How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success is one of the very popular books in our public library, currently with a waiting list of over 52 people even though there are 20 copies.
Well, it seems that parenting in North America fails in two opposing ways: on the one hand, children are neglected, and on the other hand they are overparented…and often these problems go hand in hand. This unique combination, based on parents’ crazy schedules on the one hand and on their dreams for their children on the other hand, leads to young adults who are helpless, unhappy, stressed, and sometimes even broken. The neglect is often on an emotional and relational level, and the overparenting often has to do with education and resume building. How to Raise an Adult focuses on the overparenting, and, while it does not explicitly note the neglect, it does mention it in various contexts throughout the book.
I would suggest that, though homeschooling, too, can lead to these parenting problems, most homeschoolers excel in both ways: the children are paid attention to, but are also allowed a lot of freedom to make their own mistakes, dream their own dreams, and chart their own educational direction.
Yet I thought that it might be a good idea for me to read the book to do a quick self-check, because it is so easy to slip into foolish ways. Although I only skimmed the first half of the book, about how parents overparent and what the consequences are, I took careful notes of the second half that recommends a better way. It turns out that’s the way that my parents raised me, and the way many parents of the past and many homeschoolers of today raise their children.
So, just to give you an overview and to help you decide if you, too, should read the book to reflect on what you are doing, here is what author Julie Lythcott-Haimes, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, encourages parents to do:
- Give kids freedom and unstructured time to play.
- Teach them life skills, letting go of perfectionism and remembering that failure equals learning.
- Teach them how to think by encouraging discussions about books, movies, and news, and by praising them for their efforts rather than for ‘being smart’.
- Prepare them for hard work by emphasizing chores, teaching them to pitch in unasked, and showing them how to do things instead of doing them.
- Let them chart their own path, discover their own interests and strengths, and learn to be themselves.
- Normalize struggle and failure so that children won’t be hampered by their own fear of failure and lack of ability to cope with struggles.
- Have a wider mindset about colleges and don’t focus your life on getting your children into one of a handful of exclusive colleges at any cost, whether human or financial.
- Listen to them by being available, letting them know you are listening, and responding in a way they will hear.
- Reclaim yourself and live your own life rather than finding satisfaction and purpose through your children.
- Look after yourself, discover your own passions, prioritize your own health, make time for your most important relationships, examine your relationship with money, and practice kindness and gratitude.
In fact, most of the book is summed up in two simple bits of advice for parents:
- Let your children make mistakes, follow their own interests, and develop resilience, resourcefulness, and the inner determination necessary for success, by paying attention to who they are and loving them.
- Don’t focus on your kids as your primary reason for being.
Overparenting does not allow this, for fear that children’s mistakes will destroy their future, or their chance at a top college, or their parents’ carefully laid plans. In fact, those who overparent do not really know who their children are and apparently often don’t even know who they themselves are.
There is a lot of wisdom in How to Raise an Adult. I came away with a renewed appreciation for how my parents raised me. I also have a renewed determination to love my children by paying attention to who they are and encouraging them to develop and grow up.
Most homeschoolers I know have the mindset encouraged by this book, but there are always a few areas where we can improve.
For us homeschooling moms who devote so much of our time and energy to our children, it can be especially important—and difficult—to develop a life of our own. However, the rewards of learning and having our own non-child-focused dreams can be immense for both us and our children.
Every day our children watch us to see how we live, and they need to learn not only about devotion to family, but also about all the other ways God can call us to serve. They need to watch us make biblical choices in all that we do, and not to succumb to the world’s goals and practices, whether in our child-raising or in our own personal lives.
Most importantly, something that was not mentioned in this book at all, our children need us to live alongside them and talk about God’s Word with them when we are at home and when we are out, in the evenings and in the mornings. We need to build in all sorts of ways to remember his Word for ourselves so that we can impress it on them. When we do these things, both neglect and overparenting will fall by the wayside because we parents will have biblical goals for ourselves, our families, and our children.
Disclosure: I borrowed this book from our library and have given my own honest opinions. I am not compensated for this review.