Chores and Unconditional Love Go A Long Way

Mount Tamalpais School hosted Julie Lythcott-Haims, best-selling author and parenting guru, to join our community in an online conversation with Head of School, Andrew Davis, via Zoom/YouTube Live on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (Many thanks to MTS parent Ama Lieb for bringing Julie to us!) Andrew talked to Julie about themes in How to Raise an Adult, as well as how the stories from Real American influence her thinking about the parenting. Julie also gave us a glimpse into her third book coming out in April, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult.

Key Takeaways from Julie Lythcott-Haims Talk

[On How to Raise an Adult]

  • Our children lack resilience and agency because they are being over-parented. 
  • We need to educate and train our children such that they are able to make their own choices. Parents should not be making every choice for them. 
  • Constantly worrying over every detail of your children's lives is stressful. Parents wear this stress and make adulting look unattractive. As a results, many millennials aren’t interested in #adulting. 
  • Get a life and then your kid can get one too. 
  • Children are not our pets, our purpose, or our trophy. They are their own person.
  • Children need agency, resilience, and character. 
  • Chores and unconditional love will go a long way. 
  • We need to teach our children skills. (Use the 4 step method: show them, do it with them, watch them do it, and then they can do it on their own. See these tips on Julie’s website here.)

[On Julie’s memoir: Real American]

  • Write a memoir if you feel like it could help others feel less alone, less afraid, and more seen. (That's why Julie wrote hers.)
  • Don’t raise your kid in an all white environment if you’re a person of color. Children do best where they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. 
  • For parents who don’t have to talk about race regularly because you are a member of the dominate race - please accept that that is a privilege. Black and brown families talk about race with their kids because stuff happens to them out in the world on the basis of their race. It’s your job to teach your kids that the human community is made up of all different kinds of people, with so many wonderful differences - nobody is inherently better - or worse - than anybody else. 
  • We are the biggest role models in our children’s lives. Walk the walk. If you’re trying to prepare your children to live in a diverse world, what kind of world are you raising your own child in? Think about the media your family consumes, the conversations you have, the issues you discuss. 
  • To create a more diverse organization, examine your blind spots and do the hard work, the vulnerable, emotional work first before you invite others in. 

[On Your Turn - How to be an Adult]

  • The book is about adulting, how to be an adult for ages 18+
  • It’s for young adults who may be struggling. 
  • “Stop pleasing others.” Other people have no idea who you are. It’s your life. 
  • Life is terrifying and delicious. 
  • Being an adult means you’re in charge. 
  • We all screw up. You’re not perfect. 
  • Start talking to strangers. “Safety-ism” – staying in your cocoon – is not helping anyone. 
  • Adulting is a big deal, you can’t boil it down to a few tips. 
  • The book comes out April 6th. 

*****

Read on for a few excerpts of the conversation. 

[On How to Raise an Adult]

Andrew: What was the problem, the issue that you saw, that inspired the writing of this book? [How to Raise an Adult]

Julie: I was a freshman dean at Stanford University beginning in 2002, I held that position for 10 years, and as was the case with probably every administrator and faculty member across the nation, we were discovering that childhood had changed. Children were coming differently prepared to look after themselves. It didn’t matter how smart they were, how good their grades were, but they were “existentially impotent” – unfamiliar with their own selves. Accustomed to being told what to do and how to do it, accustomed to being handled and managed, by somebody else, and I just worried, when are you going to hunger to be in charge of yourself and your own life, your own choices, and when are you going to be ready to be in the driver seat of your own life. I worried for them as individuals. And, I couldn’t help but think as a society, what’s going to become of us if the next generation doesn’t want to “#adult”?

Andrew: Is this a universal problem? Or were you seeing it more with some kids more than others? 

Julie: This was the irony. Those that we considered being more at risk, coming from disadvantaged situations, very often possessed agency, self reliance, and responsibility. That is, when a problem arose in their lives, they were going to ingest, digest, maybe take advice, and then they were going to go take care of business. The others were more likely to take out a cell phone and text a parent about the situation, and they were accustomed to having their parents handle it. In my observation this was a situation prevalent in families that had the time and money to take care of it. You have the time to drop everything and go rescue your child, so there’s a lot of privilege involved. The kids we thought who were underserved or at risk actually had an extra tool in their tool kit that made them stronger. 

