My guest this week is Julie Lythcott-Haims the New York Times bestselling author of the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto How to Raise an Adult. Julie believes in humans and is deeply interested in what gets in our way. Her TED Talk on the subject has more than 5 million views, and in 2020 she became a regular contributor with CBS This Morning on parenting. Her second book is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning prose poetry memoir Real American, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces. Her third book, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, will be out in April 2021. Julie is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean who holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Julie serves on several boards for organizations doing meaningful work in the world and is a mother of young adult children.
In this episode, Julie and I discuss the importance of breaking the cycle of overparenting and how to work towards raising capable and self-competent adults. Julie introduces the audience to various parental behaviors such as the overprotective parent, the fiercely directive parent, and the concierge parent. All with their own characteristics, Julie explicitly paints a picture of how each of these behaviors hinders a child’s ability to learn, perform, and succeed on their own for their betterment now and in the future. Julie strives to help parents shatter these walls and lead them towards a healthier relationship with themselves and their children for years to come. To learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims click here.
Need help with improving your child’s behavior naturally?
- My book Life Will Get Better is available for purchase, click here to learn more.
- Looking for more? Check out my Blog and Workshops.
- Interested in becoming a patient? Contact us here.
- Three distinct behaviors
- A parent can be doing one, two, or all of these
- The Overprotective Parent: always afraid of what could happen and always keep an eye on them
- The Fiercely Directive Parent: “You will be a doctor.” It gives a child the feeling that they are only loved “when” they achieve these achievements set by their parents
- The Concierge: Takes care of everything, makes sure you don’t ever slip up or forget something, will argue for you to your teacher, or even boss
- A parent can be doing one, two, or all of these
- Parents, work out what and why certain things are triggers for your fears and anxiety with your child
- The idea that no matter what you do it will not change the outcome
- i.e. I have learned to be helpless and rely on others to make things happen for me in order for them to work out
4-Step Method To Teach Your Child A Skill
- To watch a Youtube video illustration narrated by Julie, click here
- First, you do it for them
- Second, you do it with them
- Third, you watch them do it
- Fourth, they can do it independently
- Those with children who have special needs can take these same steps
- You may spend more time on some of the steps than usual but this order is still applicable
Life’s Beautiful F Words
The Importance of Chores
- Having your child participate in doing chores and contributing to the family as a team will help them in the short and long-term
- They will learn to build personal responsibility, accountability, consequences and develop their work ethic
- They will become more desirable in the workforce with these skills
Where to learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Julie’s Story … 00:03:45
Overparenting … 00:07:30
Learned Helplessness … 00:22:20
4-Step Method To Teach A Skill … 00:26:00
Life’s Beautiful F Words … 00:33:00
The Importance of Chores … 00:36:15
Episode Wrap Up … 00:46:30
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about one of my favorite topics: How to support and raise our children in ways that allow them to grow into the best versions of themselves as they enter adulthood. I’ve worked with kids, young adults and families for over 20 years, and one of the biggest challenges I see is parents engaging in what we call “overparenting” behaviors with the best of intentions, but not realizing that this way of parenting doesn’t necessarily provide our kids with the experiences and tools they need to develop a sense of personal competence. This shows up in lots of ways throughout childhood, but nowhere is it more clear than when kids enter the world of whatever is beyond high school for them and they need to start navigating life on their own. It’s become more common for me to sit in my office with parents and young adults who have bottomed out in college or failed to move forward with the plan after high school, they’re now at home with debilitating anxiety, depression and feeling like they have a lack of purpose in their lives because they’ve left the safety net of home and don’t think they can handle life.
And it is at this point when I find that many parents start to wonder if their well-intentioned efforts to protect and manage their child were the best thing to do. But the good news is we can all start to think differently about this with our kids right now, whether they are two or whether they are 20, no matter what the challenges or special needs may be. So to help us understand this trap of overparenting, how we can engage with our kids in ways that prepare them for success in adulthood, I’ve invited Julie Lythcott-Haims on the show today. Let me tell you a bit about her.
She believes in humans and is deeply interested in what gets in our way. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto ‘How to Raise an Adult’. Her TED Talk on the subject has more than 5 million views, one of my favorite TED Talks out there, definitely go check that out. And in 2020 she became a regular contributor with CBS ‘This Morning’ on parenting. Her second book is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning prose poetry memoir ‘Real American’, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces. A third book, ‘Your Turn: How to Be an Adult’, will be out in April 2021.
Julie is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean, and she holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard University, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. She serves on several boards of organizations doing meaningful work in the world, and is a mother of young adult children. I have been a huge fan of Julie and her work for many years, and was beyond honored when she agreed to be on this show. Julie, such a thrill to have you with us today. Welcome!
