We need to raise children that are strong, resilient, and have good coping skills—just in case Plan A doesn't work out. For these reasons, I enjoyed Madeline Levine’s new book, Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, or Why Values and Coping Strategies Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or Fat Envelopes (Harper Collins, 2012). In this succinct book, Levine digs deeper than the tiger parent vs. overprotective parent debate, and helps us take a long-term perspective on parenting, and what type of adults we are hoping to launch.
Helping our children find authentic success means assisting them in learning to love learning, develop their own strengths and interests, find productive and meaningful work to support themselves, become capable, resourceful, and resilient, create loving relationships with family and friends, and contribute to our world in some way. That’s more valuable than awards, trophies, honor rolls, or admission to a prestigious college.
Levine reminds us that there is more than one definition to building a successful life. Sometimes it takes us way into adulthood to figure that out. This book gives us encouragement to define our own version of success, and parent with that end in mind. I have wanted for my own children to grow into responsible, kind, capable adults who contribute to the world in their own unique way. I wanted them to be able to cope with not only successes, but also with loss, disappointment, waiting, and developing enough inner resources to create a Plan B,C or D as needed.
Levine has some interesting views on how an over-focus on self-esteem in parenting has left some young adults unprepared for the rejection and frustrations of real life. Authentic self-esteem really comes from feeling capable, not from awards, recognition, or compliments (while those are nice to receive). By being too child-centered, we can add to a narcissistic trait that can develop in our children. It's important for our children to know what they think/feel/want is important, but so are those of others. Ultimately, we are reminded that as parents, teaching our children and teens life skills to increase their independence and ability to function in the world, and how to relate compassionately to others, are among the best gifts we can give them.
In Teach Your Children Well, Levine does an excellent job of defining some of the developmental tasks children need our help with in the elementary school years, the middle school years, and the high school years.
Parenting isn't, as Levine writes, one job. It's really more like different jobs at different developmental points, and we need to make intentional shifts as parents in order to help our children and teens move along on their own path to an authentically successful life of their own. We don't want to become so child-centered, overprotective, over-scheduled, or allowing of dependency on us that we fail to help our children prepare to launch. Taking a long-term perspective helps. Our long-term goal in parenting should be to work ourselves out of a job, and launch a well-balanced, strong young adult who can live, love, work, play, and cope well. Teach Your Children Well has some great ideas for the journey.