake or bricks. Granted, no one is perfect, never distracted, or immune to a bad mood or short fuse, but before we can be “good” parents, we must first be present ones. We can borrow wisdom from all kinds of parenting styles: from Montessori or Tiger Mamas, attachment or anything goes, but it all seems secondary to the question of whether our faces light up when they enter a room. Do we take the time to be attentive in their presence?

We teach kids to stop and look both ways before crossing the street. It’s a crucial safety precaution, but it can also serve as mindfulness inspiration as parents. How often do we take pause, stopping to consider what is happening as it’s happening, rather than merely reacting? As parents, do we have a stop-and-look equivalent as the moment is unfolding?

Being in the present is important when you have adult kids, too. It’s also something to remember when you’re with your spouse. Are you preoccupied on your phone while they are talking to you? Are you nodding your head in agreement without listening? Most people are distracted because of our phones. When our adult children call, get off the computer or whatever else we’re doing and pay attention. If we’re distracted all the time and not really “there” we may find ourselves in a day and time when nobody is calling anymore.

Stop. Breathe. Be here, in this moment, with yourself, with your kid whom you love. That’s the job. Leave the plowing of snow and hovering at 460 rotations per minute to the heavy machinery.

What are your thoughts about being in the moment with the people you love?

meandrbeach

Advertisements

Are Snow Plow Parents to Blame for the Cheating Scandal?

robertHere’s a different take on the college admissions scandal where wealthy parents have been bribing coaches, athletic directors and SAT proctors to get their kids into the schools of their dreams—maybe it’s not the fault of being a snowplow parent after all.

In an article from Psychology Today, written by Daniel R. Stalder Ph.D. called “Are We Overreacting to Snowplow Parenting?” he makes the point, “We may not want to shame all snowplow parents over the admissions scandal.”

In the recent college admissions scandal, some wealthy parents allegedly bribed and lied to get their kids into certain colleges. Although we’ve known for a long time that kids from wealthy families have advantages in higher education, the criminal element of this story is new. Parents are getting arrested.

Many of us have criticized these parents for such behavior. But along the way, some of us have gone further by criticizing their general parenting style.

As a professor, I’ve had to deal with cases of student cheating, such as smuggling cell phones into tests or copying a classmate’s answers. Such behaviors are wrong, but I don’t extend this judgment to other aspects of the students’ lives, such as how they study or take lecture notes. Is it different for judging parents who break the law?

Maybe. I’m definitely not trying to defend the alleged behavior. But several recent authors in The New York Times and elsewhere have gone further by using the scandal as a jumping-off point to criticize “snowplow” parents in general. In my view, everyday parents who seem to snowplow or hover get criticized enough without unfairly grouping them into a high-profile scandal.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle, or shield their child from any stress or failure. Helicopter parents are similarly described as wanting to “ensure their children’s success” (Darlow, 2017). A common criticism of all these parents includes the adage that we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures.

I like the fact that this writer makes the distinction that the parents who broke the law aren’t just snow plow parents — they are doing something beyond annoying — they are acting immorally and illegally. While we helicopter and snow plowers may cross the line on what is helpful to our kids, we stop way before the illegal line.

In my profession, if I get a call from a parent demanding I change their child’s grade, does that mean this parent is a snowplow parent? If a student makes a similarly unreasonable demand, does that mean they were raised by a snowplow parent? I don’t know.

My first point is that there is an inability to see the whole at-home story based on a single behavior. This is partly to say that a particular parent might seem to fit a parenting label in one context but not another (Stalder, 2018). But even if the label fits a parent in general, I’ve observed other biases in criticizing snowplow (and helicopter) parenting. These biases include the strawman fallacy, dichotomous thinking, the converse error, and just not considering individual differences in children.

I enjoy that the article discusses the fact that it’s not a one or the other situation. It’s not black or white. I think that’s true for me. I may hover in one area, and not in another. We are after all trying to do our best to raise healthy, happy and successful kids. Maybe we need a break on the labels and blame? kat

Anyone else agree? What are your thoughts about the snow plow and helicopter labels on parents?