Dr. Nicole, thank you so much for having me. I am so excited to be having this conversation with you.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I feel like there can almost not be a better time with everything going on in the world right now. The struggles, we are spending more time than ever before with our kids, many people are waking up to some of the ways in which they are parenting, some of the dynamics with their kids, so perfect timing for this. I want to start out, because in your TED Talk, and I’ve heard you speak many times, you say that you didn’t set out to be a parenting expert, but you’ve written a book about parenting, you speak about it all the time. I’d love for you to share with our audience how you became interested in the ways that we parent and how that impacts our kids.
Sure thing. So I was the dean of freshmen at Stanford University for 10 years. For the first 7 of those 10 years, I noticed something that was just bothering me more and more. Every year we would have more students who were really dependent on their parents to manage the stuff of life: Tracking deadlines, talking to professors if the student’s grade wasn’t high enough, dealing with roommate disputes — just stuff that in the early days of this would make you go “What is happening?” These people could be in the army, but they’re in college. Why do they need so much help?
And it first humored me, then it intrigued me, then it concerned me, as I saw the numbers growing. And by the way, I was witnessing this on my campus, this was a problem nation-wide. I just happened to be at Stanford to see it, but every college administrator could tell you what I just said about what was happening in the last decade. In the early 2000’s, we began to notice it. Parents were just more involved in the day-to-day management of life. And I put 2 and 2 together, and saw: Wait a minute, students are less capable, parents are more involved, what is this going to mean for these students when they grow up? Will they grow up? Will they always be tethered on a leash to a parent, and if so, what’s to become of them? And if so, what’s to become of society? I really was quite alarmed. And I would talk about it, I would give speeches about it, and then one day, 7 years into this endeavor to sort of draw attention to this issue, this was well before I wrote my book, I came home for dinner one night with my own family, my kids are 10 and 8, and I sit down next to my 10 year old, and I begin to cut his meat.
And that was my Aha moment. Oh my goodness! I am going to be one of those people that I am laughing about on my campus. There is a point. 10 is too old to be cutting somebody’s food. And you might say, “Well, the knives are sharp.” Yes! But don’t start with the big machete knives, start with a butter knife! They have to learn the fine motor skills of gripping stuff and how you do this. We’re supposed to teach them! And that was my literal metaphor, it was happening in my house, I could see — you can’t let go of an 18 year old on a college campus if you’ve been cutting the meat of a 10 year old, you know? Because of all the skills that that kid has to learn by doing before they’re ever independent enough to leave our homes and fend for themselves.
So I became complicit in the problem and I was even more invested, therefore, in trying to figure out why we do this and how we can undo it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and I think so many of us, we’ve had those moments with our own kids, even when we are telling other people about it, we suddenly realized, “Oh my gosh! I’m doing that too!” I absolutely had those moments. My listeners know, I talk about my own experiences on the show because there is nothing like having your own children to humble you as a professional and make you realize, yeah, it’s easy to people things, it’s hard to do them ourselves. So I love that you shared that personal experience with that. I want to delve into, a little bit, this idea of overdoing things for our kids. And the example you just gave, continuing to do things for our kids long after they are capable of learning how to do that for themselves. We use lots of terms for this, right? People are familiar maybe with helicopter parenting. Now we’ve got these terms like lawnmower parenting — all of these kinds of things, this idea of overparenting, how do you describe that?
The terms are there for a reason, because it’s helpful to have a visual metaphor. I’m nowadays writing about the rise of stealth parenting, which is how I characterize the constant GPS tracking, constantly looking at kids’ grades online and web cameras in the home. There is just a surveillance nature to parents, that I think as a psychologist, you can appreciate better than most, will harm our children. The only people who are surveilled 24/7 are incarcerated persons and people in psychiatric facilities — until now. That was sort of a special status we reserved for people who might be harmful to themselves or others, but now it’s routine in American childhood. So just to add another term: Stealth parenting. I identify three distinct behaviors, and a parent could be doing one of these overparenting behaviors, or they could be doing two or all three.
In no particular order, the first type is the overprotective parent who is very afraid, very worried, has this “You never know what could happen” mentality. Look, a lot of fears are legitimate, it’s just the response that’s wrong. We need to prepare our kids to be tough and strong out there in the world, rather than delude ourselves that if I could just keep my eye on them at all times, they’ll be fine. It’s delusional, if only because you’ll be dead and gone one day, and then what? Your kid will just be this floundering person who has never had to sort of develop that sense of safety and security from their own behaviors and choices and consequences. So, overprotective.
The second type is fiercely directive: You will be a doctor. You will be an engineer. My plan for you is this. It’s a very arrogant sense, sometimes there is a bit of an immigrant mentality, which is “I really sacrificed a lot to get to a place where you could thrive and achieve”, and that sense of achievement is a problem, it’s so narrowly-defined, but I understand that it can come from a good place. But nevertheless, it leaves a child feeling that “I am loved conditionally. I am loved when I get the grades and the scores, to do this and that, to get to the outcome my parents have in mind for me.”
