Dr. Corinne Masur
Following up on my last post where I talked about intensive parenting, I would like to talk a little more about the subject.
But this time I want to talk about one of the things that makes parenting intensive these days and one way to reduce the workload.
And to help, I want to quote Dawn Staley, former Temple University Women’s basketball coach, Olympic gold medallist, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who was interviewed recently by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
Dawn Staley made some interesting observations about parenting.
She said that parents these days often cannot stand to see their children feel uncomfortable. She said that the parents of her players often want to protect them from frustration or failure … or even minor discomfort.
This takes A LOT of work on the parents’ part and is a questionable strategy for raising resilient, independent children.
“I find that just through my life, being uncomfortable, I found a way to grow. And I give that to our players. … I’ll give you an example. Most of the players that I coach, their parents, they don’t want them to hurt. Like, they don’t want them to be unhappy. They don’t want them to go through life hurting or failing… bad game, bad grade, just – break up with your (partner). Like, their parents don’t want them to go through that.
And I am the direct opposite of their parents. Like, I want them to do that. I want you to break up, have a breakup. I want you to have a bad game. I want you to fail the test because from those moments, growth is taking place. You find a way to not have those repeat performances in … your life. So sometimes my players – they struggle with me because I don’t treat them like their parents treat them.”
This is so profound – Coach Staley is suggesting that in her own life she grew from the times when she was uncomfortable – and she thinks her players can do the same.
This may sound sensible – and yet it is so hard to institute a similar policy with our own children – so hard to tolerate our own children’s frustration or pain.
Letting children fail or fall or have a bad break up without rushing in to prevent it or to fix it is hard for parents. We want our children to be happy and comfortable. We want their lives to be smooth and easy.
But is this the best thing for our children? And is it the best thing for us parents?
Will our children learn what they need to live their lives independently, and to survive frustrations and disappointments – if we don’t let them experience difficulty as they grow up?
I have written about this in other posts and no doubt I will write about it again. But I think it is worth thinking about the answer it to these questions.
And I think it is likely that protecting our children too much is not a good parenting strategy – not only for our children but for us.
Trying to cushion every fall (metaphorical or real) is a full time job even if you just have one child. And if you have more than one? Well, that is total overload.
And taking this approach to child raising leaves very little time to be an adult outside of work, to talk to our partner, to be with our friends, to relax, to read, etc.
To be good parents, we need time to refuel, including in the presence of our children – not just on nights out.
We need to do this partly for ourselves, and partly to show children that being an adult is not just one never ending string of chores and responsibilities.
I just read a wonderful comedic memoir called, “Did Ye Hear Mammy Died” by Seamus O’Reilly. In this book O’Reilly describes how his father raised him – and his ten siblings – after their mother died.
His father had eleven children. He raised them without help. He never remarried. But he did expect the older ones to watch the younger ones and perhaps, most importantly, he did expect them all to amuse themselves.
The author describes hours and days and weeks of boredom. And he also describes all the reading and other activities he and his siblings dreamed up to do.
Their father did not sit on the floor to play with them. He did not see it as his job to entertain them, except, perhaps on the occasional vacation. But he did keep an enormous library of books and videos (movies) in the house and he did insist that they spend time with each other and he also made sure that they knew what they were supposed to do and when they were supposed to do it. He did wake them all up every morning and he did chauffeur them to their various clubs and choirs and classes and performances. He made sure they got where they needed to be and he did have someone to clean up the house after them. But again, he did not feel it was his job to sit on the floor with them or to entertain them. He had his own interests and hobbies and activities that are well described in the book.
This is a fascinating story for so many reasons, not the least of which has to do with parenting.
Reading this book, and listening to Dawn Staley gives us pause to think – and these two tremendous adults make clear how all encompassing AND how limited our current view of parenting is.
Parents’ lives today are arduous, in part because we have a hard time discriminating what our jobs are with our children and what we need to leave up to our children to do on their own.
When our 16 year old gets a ticket, if we contact our friend who has an inside track on cancelling that parking or speeding ticket, will that teenager learn that it’s better not to speed or to park in an illegal spot?
Or, if we pay the fine for them, again, will they learn anything from the experience?
The answer is obvious.
And the same goes for what will happen if we always jump in to help them to finish the school projects they have left to the last moment or when we write the college essay for them.
We may feel the stakes are too high to let our child experience consequences. If he doesn’t get a good grade in 6th grade, he won’t get into the higher level classes in middle school. If she doesn’t write a good essay, she won’t get into the college she wants.
But we have to ask ourselves, how will our child learn to do what they need to do in life if they DON’T suffer the consequences when they fail to do these things? And why we are so worried about our child’s project or college essay or problem with a girlfriend/boyfriend/partner in the first place?
We have to ask ourselves why we don’t think our children can sort these things out and what our children will miss out on learning if we sort everything out FOR them.
And then we need to think carefully about when and where we step in to help – and when and where we sit back, do our own thing, and let our children figure things out for themselves.
Is parenting too intensive?
YES. But perhaps we can do something about SOME of the load by looking at our own behavior.
And for the Dawn Staley interview, here it is in its entirety: