Parents? You’re Doing It Wrong!

A popular article from The Atlantic, “How To Land Your Kids In Therapy,” is making the rounds in social media, the press and friends.  The byline is: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.

The author also talks to some experts who agree with her that a parent’s insistence on believing their children are “great,” wanting them to participate in non-competitive sports where “everyone wins” and making their children’s happiness foremost in their minds and actions, are actually causing their children to be disillusioned, fragile and unhappy. It’s putting them in therapy, people!

In a casual reading, I should feel neutral on this article. I happen to believe in the importance of competitive sports and in my child’s ability to be happy even if they suck at football. I also believe that my child’s happiness and, more importantly, my child’s ability to understand what makes them happy, is my main job as a parent and happens to be unrelated to education, wealth and cultural success.

And I thought that I would until I examined it in a broader context.

The problem with this article is that the author could take every word and replace it with the “tough love” ideas from 20-30 years ago and reach the same conclusion.  A conclusion that amounts to: Parents? You’re doing it wrong!

The pendulum had swung from toughening up our kids and good smacks on the bottom to time-outs to time-ins, and now it’s swinging the other way. And a new set of writers and experts are standing there, blowing.

Where are the articles on encouraging parents to spend time figuring out what works for their child’s personality and their personal family situation and then doing what works as well as a person could?

Honestly, any parent within the 50% bell curve of what is acceptable at any given moment of American culture (barring a time when discrimination and child labor was within that bell curve) are not going to hurt their children. Period. Nothing these parents can do will make their children turn out terrible or wonderful. Children are well-wired for resilience.

To the right of that 50% are the parents who are extraordinarily intuitive to what their children need: whether it’s coddling or consistency. They are better than the average parent at bringing out the strengths in their children and encouraging healthy coping methods for the challenges. All of the middle 50% will, at some point, do this. Most won’t be able to maintain it due to circumstance and human nature. In fact, perhaps there are no parents who are ALWAYS in that 25% (except for YOU, of course). And that’s okay because the top 25% parents still aren’t guaranteed no-therapy, successful, happy kids. Children are wily like that.

And the parents in the bottom 25% are probably not reading an article in The Atlantic that discusses how to keep their kids out of therapy. Or perhaps that’s unfair because some of them will seek help and support. And when faced with extraordinary crisis, most of the parents in the middle will find themselves making terrible parenting choices, even if briefly. They won’t stay, but they may visit. When assessing the collective parenthood, there are probably very few parents who are ALWAYS in the bottom 25% or the articles on these parents wouldn’t make it to CNN, be published as novels and made into best-selling movies.

The Atlantic article takes decent parenting and screams, Way to put your children in therapy!, which isn’t helping any parent to grow. It’s just more fodder for the current myth in American culture that the undisciplined, wild child would only behave if his parents stopped codling.  Which sounds eerily similar to the myth decades ago that these undisciplined, wild children were rebelling against the tight fist of their parents.

I wish that parenting experts would spend more time admitting that most parents are doing well, most children will be okay and a little therapy never hurt anyone.

But then they’d be out of job.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

23 thoughts on “Parents? You’re Doing It Wrong!

  1. True. Not only would they be out of a job, but we would be scared less, buy less books, videos, and tools.
    They are smart… but can we be smarter?
    I like when you make me think about stuff. 🙂

  2. Women are more often than not the primary parents. How will we keep our women down and perpetuate the ideas of constant female guilt and feelings of inadequacy if we let them think they are actually doing a decent job and not screwing something (or someone) up royally with a single word or bad day? Honestly.

  3. I have to believe that the latent mommy guilt of those of us who decide that parenting alone is not fulfilling enough in our lives is part of why this obsession continues – we want to justify the guilt by hearing how we’re doing it wrong. Or maybe that’s just the masochistic segment of us.

  4. Amen! I am doing the best I can with what I know and what I have. While not every moment is my best – I’d say the majority is. It’s like crying it out and responding immediately; breastfeeding or formula; each child and parent are different and something that works for one is not going to work for the other.

    While I’m not a huge supporter of children never experiencing failure, or never needing to do a better job, I do believe that every child should feel special simply because they were born.