The third type is the concierge. This is the parent who is like your concierge or your fixer, your handler — the person with the clipboard who is always there to say “Don’t forget this!” Or “I’ll take care of that for you.” Tracking your deadlines, bringing you your forgotten things, a combination of the fiercely directive and the concierge is the person who is going to track your grades and then when your chemistry grade falls too low, that parent is going to then argue with the chemistry teacher about why they didn’t grade you differently. That person is going to argue with your boss about why you didn’t get a raise, and that is happening. So those are the three types and I see myself in a couple of them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, there is this pull for all of us to those pieces, because I look at this issue of overparenting, it meets a significant need we have as parents, as adults, as individuals to feel like we are doing enough, we are being competent with our kids. And a lot of it is about soothing our own anxieties and discomfort, right? And so recognizing those patterns that we say we’re doing these things for our kids and on one level, we are. But on another deeper level, we are really engaging in these behaviors because it’s soothing and helpful to us.
Which is why I think therapy is going to be a boom industry for the next 30-40 years because it all comes back to that. I tell parents, my keynote is an hour and 15 minutes when it’s live. I am blunt as heck, but I’m funny too. People are crying, but they’re also laughing. And one of the laugh points, I’m not going to get it right here because the timing is off, but as I laid out why this is problematic, and why we must stop, I say “If any of this is hard for you, get some therapy.” The point is you’ve got to work out your own stuff. Why do I feel so unsafe at the thought that my kid might get the wrong grade today on a piece of homework or on an exam or in an entire class. Where do we get this sense — this is the best metaphor to come up with, it’s like our child is a dog, we are the trainer. We are entering the dog in a dog show, hoping to win best in breed. But at the end of the day, that dog, who in a real dog sense, is going to eat a yummy dish of dog food and get some treats, but we are the ones who cognitively know “I made that happen. My dog. The praise comes on me, the person who owns and then breeds this dog.” But they’re not dogs, that’s the point, they’re humans! So this intermeshed sense of ego is so unhealthy for us and for them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And it’s a big part of why. At my clinic we have a very big focus on working with families as a unit and really actually doing a lot more direct work with parents than we even do with kids because of these dynamics. And to be clear, this is not about blaming parents for kids’ challenges. Absolutely not. But it is us being aware enough to recognize that the ways in which we parent, the ways in which we behave towards our kids and with our kids, the ways in which we engage them, a significant part of that comes from our needs and our own stuff. So it’s not just about “Here, I present my child for therapy, do something with them to fix this problem.” It’s like, no we’re going to need to look at the entire system here.
Right. I think one of the things that has changed in our society, and let’s be clear, there are a lot of class-based dynamics to this too. In order to be able to dote on your child’s every moment, you’ve got to have time and money on your hands. The beautiful irony for me, when I was a college dean was to notice, and this is sort of anecdotal evidence, not anything I studied, but to notice that the students on my campus who were poor and working class, first generation college students, tended to have a degree of self-reliance, autonomy, resilience, responsibility-taking that their more affluent peers lacked. And it was this beautiful strength that kids who were seemingly at risk of being less successful, they actually had this strength that they earned the hard way because childhood had been a tougher experience, and it was sort of a really interesting comparison.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s a great way to observe that, and it makes me think about something that I have heard you to talk about, which is the really critical difference between self-esteem and self-efficacy and how so often, we’re focused as parents on self-esteem, how does that look? The accolades, the awards, “You won the game,” whatever. But self-efficacy is something different and actually infinitely more important, right?
Yeah. You’re the psychologist not me, so I have read Albert Bandura and other psychologists’ work, and I understand that self-efficacy and its twin concept, almost, agency, are so critical to our psychological wellness. They are literally the foundation of the knowing of our own existence. I know this sounds a little woo-woo or it sounds too academic or it sounds complicated, but it is that deep-seated sense in our own being that we must have, that we exist, that we can do things, not become an amazing famous person, but like literally, I am capable. I exist. I know that when I act, there is a result. I know that when I do this, that will happen. I can set a course of action for myself, today, now, the next task in front of me. And I can do it and see results. The trouble with overparenting is that we do it so lovingly, and believe me, I know. I adore my kids like everybody does. I was just trying to help them. When I was cutting his meat and velcroing his shoes too long, all that is just trying to help, but it interrupts the natural development of self-efficacy. Because self-efficacy is like I see that my actions have outcomes. Not my parents actions for me have outcomes, no. The psyche needs to see “I did that.” and when we overparent, we are just chopping that correlation/causation thing in half. The kids’ mind knows, “I didn’t do that, they did that.” Studies show that that leads to a learned helplessness, which leads to anxiety, depression, right?