What is “intensive parenting” and is it the norm?

rkcowboys 2

My cute kiddos.

I’m not quite sure what the difference is between helicopter and intensive parents, but according to a recent study by a researcher at Cornell University, “intensive” parenting is what most parents view as “good parenting” regardless of their educational or socioeconomic status. In fact, it’s becoming the norm. In an article by Joe Pinsker from The Atlantic called ‘Intensive’ Parenting Is Now the Norm in America, he states that “This style of child-rearing that most aspire to takes a lot of time and money, and many families can’t pull it off.”

Here’s are a few paragraphs from the article:

Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.

These are the oft-stereotyped hallmarks of a parenting style that has been common in upper-middle-class households for at least a generation. But according to a recent survey, this child-rearing philosophy now has a much broader appeal, one that holds across race and class. The survey, which polled roughly 3,600 parents of children ages 8 to 10 who were demographically and economically representative of the national population, found evidence that hands-on parenting is not just what the well-off practice—it’s what everyone aspires to.

Intensive is the adjective that researchers, including Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who published the survey results late last year, use to describe this model of raising kids. It’s difficult to nail down precisely when it became the standard that so many American parents hold themselves to, but its approach seems built for an era of widening economic inequality, in which the downsides of a child falling behind economically are the largest they’ve been in generations.

Intensive parenting is a style of child-rearing fit for an age of inequality, indicative of a stratified past, present, and future. The past: As some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs. (The more extracurriculars, the logic of intensive parenting goes, the better the odds of getting into an excellent college and of securing one of the high-paying jobs that America cordons off for the best-credentialed.) The present: As Ishizuka described, intensive parenting is an ideal that’s currently out of reach for many families. And the future: Practiced as it is by some families but not others, it might replicate—or even widen—inequities in future generations.

Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.

I am sure that this style of parenting is what my husband and I followed with our kids. We were big on extracurriculars, spending quality time with our kids and having lengthy discussions of what we considered to be morally right or wrong. But, from there, I went overboard to helicoptering. I couldn’t let my kids fail for the life of me. If it meant arguing with teachers over a second-grade continent test (where I finally learned that Artic is spelled Arctic — my bad!) or sending an email to the AP history teacher in high school demanding that the 89.9% be rounded up to a 90% and an A, I definitely passed the line from “intensive” to “copter.” At least I can look back on what I did and see the errors of my ways. We get a laugh about it today with the kids. They know I had their best interests in mind and wasn’t trying to sabotage their adulthood.

If you want more details about the study on “intensive” parenting, read the press release from Cornell University here.

In an article by Susan Kelley in a Cornell publication called “Hands-on, intensive parenting is best, most parents say,” she gives more details:

Regardless of their education, income or race, most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, a Cornell researcher has found.

The findings suggest intensive parenting has become the dominant model for how parents across the socio-economic spectrum feel children should be raised – regardless of whether the parent has the resources to actually do so.

“This points to exceptionally high standards for how parents should raise their kids. It suggests that parents are experiencing significant pressure to spend great amounts of both time and money on children,” said Patrick Ishizuka, the author of “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States,” published Dec. 22 in Social Forces.

Most parents also said intensive parenting is the ideal approach for both mothers and fathers, and applies to parenting boys and girls, according to the study.

“It’s remarkable just how widespread support is for intensive parenting, in terms of social class and gender,” added Ishizuka, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

Researchers in the field have known that parents with low incomes and less education tend to spend less time and money on children than parents with higher incomes and more education. But it hadn’t been clear whether that’s because they lack resources or because they prefer a different approach to childrearing. Ishizuka’s study is the first to directly address the question using a nationally representative survey, by asking parents of different social classes what they consider “good parenting.”

Ishizuka analyzed data from more than 3,600 study participants who were parents. The participants read about various scenarios in which a mother or father interacts with a child between the ages of 8 and 10. The vignettes focused on the child’s leisure activities, how the parent speaks to the child and how the family interacts with professionals in institutions like schools or a doctor’s office. The participants then ranked the parent’s behavior from “excellent” to “poor.”

