Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I think this is an important book. It's pretty well acknowledged now that there's been a swing in the pendulum of parenting, from what some call "benign neglect" toward helicopter parenting. By "helicopter parents," she doesn't mean parents who care about their children and support their interests, even when it's not always convenient; she means the parents who try to forestall all failures, disappointments, and heartache ... and end up with kids who have a poor sense of self-efficacy and low self-esteem, and can't cope so well with the real world, once they're beyond their parents' realm.

My favorite Crazy Parent story: a young man working long hours as an investment banker had a mom who tracked down his boss's private number and called to complain on her son's behalf. The young man walked into work on Monday and was handed his personal items in a box with the note "Ask Your Mother" on top. Egads.

Lythcott-Haims is a former Stanford dean and a parent herself, in Palo Alto, which she describes as a hub for helicopter parenting. What I found valuable is (1) the way she historicizes this pendulum shift, pointing out why it has happened; (2) her discussion of the how helicopter parenting is harming our kids, leading to anxiety, depression, and addiction; (3) her condemnation of the arms race of college admissions and suggestions for how to stop perpetuating it; (4) her caution about "the perils of parenting alone"; and (5) the number of resources she uses (TED talks, other books, etc.), some of which I am going to look at later.

My one gripe is that she sets up the past as somewhat idyllic ... as if life skills were naturally absorbed by children in previous generations. She writes that "children who are otherwise healthy and developing normally used to develop these skills naturally in the normal course of childhood." Well, maybe. But there's a gray area there around "developing normally." I was brought up in a household that was normal in some respects, but my family was pretty non-relational; my parents were certainly not helicoptering. But while I learned some self-reliance, they didn't teach me a lot of the life skills on that list. I went to college having no idea about some things; I had to pick them up later, and was often embarrassed by my lack of knowledge or frustrated or just puzzled about how other people knew how to talk to professors, or cook a real meal, or change a tire, or whatever. So in my view, the "benign neglect" can go too far.

My favorite quote: " ... we've lost a sense that it takes a village to raise a child, and instead of being able to rely upon informal community networks to help us raise 'our kids' in the public sphere, we're each left to raise 'my kid' alone in the private sphere where we are anxious and alone in figuring out how to best prepare our kids for the world outside" (p. 120).

I would recommend to people who liked *Excellent Sheep* and (one of my favorites) Judith Warner's *Perfect Madness, Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.*

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