It’s a withering of the psyche. And I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it in the lives of young adults I’ve worked with, and I’ve seen it a little bit in my own home, and without crossing too many privacy boundaries, I am that parent trying to show up now for my 21 and 19 year olds, finally, as the parent they deserve and need. I am doing so much work to figure out where I have been complicit in laying down some of these patterns in my own kids’ lives, learning what I need to learn, studying that more, asking tougher questions of myself and I am on this journey, with anyone listening who is in agony over this, I am in it with you and I am really grateful, Dr. Nicole, that you’re here with your clinic and with these conversations, helping us, not blame ourselves — I do believe in taking some responsibility like, “Yup, I did that,” I know that it’s not about blaming me, but I want to own up to it like “Yeah, there are some things I could have done differently”, but more importantly: What can I do now?
Let me give you one important story.
My son, diagnosed with ADD in the fourth grade. Wee bit of anxiety, so wee, we barely paid attention to it, because what we did pay attention to was his brilliance, his amazingness. He’s been this voracious reader since he was a tiny boy. Headed to science, headed to research, headed to a Ph.D., tests well. Just — all I could see was that. I am actually now being a caricature of myself, telling you how I would talk about my son. I wouldn’t literally tell people he’s brilliant, but I was just so busting with pride over my kid and really kind of ignoring these issues that didn’t really seem to be in the way because he was so smart, like a mentality.
Well, then he goes to college. Very rigorous, small liberal arts college without the scaffolding of home and high school and the food we would provide and the schedule of the day, he began a slow unravel, which then dinged his confidence, which then further deteriorated. I mean I know this, I’m a former college dean. I’ve seen this in myself, that’s why I became a college dean. I’ve seen this in other people’s kids and now my own kid. Well, at the end of sophomore year, he decided, “I need some time off, I need to figure myself out.’ We said, “Terrific, we understand.” We bought all the books on anxiety and ADD. And my husband and I were reading these books like, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on with our son?” We’re reading these books, flagging these books up with post-it notes, passing them back and forth — he comes home for the summer, he sees the books stacked on his dad’s desk, accidentally kind of, they were near the printer. My son had gone in to get some paper, and he comes out of his dad’s office and he says, “Mom, I saw the books on dad’s desk.” And I just almost cried, because I feared that he was going to say “Don’t pathologize me.” And instead, he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, “Thank you for taking an interest in better understanding who I am.” Yeah. And I said, ” I am very interested and I am so sorry that I haven’t understood you well enough to this point, and I am here for all of it, I am here to be the parent you deserve to figure out how I can be of most use to you, and whatever I need to deal with on my own, my own feelings and issues, where I need to do that work also, so that I can be the parent you deserve now, as you journey forward.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So powerful. And I really am so grateful that you shared that because I know that’s resonating with the minds and the hearts of so many of our listeners, whether they have young kids now or they’re in the midst of that young adulthood, I think there is even more a tendency for this to happen when we do have a child with some challenges, with some needs — that idea of sort of over focusing on the areas where they can shine and be successful or focusing on them getting through the certain checklists of “normal” things that kids are supposed to do, and what that doesn’t leave the space for is our child to realize that we love every part of them, that every part of them is valuable and important to who they are, and we can lose sight of that. So you just shared such a beautiful example of that, thank you.
So you’re in the midst of this now with a young adult. So many of the families that I work with — same thing, and they are saying now, at this stage in their child’s life, like “Whoa, I see where this has created some problems. I need to now figure how to unwind that or do some things differently.” The learned helplessness piece, I want to touch on that a second because there is so much research about that in kids, whether it’s ADHD or anxiety or learning disabilities or autism, whatever it is, a lot of research on that with our educational system and how we, with the best of intentions, work with these kids in ways that lead them towards a significant amount of learned helplessness, and in the parenting realm too.
So I think that just spotlights for people how important it is with any child, but especially if you have a child with some needs to be paying attention to this because we do know that this sense of learned helplessness, which is this idea that no matter what I do, it doesn’t change the outcomes. I’ve learned to be helpless, to rely on other people, to manage things, to make things work out. I don’t feel that on my own, I can do that. So for those of you who aren’t familiar with that term, that’s just kind of a brief descriptor, but I think that gets to the core of — It’s never our intention to raise kids who have this sense of learned helplessness, who feel like they don’t have agency or competence or ability to do things in their lives. But it happens and it happens because we’re busy thinking about other things and doing other things. So how can we think about doing that differently? How can we approach that in a way that’s more helpful for our kids?
I will turn that question right back on you, because I’m hoping you have all the answers, Dr. Nicole! So I’ll give you my thoughts, as I’ve approached this based on my observations and everything I’ve read and learned and I’m trying to now practice in my family. I think the first thing — so, if you’ve got young kids, thank goodness, because you have the time to lay their correct patterns down. I’m in this place of, I’ve got a 21 year old and a 19 year old, and I’m looking back, like “Oh, if I could repave that road.” But I can’t, right? I can only try to undo and straighten it out going forward, that is my relationship with my young adults, what I do for them instead of standing next to them and near them and rooting for them and watching them do it themselves. So, see how I just did this? Like we’re on video, you can see I am trying to create a healthier distance between me and my kids and I almost want to like hold of a picture of them, but anyway.
