DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Pressurized Parenting

Written by: on May 16, 2019

I was relieved to see The Coddling of the American Mind on our reading list. The first I had heard of this book was last Christmas when my brother-in-law showed it to me. He said it was a book about the “ethic of safety”. I knew immediately this book would be helpful to me. We are in the middle of raising two middle schoolers and I was already fairly aware of my tendency to express my love for them through keeping them safe. And I, like many others, have let the concept of safety “creep” to mean more than just seat belts – but to mean safe at all times in all ways.[1]

Haidt and Lukianoff tackle three lies and in doing so, bring up multiple ideas I want to reflect upon – from my kids summer “unsupervised plans” to the limits of civility within a culture of free speech to Scripture-based cognitive behavior therapy and on and on. But this week my mind keeps coming back to my fifth-grade son.

My son is currently struggling some in school. My initial reaction is usually one of over-parenting and a mix of mild guilt and anxiety but this reading is giving me pause. I am stepping back and asking questions. How do we help kids that are not thriving in the classroom without coddling? In what ways have I tried to clear the road for him instead of helping him have what it takes to traverse the road? What are the limits of safetyism and protection? What does healthy performing and achieving look like in upper elementary school? When should a parent intervene and when should they stand on the sideline? What does inadvertent neglect from being too busy to notice look like? What does appropriate, not over-bearing, advocacy look like?

I may sound frustrated (and I always have more questions than answers) but I am reaching some initial conclusions. Here is one: I should be more thoughtful about “the bar” or standards set for distinct areas and ask where sufficiency is enough and meets the standard. For my son, I think math is one of those subjects and it will help all of us to not hold the bar at the A+ level. On the other hand, to lower the bar as a way of protecting him from failure or by “preparing the road” should be resisted in that it works against the truth that children are antifragile. I do not want to perpetuate a mistruth even if my intentions appear loving. He is not fragile. There are values we share as a family that I cannot lower the standard on and my work is to get us all clearer on these.

Secondly, I conclude for the umpteenth hundredth time that comparison is a trap and waste of limited energy resources. It is this insidious temptation, in great part, that pushes us into over-achieving. I can learn from and be inspired by others but must vigilantly guard against the slippery slide into comparing my children to others. A great deal has been written over the centuries of why jealousy and comparison is dangerous. I know its dangers personally because I know it erodes connection.

And finally, an application to my personal research from this parent processing is a caution about the idolization of achievement. There is a place for me that achieving and performing is a beautiful, healthy contribution to the world. I believe that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[2] And there is a place where I want my achieving and climbing to do and fix more in me than is fair or reasonable. It is here that we must do our hard work of sanctifying our theology of work and rest. Maybe we ask ourselves the question “why” with Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to help reveal the truth. Why all the pushing and running around? Why do I sometimes want my kids to be brilliant at everything, or at least several things? Why the “resume arms race”? To what end are we racing? The authors quote former Yale English professor Deresiewicz –

The only point of having more is having more than everybody else…nobody needs eleven extracurriculars, either – what purpose does having them actually serve? – unless the other guy has ten. [3]

My son’s performance at school is important and it does matter. To disregard it or lower the bar does him no favors in the long run, both professionally and psychologically. And pushing him to achieve and do better without a firm foundation of connection is just as dangerous. No, our family is not in Palo Alto’s resume arms race to get our children into Yale or Stanford. But we are not off the hook either; our motivations to achieve do carry consequences.

Right now, our focus is as follows: finish 5th grade strong; play a bunch this summer without supervision; and be thoughtful about our goals for 6th grade.

 


[1] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 24-7.

[2]Ephesians 2:10, English Standard Version

[3]Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 188-9.

About the Author

Andrea Lathrop

I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, mom and student. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida and I have been an executive pastor for the last 8+ years. I drink more coffee than I probably should every day.

6 responses to “Pressurized Parenting”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Awesome Andrea.

    Another one of Lukianoff and Haidt’s strategies was to reflect on what a child could do, that they couldn’t have done a month before. I plan on applying that to our summer here (sabbatical summer!) but also to my own continued LGP learning.

    You are an amazing Mom!

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This was a great post. I resonate so much with it, and you! As I am currently trying to navigate my son who is “hating” his after school program, I’m trying desperately not to coddle him, but also help him unpack his feelings in a way that actually gets to the bottom of what is bothering him. Such a challenge. I am grateful that I have women on the path to learn from!

  3. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your post Andrea! Clearly those of us in the thick of this parenting thing found this book good and confronting. I wonder if one of the useful contrasts might be achievement vs wholeheartedness. Rather than learning to strive towards external (somewhat arbitrary and relative) standards, to learn to give yourselves fully to something you love to do. A key reminder of how arbitrary achievement is comes when I recognize my kids would be in different grades if we still lived in Australia, which would mean their performances relative to other students would be evaluated differently. I want to grant them permission early to do things because they love them, because I love for them to find fulfillment and contentment. The one place I want to have high standards is character. I’m not too fussy on their grades, but I’m determined that they will include that kid who is new or left out. I want them to know that excellence in character will offer more to the world than academic or athletic achievement, yet can be forged and demonstrated in both of those arenas. And I want them to learn to fail and fall and gain the wisdom to rise again when it matters to them and the freedom to walk away when it doesn’t. Perhaps I’ve known too few happy and content high achievers, but I confess I leave the academic bar setting to my kids. My confession is that I struggle much more with the faith ‘bar’. I so wish they were all the keener kids setting an example for everyone else. No such luck. My question is how do we untangle our desire for our kids to be one of our ‘achievements’ and release them to own their own lives fully? As you pointed to, when do I own that their floundering is because I am just trying to do too much (hello DMin, job and parenting 4), and when do I just let it be part of their own learning process? How do I ditch this mom-guilt long enough to call my kids out when they need it and not assume it is my bad parenting? Andrea, this book more than any other would have benefited from a coffee shop debriefing for those of us in the thick of it wouldn’t it?

    • Andrea Lathrop says:

      Yes Jenn! Coffee with you discussing these things sounds wonderful. I can’t tell you how I appreciate your response and hearing you process standards out loud. I thought – that is what I mean – I don’t want to lower the bar on character, mainly how we treat others and ourselves. You said it. And we would also discuss the difference between that standard and how “good” they are at church engagement (the faith bar as you put it). Whew. Love you!

  4. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Andrea,
    I find it compelling how all of our cohort with children at home are struck by the source and how to apply it’s warnings and admonitions to their own parenting context. For we who are grandparents, there is a similar application although it must be tempered through the lens of our grandchildren’s parents. Perhaps this thought process poignantly informs out assessment and assimilation of source material, where are we and how will this apply in our context? This why we need each other and the perception that each brings to the betterment of all of us. Andrea, thanks again for sharing and many blessings on you and yours.

  5. Mario Hood says:

    Wonderful post Andrea, you have been asked a bunch of great questions, so I’ll keep my short. How much do you think the coddling has to do with parents projecting onto the kids and image of themselves, so in a way they are coddling themselves as much as the kids?

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