Confessions of a recovering helicopter parent

I sometimes worry that my daughter lacks ambition…. That she should think more often about her future…. She is a smart and outgoing girl who will do well in life, so just imagine what she could do if she just worked a little bit harder and aimed a little bit higher.

I confess that this is one of my tensions – I want the best for her. But what does best mean? I want her to be happy, but I also want her to be successful later in life. I think that in order to be successful, there are some things she could start doing now. So with this in mind, I will share my conversation with her this week.

Over dinner, the kids asked if they could do an out of school activity this year. They know that Kevin and I can be somewhat anti-evening activity – we believe that kids need down time with their families in the evening – but I was pleased with their ambition. I suggested that they find something that combined their passion and excellence. Kathleen confidently stated that she wanted to take gymnastics lessons. Now, my Kathleen is neither passionate nor excellent at gymnastics. So, again, thinking I was being helpful, I suggested that she consider something else. I went so far as to tell her that it is a competitive world and she should really be thinking about something that she could excel at. My daughter got teary eyed, so Kevin and I skillfully switched subjects.

After dinner, alone with Kathleen, I quietly said, “I noticed that you seemed to get a bit sad during that conversation at dinner.” To that, she looked me straight in the eyes and, again, confidently, stated, “I just want to have fun!”

So I read with interest the New York Times review of Madeline Levine’s new book Teach your Children Well, published July 24th, which concluded with the following:

“After all, as Levine notes, the inconvenient truth remains that not every child can be shaped and accelerated into Harvard material. But all kids can have their spirits broken, depression induced and anxiety stoked by too much stress, too little downtime and too much attention given to external factors that make them look good to an audience of appraising eyes but leave them feeling rotten inside.”

In her book, Levine criticizes parents for “cultivating competitive greatness” and has a clear message – that, essentially, everything today’s parents think they’re doing right is actually wrong. She believes that parents must behave differently.

I’m not sure why I feel this need to push my daughter, and I still want to find ways to encourage her to aim higher. But I think Levine is really on to something, and I am guilty.

So I am happy to report that, thanks to my daughter, I am rethinking what it means to be a success. And I am even happier to report that Kathleen will be enrolled in gymnastics this fall.

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