Two things I want to tell you: We are supposed to be teaching our kids skills. To win the parenting game is to have a young adult who can fend for themselves, barring significant special needs that require constant attendance, our job is to ensure that we’ve raised this person to be able to care for themselves and go out and find work — kind of just the basics of fending. That’s to win. So instead of raising kids to be dependent on us, to be having to look for us for signals and cues and handle everything, we are the sous-chef and they think they are the famous chef, they don’t realize we’ve done all the chopping and buying and preparing, we’ve handed it — all they have to do is toss it in a pan. That’s sort of how you can create a learned helplessness. Although, also this false sense of achievement, like they think they’ve created this amazing meal, but you’ve actually done all the work. That’s probably not learned helplessness, that’s a different problem, but anyway, it still undermines their skill because they can’t actually make that meal without you.
Okay, a 4-step method for teaching any kid any skill. First you do it for them. Then you do it with them. Then you watch them do it, and finally, they can do it independently, and this is: Cross the street, make a meal, tie your shoes, it applies to everything. There is a lovely little animated video that the Atlantic Magazine did, they have cartoon characters demonstrating this with me doing the voiceover. I’ll give it to you for the show notes, it’s adorable. But you can picture it. Cross the street — first you do it for them, you carry them in your arms. Then you do it with them, you’re holding their hand narrating out loud about how you looked left, right and left, teaching, slowly doing it time and time again. Don’t do it when you’re busy. You’re trying to teach your kid, you’re holding their hand. Step 3, you watch them do it, you’re still there just in case they step out too early, you can slow it down, you’ve practiced step 3 enough, step 4, your kid can cross the street without you. Not at age 5, but age 10. Too many 10 year olds, 11 year olds, 12 year olds are still being kind of coddled to walk across the street, and you want to shout at people like, “What’s your long term strategy here?”
Second thing: This degree of distance. I had a mom call me and say “I’ve got a son who is 16, biological son, I’ve got a son who is adopted, who is two years younger. I love them both fiercely, but this son is in therapeutic boarding school, and this son is doing just fine and is at home. Biological/adopted. Biological son is part of family therapy with the parents on the phone weekly, and in therapy, he told his mom, “Mom, when you remind me of every single thing, or when you say, have you done that yet? It makes me think you don’t think I can. And it also sometimes makes me want to just rebel and say, fine! I’m not going to do it because you feel the need to remind me.” His mother calls me up and says “Julie, I get it! I just figured it out! My son said that it was hard to hear, I realized I do that to him, but I don’t do that to the adopted son.” Why? This mother says, “Because I know that my biological son, half of his genetic makeup comes from me, I feel responsible for his outcomes, how he achieves in the world reflects back on my genes, whereas my adopted kid, I just root for him and love him to become who he is because I don’t feel responsible.” She said, “I realize I have the healthier relationship with my adopted son.” And I think that’s such a beautiful illustration.
It also holds for our nieces and nephews, our friends’ kids who are struggling in class. We don’t feel the need to go yell at the teacher or micromanage them through it. We just offer empathy, “Oh, I’m sorry you’re struggling, let me know if I can be of help, I love you. Tell me something good that is happening in your life.” That’s the healthy flow of conversation we should be having with our own kids, we can bring it to other people’s kids, but we are so enmeshed with our own kids, as this woman demonstrated with noticing the differences between how responsible she feels for son number one versus son number two.
I hope that those examples give some people some insights into what the healthier distance is, and what the unhealthy closeness can lead to.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely great examples and I want to say to our listeners who have kids with more significant special needs: This same process applies, it may just be on a longer timespan. So we’re looking at what’s developmentally appropriate and it can take longer for our kids with more significant special needs to meet some of these milestones, but the intent and the process is the same. So sometimes I’ll have parents say to me, “Well, I have to do all this for him, because you don’t understand, he’s got all these severe learning disabilities and he’s got severe ADHD and he’s got all this anxiety, so I have to.” No. We may need to break it down into smaller pieces, those first steps that you talked about, or the second two steps, actually: Doing it with, and then doing it nearby, those may take longer for kids with challenges, but that doesn’t mean that we just revert to stage one and say, “Well, I just have to keep doing it for you, because these are going to take longer.” It means we have to be willing to be in those stages of doing with them and then letting them have experience with it for longer.