Each scenario described one of two approaches to parenting: concerted cultivation (an intensive parenting approach) or natural growth (a non-intensive parenting approach). In concerted cultivation, parents facilitate their child’s participation in extracurricular activities, play with them at home, ask them about their thoughts and feelings, and respond to misbehavior with discussion and explanations. In contrast, parents taking the natural growth approach set rules for their children’s safety but give them flexibility to play on their own or with friends. Parents are less involved in the children’s activities and give them clear directives with little room for negotiation.

IMG_1569-1

A more recent pic.

What are your thoughts about intensive vs. natural growth approaches to parenting? Is intensive parenting something you approve of? And have you ever crossed the line into the realm of helicopter parenting?

How to be a sports parent and “not quite ruin your child”

IMG_5008

A swim meet where college coaches were present for recruiting.

I read an interesting book a few weeks ago about how to parent without really trying. Called Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,  it was written by James Breakwell. He is a popular author and humorist who can be found on Twitter. His theory is the opposite of helicopter parenting. He believes that all children will turn about the same — mediocre — regardless of parenting techniques. So why knock yourself out with trying to be a perfect parent, raising perfectionist children? He believes in a hands off, bare minimum approach.

As a relentless, overachieving swim mom, I especially enjoyed Chapter 11 “The Path to Athletic Glory” which he crossed out and renamed “Benched.” Breakwell’s advice on sports parenting is to sign your kids up for sports and let it go at that. At some point, they’ll tire of it and you can all move onto something else.

Here are a few excerpts from his sports parenting chapter that gave me a chuckle or belly laugh:

“The real danger sports pose is to you, the parent on the sideline. Kids will damage their bodies and minds. You could lose your immortal soul.”

“The competitive pull of youth sports is hard to resist. Deep down, we all have a primal urge to see our child do better than other people’s kids. It’s the ultimate secondhand validation. If your kid wins, that means you’re better than those other parents, or at least that you passed on better genes. Whatever it was, your kid triumphed because of you. Brag about it to everyone you know. That never gets old.” 

“But while sports parents know everything there is to know about succeeding as an athlete, none of them agree on how to pull it off. There’s more than one way to ruin a childhood. To sports parents, steamrolling their child’s youth will be worth it when their kid hoists whatever arbitrary medal or trophy now defines that kid’s entire existence. Ultimately, sports parents just want their kid to have fun — as long as they win or die trying.”

On Breakwell’s section about parents’ dreams of Olympic glory, he writes that the dream is out of reach. 

“Parents of top gymnasts and swimmers enroll their kids in Soviet-style sports gulags the second they leave the womb….The bottom line is kids don’t just roll out of bed and pull off world-record swimming times or gymnastics scores. Instead they give up their entire childhoods to achieve greatness at those arbitrary scoring metrics.”

If you’re a bare minimum parent, you shouldn’t touch Olympic training with a ten-foot pole. Unless you use that pole to pull your kid out of the training pool. If they swim like me, they could use the help.

So what should you do if your child says they want to be an Olympic athlete? Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: I want to be an Olympic swimmer.

Parent: No.

Then buy them ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything. Note: This also works on adults.

robkatwater

Having fun in the pool.

Our own family pursued swimming for years — literally from the time my kids were six months old in “Mommy and Me” swim lessons to my daughter’s senior year of college. It took up an enormous amount of our family life, but I believe it was worth it. All children want to be Olympians when they’re young. It’s a great dream and worth encouraging. At some point, they understand that only a few, and I mean two people in the United States, per event, every four years, actually make the Olympic team. With 400,000 swimmers registered in USA Swimming, two per event really is out of reach. But the kids do figure it out on their own.

Not being an Olympian doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t a valuable experience and worth every minute. I guess the point is we didn’t go into the deal — as parents — with any illusion of our kids being Olympians. Funny thing though, one of of their teammates from their age group club team made it to the Beijing and London Olympics, and a college teammate of our daughter has two Olympic medalists for sisters. It can happen, but it’s not the point of enrolling and being in a sport.