Andrew: To what extent does the instant gratification that lives in all of our pockets, how much do you see that play into this issue? 

Julie: It exasperates the issue, but it didn’t cause it. I first talked about this issue in an op ed piece I wrote that was published in 2005 and the smart phone didn’t come out until 2007. It wasn’t until cell phones that parents were able to be in constant contact with their students. So if you have the tendency to always check in with your kids, the smart phone certainly enables that. 

Andrew: What impact is it having? As we’re shifting from preparing children to life, to protecting them from life? What impact is that having? 

Julie: It’s harming their mental health. This over-parenting behavior, whether it’s the very protective, worried, constantly checking in, or the fiercely directive - “you will be a doctor or a tennis star,” or whether it’s the “I’m your best friend, I’m going to hold your hand and I’m always there, I’m going to handle and fix everything for you, like you’re a celebrity, and I’m your A list handler,” – all of these behaviors are the parent supplanting themselves as the main actor in the child’s life, so the child is sort of scooted to the side, or brought along for the ride, but the parent is ostensibly doing the thinking, doing the planning, the choice making, the problem solving, the handling, and so the child doesn’t develop agency.

It’s a fundamental concept in psychology, a synonym is self-efficacy, that we all need to develop to be well. The center of our own existence, by seeing when I act, there’s an outcome, not - my parents helped me achieve this outcome, or made sure I got this outcome. The child has to make the choice, do the thing, and see how it goes, and the psyche learns “when I act, there’s an outcome.” And when we over-parent, that child’s psyche is now, “I didn’t get here myself.” So they lack agency, they lack resilience, because we’ve prevented all the little glitches and minor problems of life from happening because we’re so worried about the result.

People think, if the kid gets a zero on homework, they won’t have a wonderful adult life – which is wrong – but we behave as if everything is a potential disaster that we have to avert, so the kid ends up having a very smooth path, so they haven’t developed that resilience muscle, that we build by dealing with some hardship, and sitting with those feelings, and learning a thing or two, and then bouncing back. And so when you lack agency, and you lack resilience, you’re more likely to have anxiety and/or depression. You’re also likely not to have good executive function.

So these difficulties that are on the rise, are correlated with these over-parenting styles. So, in short, we’re harming their mental health and also, by doing everything for them, they emerge from our homes lacking in adult skills, they lack a workplace readiness. They’ve been micromanaged at home, they’re not free thinking people in the workplace, they’re so accustomed to being told what to do next and reminded and prodded, they seem to lack volitional thinking. If they’ve been heavily managed, maybe they haven't even done much of their own dreaming and planning, so they’re not even familiar with their own interior thoughts. They don’t know what to do when there’s down time. 

Andrew: It’s not just the children. 

Julie: To manage the heck out of child’s life, to show up at the sidelines of every sport, to hover over them or be next to them constantly as they’re doing their homework, to manage play, not only arrange, schedule it, but be there to observe it, to be there when kids aren’t getting along. All of these things are taking us away from an interesting and dynamic adult life. We’re not having the adult gatherings where the kids are doing their thing in the basement and the adults are doing their own thing… Your kid's school work has become your purpose. 

I think so many millennials are finding themselves not wanting to adult because of their older generation – adulting looks so unattractive – because all we did was obsess over academics, homework, the worry that we wear on our faces, all the activities, the schedules, they see how concerned we are by every little thing they do. It makes us stressed out. Our kids can see how concerned we are. They look at us and think adults are miserable. We’re supposed to have hobbies, and friendships, and meaningful work or volunteer work, we’re supposed to have lovers and deep friendships. And yet then we spend the rest of our lives estranged from this person because we’re obsessed with having every little detail perfect. Without thinking about “what do I need as a grown up?” It didn’t mean that we were abdicating our adulthood by having children. It has become miserable. We need to all step back and rediscover ourselves. 

“We've made adulting look so unattractive. Get a life and then your kid can get one too.”

Andrew: What can we do as parents? 

Julie: We need to make a psychological shift. Our kids are not our pets, our purpose, or our trophy. They are their own person. I am my own person. This child’s life does not become my life. Not my dream of a dream child. Our children need Agency, Resilience, and Character. 

We need to give them CHORES. It teaches work ethic... they develop a sense of pride.

“Chores and unconditional love” will go a long way. 


Get To Know Julie's Work

Here are some places to learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims:

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