This is what’s really hard for a lot of parents to hear. This is where technology has facilitated us in being our child’s forever caretaker, and I think the type I diabetes community is a great example of what things can look like today versus 20 years ago when these sort of technologies that allow you to monitor somebody else’s blood glucose at a distance didn’t exist. Kids who are type I diabetics twenty years ago had to have a degree of self reliance and responsibility that allowed them to be more in charge of their lives and accountable for their own safety and health and wellness and life. That was a good thing. And now we’ve got, “Oh, I can manage it.” I, I, I, I. You’re not teaching your kid to be responsible. You’re so worried about what might happen and I get that, but remember, one day you will be gone and you don’t want that day to be the day, the first day your kid has to manage their own diagnosis themselves. It’s actually the cruelest thing in the world to hold on to them until you die, and then it’s like they’re totally helpless. I’m not criticizing anybody in that community, I’m making the point that the greatest love we can give is to teach somebody to do it for themselves. If you’re religious, it goes back to Jesus, to give a man a fish or teach a man to fish. We’re supposed to be teaching our kids to fish in every regard.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and that requires us getting comfortable with the idea that our kids are going to have uncomfortable experiences. They’re going to have failure experiences and that that is entirely normal and actually developmentally appropriate and necessary. When we rob our kids of this opportunities to learn from their mistakes, to get themselves into problems and have to problem-solve their way out, we really rob them of learning what I think are the much more valuable things that they need to know and understand to be successful and adulthood, way more important than the outcome of their science class or how much literature they read or what college they go to. These kinds of life skills and these skills of resilience and problem-solving and confidence, these are infinitely more important in the big picture.
I call the following set of words “Life’s beautiful F-words.” We have the F-word we’re not supposed to say, these are the beautiful F-words. Failure/Failing, Falling, Floundering, Fumbling. Childhood is supposed to teach our kids the lessons that come after those things have happened. That is how our kids get stronger. I have a wonderful list of how to raise an adult. I’m trying to find it because it’s actually someone else’s list that I want to just quote. This is in How To Raise an Adult, I’m quoting the book by Michael Andersen and Tim Johanson, they’re both in the Minneapolis area. They published a book in 2013 called GIST, which I quote in my book How To Raise an Adult. What I quoted was this list they have of mistakes and curveballs you must let your kid experience in order for them to grow. Not just the skill of “Oh, I should do it differently next time,” but the resilience of “Oh, it turns out that hurt/I was embarrassed/ashamed/sad, but I’m okay, I got over it!” When we over help, we deprive them both of the skill and of the ability to develop resilience. So anyway that’s an important thing.
People are like “Well, what are we supposed to do?”, you opened the show saying “How can we raise our kids to allow them to lead the best versions of themselves?” I wrote that down because allow is — we need to just back off and let life teach them so that they will be the best versions of themselves. “How do we allow?”. People ask me, “What do I do to give me child resilience?” I say, “You can’t give them resilience, but you can take it away.” “How can I give my child agency?” is sort of an oxymoron. You can’t give someone agency, but you can take it away. So my solution is what I call, and next to zoom, I have my little whiteboard. I call it The ARC. The ARC of childhood, the ARC of adulting. ARC stands for Agency, Resilience and Character. That’s the arch. That’s the path that will lead them to the successful, happy, healthy adult life that you crave for them and that they crave for themselves. Agency is “I can.”, resilience is “I can cope”, and character is “There is more to this world than me. I have to show up in ways that are good and kind to others.” How you behave in a way that’s good. So those, to me, are the building blocks for the ARC. I’m still developing the metaphor, but we shouldn’t be undermining any of those things.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that. It’s such an easy acronym to remember, too. In your book, you talked about some very tangible ways that parents can focus on this. So one example, things like chores, which I love. When I first heard you talking about that, I was like, “Oh my goodness! Somebody else who talks about chores!” Because I feel like that is one of the foundations. My own kids roll their eyes, parents that I work with — but I’m like, “This is a foundation.” It’s important for kids to do chores, right?
Absolutely. So many reasons. It’s a great way to have a mechanism in the home that demonstrates we all have to show up and contribute to this organization called ‘our family’. When a child has been raised that way, then they’re going to go into the workplace and know work has to be done and it’s not always glamorous, and someone’s got to do it in order to improve things for everyone. So if you raise a child without doing chores, if your child is always sort of served and handled and managed and never asked to do something to benefit the team, they are not desirable employees. So chores equals better workforce and workplace behavior. There’s a long study of humans that shows that professional success in life, at the end of life, and they studied really successful people. Okay, what did all those successful people have in common? They did chores as a kid or had a part-time job, because you’re just building a work ethic and a sense of obligation and a willingness to pitch in. I want to always roll up my shelves when I say this, pitch in, be useful. Don’t just sit around waiting for life to happen to you or for others to serve you.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
One of the ways that I see that show up is in two types of situations. One is: Kids whose parents are so invested in giving them every extra-curricular opportunity to get a leg up, right? Every sport, every arts thing, just have them so involved and then they would say, “Well, they can’t do chores, they don’t have time to do chores, because they’re doing all these other important things, and that creating a problem, and then the other place that I see that is parents of kids who maybe are struggling in school or struggling in various areas and they’ve got them in so many areas, so many tutoring and so many things that they say, “We can’t do chores/these things at home because these things are more important”. It’s really that resetting of what we view as important in the big picture of our kids’ lives.