Later in the chapter, Breakwell talks about how college scholarships is making your kids work for their college educations. He doesn’t think it’s such a good deal after all. “The problem with college scholarships is that otherwise intelligent people forget that nothing is really free.” I’ll save my thoughts on college scholarships for another day.

12768251_10209127311323711_1087820356060339429_o

Cheering for a teammate at PAC 12’s.

What are your thoughts about bare minimum parenting as an approach to sports parenting? Can the two co-exist?

Top Parenting Tip: Don’t help too much!

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 2.42.25 PM

I saw this tweet first thing this morning and it stuck with me all day. My kids are in their early 20s and if I had a do-over, I’d do less for them, not more. I love being a mom and my kids survived my over-parenting and have flourished. But I failed them over and over by doing too much along the way. When they are experiencing pain or a rough patch now, I look back and wish I hadn’t been such a helicopter or lawn mower parent and they’d have experienced more difficulties in their earlier years.

What drives parents to do everything for their kids? Here are six reasons why we do too much for our kids–taken from my own experience and observing other parents:

ONE
We want to shield our kids from pain and hurt.

TWO
We want our kids to have the brightest futures possible — and only we can guarantee that by our constant hovering and interference.

THREE
We’re afraid to let our kids fail. This is the exact opposite of what we need to do. Let them fail while they’re young, when the consequences aren’t so big.

FOUR
Peer pressure. We want to be a super parent, like those we see around us at school or in their sports.

FIVE
We do all the work around the house because their schedules are so busy. (Like ours aren’t?)

SIX
We make every decision for them, allowing them to miss the development of good decision-making skills as they grow.

rknatashapartyhats

What reasons do you see for parents doing too much for their kids?

 

 

Is there hope for helicopter parents?

rkcowboys 2There is hope for helicopter parents, according to an article in a UK news source, The Sunday Times. In “Family: how to reverse the effects of helicopter parenting” by Lorraine Candy, there are several novel ideas of how to stop hovering. One of them involved blindfolding your kids, throwing them in the car along with their bikes, and driving 10 miles from home to a place they didn’t recognize.

Would I have ever done that? No, I doubt it. I would let my kids ride their bikes with friends from DeMuth Park in Palm Springs along the bike trail all the way to Rancho Mirage. Of course, my husband was riding with them. I’d ride part of the way, too. But, I’d stop at Tahquitz Creek Golf Course, because I was too scared to cross the street to where the bike path continued. Seriously. It’s amazing my kids are as normal and self-assured as they are. My fear of riding bikes across a busy road with cars speeding is not without reason. I’ve been “scarred for life” after getting hit by a pickup truck while running across a busy highway.

From the article:

How do you reverse the effects of helicopter parenting? This question has been vexing me since I read the latest guilt-inducing survey, which followed 422 kids from the age of 2 to 10, and revealed that parents who “hovered” over their toddlers in an excessively protective manner produced less likeable, more incapable, academically underperforming children.

The research reported in the journal Developmental Psychology last month concluded that it’s best to let them fight their own battles. This is a little depressing if you are among my generation of parents (I’m 49) who gave birth just as the trend towards child-centric families gained traction. It was a parenting zeitgeist that didn’t help those with a tendency to interfere — mums including one I knew who secretly took the chocolate out of an advent calendar and replaced it with raisins. Recently I witnessed parents refusing to leave the house for a sibling’s wedding in order to hover over a revising teen.

We’ve all done it to some degree, so we need to learn how to reverse the effects in a smart way. I got advice on how from Simon Howarth, a clinical supervisor at the charity Crisis Text Line, which supports teens in need of urgent mental health guidance.

“Try to understand why you may feel guilty,” he says. “You were trying to protect your child, and what is deemed to be wrong now may not have seemed wrong at the time. The key to changing parenting style is to listen more to your teenager. You are moving from protector to enabler. Stop solving problems for them, defer to them to make the final decision even if you know it is perhaps a mistake. You are building resilience, which you have to do gradually if previously you have been overprotective. Tell them that from now on you will trust them to make their own choices.”