  5. I feel bad commenting everyday (I could stop if you stopped writing great articles-but I like it better this way) and I hope you don’t mind. 🙂
    This article speaks to my problem with all the parenting advice out there. It is enough to make your head swim as a mom. My theory is that my job as a mother is to “ruin their lives.” At least, that is what my kids think my job is. Personally, I stand by my own parenting mission: That I raise healthy, happy kids that can be flexible enough to deal with any situations their way. I try to do everything in moderation… give them enough free time to explore, but also have some rules so that they understand that they can’t do everything they want (because I come from a military family and we all know that we cannot help becoming like our parents in some ways).

  6. People don’t want to “spend time figuring out what works for their particular kid” because that involves work. They’d rather spend time reading someone else’s idea of how to parent than spend the time working on their own personalized situation. It comes down to laziness and insecurity.

  7. You just made me feel so much better about just went down at our house. We went from happy to crying to yelling to cursing to tantruming and back to happy again in less than ten minutes. I was feeling the big #MOMFAIL, a hashtag that probably ought to be banned and now I know that my son has a chance of turning out “normal” no matter how volitile my parenting is.

  8. It’s pretty much verboten in the US parenting milieu these days to claim that parents don’t have 100%, total power over their children’s success or failure in every life arena.

    People are deeply committed to the notion that they are far more powerful than they are. The research says that, while nature and nurture interact, nature probably has a larger impact on who children actually grow up to be.

    And I think you’re 100% right – most of us are NOT screwing up our kids in any unusual way. We all have strengths and weaknesses as human beings and as parents and if that wasn’t good enough, the human race would have gone extinct a long time ago.

    Of course, I had to have a kid with serious behavioral issues to begin to understand that. I have a hard head.

  9. Your right, a little therapy never hurt anyone. My parents were always somewhere in the middle. I think it’s a good place to be.

    Plus, I’m to lazy to be on one side of the fence or the other. I like the middle. It’s easier. 🙂

  10. I hated this article with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. As if we don’t have enough to worry about as mothers, now we’re being TOO emotionally supportive? Also, I suffer from depression. I was diagnosed when I was 25. And I blame a chemical balance in my brain. I do NOT blame my loving and supportive parents.

  11. I actually found that article somewhat relevant to my life (which I guess is sad), but I agree that parents don’t need to hear more about ways they can screw their kids up. I’m not a parent but it seems like they key is balance and figuring out what each child needs.

  12. How does one become a “parenting expert” anyway? I seriously wonder because I do know of a woman who was a “parenting expert”, had a blog, etc… and he son ended up OD’ing on drugs. It was very tragic and sad but it most definitely made me question where these titles come from.

    Also, my therapist said it doesn’t matter what I do, my kids are going to blame everything on me anyway whether or not it lands them in therapy. I am such a skeptic.

  13. and when did going to therapy mean we’re broken somehow? that someone or something screwed us up? how about it’s brilliant to be able to talk about yourself and your life and your trials and strengths for an hour with someone who is paid to be on your side? it’s brilliant. I think everyone, no matter how “adjusted,” should try therapy.

    but to your other points, yes, it’s a bit redonk. I stand on the sidelines of parenthood, watching you all get tackled left and right and wonder how you do it.

  14. RE: “Where are the articles on encouraging parents to spend time figuring out what works for their child’s personality and their personal family situation and then doing what works as well as a person could?”

    As you know, that doesn’t sell magazines. It does, however, make an incredible impact in the life of a child.

    Parenting Educators who are well trained and qualified identify and build upon a person’s strengths as a parent, and help them set practical goals for their individual family. And for the record, I believe that most parents know more than they think they know, yet need support and encouragement to follow through with their intentions.

  15. When did tough love become such a crime? My grandparents used it on my parents, as well as all of their friends’ parents… they grew up under “tough love” discipline, and they all turned out just fine. My parents used it on me as well, and I am so grateful for that. It teaches respect for your parents and enforces the importance of following the rules, but it does not make you love your parents any less, contrary to popular belief. I think many parents are scared to use tough love out of the fear that their children will hate them. Not so.

  16. What’s the matter with therapy? I like therapy. Sure, I’ll land my kids there. Let ’em think about the big questions. That’s fun. Therapy means you’re working on stuff.. We all need to work on stuff…

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