Yeah. And I didn’t know any of this when my kids were little. I discovered — because I had that “Oh, I’m concerned about other people’s kids being helpless and, oh it turns out my own kids might be helpless.” I became really invested in this when my own kids were maybe 12 and 10. I didn’t really get the meat cutting moment entirely when they were 10 and 8, I had some more leaning to do. Today, I equate chores with food and sleep. You would not say, “You know what? My kid is so busy, he can’t eat dinner/Oh this is so important, they don’t need sleep.” We know parents are already compromising sleep. We have parent after parent saying, “Well, it’s high school, it’s junior year, so they can only sleep 4 hours a night, that’s just the way it is!” No. You should not be allowing that. That harms their mental health, it harms their physical development, it creates an intoxication, it’s like being intoxicated. You shouldn’t be compromising their sleep, you might already be. You’re probably not yet compromising their food. Chores go with those things because that’s what teaches personal responsibility, accountability, consequences, develops work ethic. You want them to do chores so that they can go out into the world and thrive!
I’m not saying make them reroof the house or steam clean every carpet. It’s like dishwasher, dishes, garbage, recycling, lawn, snow, laundry, dusting — look, my son is struggling with anxiety right now and he wouldn’t mind me saying that. He gives me permission to tell this, he’s always been part of the narratives I’ve told, as with my daughter. He’s at home, it’s COVID, he’s taking time off of college and needs to earn some money and he’s got regular chores that he’s been doing now for years but we’ve put together a list of things that we would pay other people for outside of COVID, and what’s a fair rate for those things around the house, because he needs to earn money and he knows it. So he’s got a list of things he can do in our home, and if he does them, he gets paid. Not a lot, believe me. This is minimum wage kind of stuff. He’d like a whole lot more, but it’s interesting to see how he is in this place of being stuck with his anxiety, which I understand and respect. It can lead you to this feeling, “I can’t even get out of this”, but there is this little dangled, “I need money, I want to earn money, maybe I can make myself do something.”
He did a chore, I think it was cleaning the downstairs bathroom. It took him twice as long as it might have taken me. He earned $9 for it, not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but the next day, he was like, “You know what? I did that, I’m going to do another one tomorrow. What else is on that list?” And it’s slow but his little bank account is getting a little bit more money. More importantly, he’s like, “Look what I can do. Look, I can make things happen.” I’m seeing that in a kid who might have some learned helplessness. I’m seeing him decide, “This matters to me enough that I’m going to try and do it. Okay, I did do it. Okay, that felt pretty good in the grand scheme of things, it got me something…” I’m watching that accrue. My husband and I are like, “Yup.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Exactly right, it’s like a snowball. It starts out tiny and small, but it gathers that momentum because it’s addicting in a good way, that feeling of “I can do it”, that feeling of confidence, and a little bit reads our desire to have a little bit more and a little bit more. It’s really that buildup over time then that you go, “Oh wow, look how far he’s come.”
I’m having an emotional moment right now because he went from the “I’ll clean the downstairs bathroom”, which by the way is the smallest bathroom, there’s no tub or shower, the next day he was dusting the entire house with his earbuds in, singing. That’s what’s making me emotional. My son was going through the house with the dust in to it singing Hamilton or some rap songs or whatever was on his playlist at the top of his lungs. It was so beautiful. It’s simple and beautiful. That’s the kind of thing that can make you go, alright, we’re on this journey next to him, we’re trying to be supportive, loving adults who care a lot, but not overly invested in every outcome. “We’re here for you, we care about you, let us know how we can help.” It’s these little indicators that just give me this sense that he is pulling himself forward, and it feels really good.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and to recognize the immense success of that. Sometimes people go, well, that’s such a little thing — no, no, be in the moment and shine that spotlight on that thing that just happened and acknowledge that for him and for yourself.
And yet, don’t overpraise it. Don’t be like, “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing, you’re so amazing.” If you’re doing anything like that, it’s also overparenting. You look him in the eye and you say, “Thank you so much for taking care of that, I appreciate you.” And you look away and move on, because they’re hungry for that authentic praise for something they actually did. The false praise contributes to that learned helplessness, it’s like “I’m being praised as amazing but I didn’t do an amazing thing.” That harms them in the aggregate, so you want to be just really specific and clear about the thing they did. If he did something extra one night, I left a bunch of dishes that are not his job, but he had kind of done something that I considered to be my job, and the next day, I said, “I came downstairs to this. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.” Gave him a kiss and moved on. I know that that praise, authentic and specific to his eyes will lead him to want to do more things in life that result in “Oh, the people around me are pleased by the way I am showing up to contribute to this thing we call a family.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So great, so great. I know that we need to get ready to wrap up here. I want to give you an opportunity to talk before we close out, about the additional challenges of this current time that we’re living with, all of us, but particularly the stressors, the extra challenges, the issues for our parents, for our children, for our families who are black, who are brown, who are not in the white world that we have created here that everything operates around. This is a really especially sensitive and challenging time, and I’d love for you to speak to that.