I used to love to problem solve for my kids. But then it was the light bulb moment when my daughter told me she was venting–and didn’t want my help. And that if I kept trying to tell her how to solve her problems, she’d quit confiding in me. I like it when my son calls and says, “Can I get your advice on something?” That gives me a clue that yes, he wants to hear how I’d handle a problem. We end up discussing what it is, whether it’s trouble with a roommate or a disagreement with a co-worker. He usually figures out on his own how he’ll handle the issue, but it’s always nice to have someone listen and bounce ideas off of.

Another excerpt from The Sunday Times article about how to stop helicopter parenting:

David McCullough Jr, a teacher of 26 years and a father of four, is the author of You Are Not Special. He became famous when 2.8m people watched his 2012 end-of-school speech on YouTube, which urged graduates to get a grip. He tells me we can indeed recover from earlier overparenting.

“When you make a mistake, admit it, learn and make adjustments,” he says. “If one’s innards churn a bit when a child bears the brunt of a parenting mistake, deal with it. This will show the child his mum and dad are fully dimensional, less than perfect human beings, which for some would be a revelation.

“Show confidence in your children. Believe (outwardly, at least) in their ability to handle things alone. They will sense this confidence, which will help them develop their own.”

He adds: “When two of my children were 10 and 12 and suffering some summer doldrums, I blindfolded them, threw them and their bicycles in the car and drove them 10 miles into territory they wouldn’t recognise. I left them and drove off. They had a fine time together and wanted to do it again as soon as they got back to the house.”

Isn’t it nice to know there is hope for us helicopter parents? It’s like anything else in life, there is always room to grow and improve.

“Everyday in every way I’m getting better and better.”  —Emile Coue

 

robahh 1

With his favorite blanket, he named “Ahhh.”

What is one of the worst helicopter parenting things you’ve done? Or, seen another parent do?

 

Meet the 90-year-old Helicopter Parents

three

I’m still working on not being a helicopter mom.

In a Boston Globe article called “Meet the Helicopter Parents: These helicopter parents are 90. Their kids? 65,” by Beth Teitell gives a number of hilarious examples of middle-aged grown-ups being helicoptered by their 90-year-old parents:

 

“My mom asked for the phone number of our school board to tell them they keep me out too late at meetings,” @bonitadee tweeted. “I am 57 and a school principal.”

The writer Roxane Gay captured the new reality. “My mom just texted me to curse less on twitter,” she tweeted on April 8. “I said stop stalking me. She said ‘I will not.’ I am 43.”

I too get unsolicited advice from my dad. I probably enjoy it as much as my kids like unsolicited advice from me. It’s not very often, though. And another thing I learned in this article is this: when the advice ends–you’ll be very sad. 

Another point, we are just as much at fault for allowing our parents to helicopter. Most adults don’t stand up to their parents or say anything at all. For example, my daughter has no problem telling me when to stop over-parenting or helicoptering. My son is more polite about it, but he tells me not to worry. “That he’s got it handled.” Me, I say nothing, or try to explain my point of view. Mostly, I view both my mom and dad as leaning to the “free-range” spectrum of parenting, rather than helicoptering.

Here’s more from the article:

Welcome to 2018, when people are living so long that baby boomers, the original helicopter parents, have helicopters of their own.

A growing number of middle-aged folks — accustomed to directing their teenagers and young adults’ lives — are also on the receiving side of the equation. In today’s world, you’re never too old to be somebody’s baby.

In 2012, 53.7 percent of people aged 55-59 had at least one parent living, compared with 43.6 percent in that same age group in 1992, according to Ashton Verdery, an assistant professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University.

Relationships between adult children who are 65+ and parents who are 90 and up are new enough that the National Institute on Aging is funding a study.

Kathrin Boerner, the principal investigator of the “Aging Together Study,” and an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said she was surprised at the amount of advice and support that flows “downstream,” from very old parents to senior adult children.

1915364_1296704101497_7996135_nAre you an adult with helicopter parents? What do you say when they give you unsolicited advice?