Thank you so much for raising that, Dr. Nicole. I identify as black and bi-racial. I’m a very light-skinned black woman, but I do identify as black. My mother is white, which makes me also biracial. I can’t speak for anybody but me, but I will say that I have felt, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, this tremendous positivity because so many of my white friends and colleagues have finally awakened to what many of us have known for quite some time, and that’s a good thing. It’s frustrating that they’ve finally awakened, but I will overlook that because the awakening is important.
That said, it has also been so hard to deal with everybody asking me as their apparently only black friend, “What do I read? What do I do?” All of a sudden, a lot of us are getting tapped as the resource for a whole lot of people that don’t seem to realize that Google is a great way to start to do your own research on issues. So that has been taxing. Every time a white person wants to know more information and tells us they don’t already know something we’ve studied — there’s just a lot of complexity to this. So to the black and brown folks watching, I know that it’s been incredibly hard. This week in which we happen to be taping in is a week in which the president did not denounce white supremacy. I didn’t realize until I was bursting into tears the day after and the day after, I didn’t realize how much it was lodged in my spirit, the fear of what I have sensed is coming for some time. White supremacy is on the rise in America. It’s armed and it is dangerous and it is cunning.
This is our America, and we are as much a part of it as anybody who has a hateful ideology. So I am calling on all of us to love ourselves through this, hold ourselves and our loved ones close, but also ask: What are my grandchildren going to want to know about this time, and what am I going to tell them I did? What am I going to do today so that I can be proud to tell my grandchildren how I stood up to this incredibly violent ideology that is embedded in so many structures? I think that’s what my tears are about. It’s just all a lot right now. It’s hard to be the parents our kids need and deserve when we’re struggling too, so we have to find spaces for ourselves where we can invest in our own self care so that we can kind of do that and then shake it off and get back into the kitchen and make a meal with our children who need to learn how to use the stove. It all matters.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and just what you said there is so powerful for parents: Give yourself the grace and the space to acknowledge that things are hard now, if you’re dealing with these things. And to realize that we all have things in our parenting journey that we’re struggling with at one point or another. Nobody expects us to be perfect 100% of the time. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So that grace and space is important, and then also, like you said, shaking it off and saying, “Okay, what do we need to get to today with our kids?” So I appreciate you sharing that, from the heart. I think that’s really important and I am really committed to making sure that that perspective is being heard, not just by the people who are black and brown, but really those of us who are white, needing to hear that and needing to acknowledge the reality of that that we can’t understand because we’re not living it. So I’m grateful to you for sharing that.
Thank you, I appreciate it. I really do. It’s great that you asked me that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I would like to, as we close here, make sure that people know where they can find out more about you, your books, your upcoming book, which I know isn’t going to launch until next year, but I want to put it on people’s radar to make sure they get it.
Absolutely, it is pre-orderable, so I’m grateful to you for that. I’ve got a copy of the jacket, folded over, How To Raise an Adult. So this is the first book. My second book on race is Real American, my memoir: Being Black and Biracial in White Spaces. But this guy, Your Turn: How To Be An Adult, is the sequel for How To raise an Adult. You’re the first person to say it correctly. I want that emphasis on How To Be an Adult. A lot of people are like, “Your Turn, how to be an adult.” I’m like, no, “How to BE an adult!” It’s for 18-34 year olds struggling with #adulting. You see them in your practice. It’s not about them, it’s not a critique of them. This is me saying, “Hey, yeah, I know it’s terrifying, but you got to. I’m here for you, I get it, yes, yes I know. You got to and I’m rooting for you.” That’s the voice of this book. It will be out April 6th. It’s pre-orderable wherever you can preorder a book. So I would love for folks to do that. I’m very excited about this book. There is a lot of good stuff packed into it. So yeah, thanks. And then there is my website, julielythcotthaims.com, my social handles are @jlythcotthaims, all of this will be in the show notes. Please follow me, I’m very interactive with people who follow me from Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so please do.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And the content on your social media is going to really want to encourage everybody to go and engage with Julie’s social media channels. Just a wealth of great information and support, and you are very interactive and that’s so cool! And then your website is a great source of information and the books. Absolutely. If you have not already read the first book, How To Raise an Adult, start there for sure. The new book is not coming out until the spring, so it gives you plenty of time to catch up and get this one read now, this is just absolutely in my top 5 reading list for all parents, so please get this book and then pre-order the new book. And Julie, I would love it if at some point in the future we can have you back, maybe after your new book comes out, and we can continue the conversation and talk about that. I have absolutely loved spending time with you today and having you here. Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me, I’d love to come to Grand Rapids, and I’d love to come back on the show, so thank you, and yes to next time.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic, and thank you to all of you, as every week for being here and listening, we will catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.