“There is a commonality among all parents, riven with fear, wanting something better for our children and not knowing how to go about getting it.”
I decided to switch up our usual Childish Reads. Most of the books I choose are on child or parenting development, but this book covers a completely different age group and parent demographic.
I Left My Homework is a collection of personal stories and lessons from a former tutor of the children of the 1%. We’re covering not just high schoolers but those from super-rich families. What can their experiences empirically tell us about parenting and how our best intentions can sometimes create the perfect stress storm for our kids.
Grossberg distills eight key lessons from her time as a tutor. So even though our typical blog reader is probably not in that income stratosphere, nor do they have kids in high school, these are all concepts that go back to engaged parenting at any age.
Pull quotes are directly from the book. Keep in mind that I read this book not as an escapist look into a higher tax bracket or to learn how to push my kids to be over-achievers, but to see what all parents can universally learn when it comes to preparing our kids for the future.
1. Don’t outsource your time and parenting
Think about how many waking hours your kid has in a day. Then subtract their time spent in school. From that, subtract homework time if you aren’t actively helping them, or sports practice, music lessons, and any other extracurricular. That mainly leaves meal times and getting ready times. Richer families can afford nannies or personal assistants to help with these times; getting ready for the day, making breakfast or dinner, transporting them from place to place. How much time is left that you can actively engage one-on-one with your child?
Moral of the story: No matter how much you make or how busy you are; if you outsource valuable time with your child, you forfeit your chance for connection. You become a secondary character in their life and not an active participant. This also affects whether or not they feel safe, seen, and validated.
2. More money, more problems
Like Biggie said. It’s weird to think that monied families would have “higher stakes” when it comes to parenting. We all should have the same goal, right? To raise happy, secure, self-sufficient kids.
However, I’m reminded of a certain concept of success. “Success is when a child can achieve the same or greater [financial] capacity as their parents.”
Example: I am currently more educated and bring home more income than my mother did at 37. My girls will most likely be just as educated as I am, and realistically will make more than I am making now by the time they are 37.
This can go back to inherited wealth, equity gaps, etc. So when you say that you want your child to be successful, or you’re voting for Most Likely to Succeed in the yearbook, you’re mostly talking about money.
A child of the super-rich is also expected to become super-rich and eventually surpass their parents. That is a much bigger mountain to climb.
Can you imagine telling a 15-year-old that the decisions they are making now NEED to put them on six-figure path? Like, they couldn’t just be a school teacher or an auto mechanic.
Which leads to #3…
3. Adultifying your kid
Kids are not adults. Even if you expose them to more culture and more academics and more competition, they still may not be emotionally or mentally ready to take on adult responsibilities or lifestyle.
While I do think you should teach your kids how to converse with adults, how to take care of themselves around the house, and how to conduct themselves in public, keep it age-appropriate.
“Researchers have found that overindulgence, including providing too much entertainment and loose discipline, results in kids who lack proper boundaries and who need constant and immediate gratification. Experts believe that if kids have too many peak experiences early in life, they will have nothing to look forward to.”
Another part of this is using your kid as your therapist. Setting no boundaries between yourself and your kid, and making them privy to your adult problems, makes it seem like you need them to take care of you. While this builds trust, it doesn’t necessarily help a kid feel safe and secure.
Let’s also not forget that adultify also opens up adult behavior.
“Luthar has followed wealthier children well into their twenties and has found that by age twenty-six, they are two to three times more likely to have been diagnosed with a substance-abuse problem. Affluent kids are more likely to binge-drink and more likely to abuse Ritalin and party drugs like cocaine and Ecstasy.”
4. Snow-plowing the struggle
This sentiment was reiterated when Mary and I went to a panel discussion with Dr. Becky Kennedy this month.
If your kid, no matter what age, is struggling with a situation (be it academics or a social conflict or difficulties with a teacher/tutor/coach) and you “remove” the conflict, your kid then has no concept of overcoming struggle. They don’t learn to cope with hard feelings and they don’t learn to persevere. So when bigger, harder feelings come down the road, they break down until you the parent comes to remove the obstacle again.
Yes, it’s hard seeing your kid have a hard time and no parent wants to see their kid in distress. But these types of small life lessons compound as we get older, and if they don’t know how to find those mental and emotional coping skills, they forgo a growth mindset for a fixed one.
“Dweck believes that kids can get into a fixed mindset in which they are not open to taking on challenges and improving because they are afraid of failing. She encourages parents and teachers to foster a ‘growth mindset’ among children so that kids see their capabilities not as static but as ever-improving with effort.”
When your kid is having a tough time, you can be there and ask what they need for support, but they absolutely need to lead and you absolutely should take a back seat.
5. The problem with working ahead
I have this issue with parents who feel the need to have their child be so far ahead of their peers. Take reading for example. The average kid can learn to read anywhere between 4-6 years old. There is absolutely no reason you should be pushing your child to read at 3 or even before Kindergarten. Even if your child were to learn to read at such an early age, it does not guarantee that they will be skipping grades or be in gifted classes.
Even if a child can string together letters and pronounce words, learning to read is multi-faceted and it brings together many elements (phonics, sight-reading, comprehension, critical thinking, audio-visual, etc.). Pushing these skills before the brain is ready is futile.
On the book’s scale, high-schoolers who are pushed to take advanced, college-level classes are accelerating their academics. But from my personal experience, they are also really f’n stressed out. I took AP Calculus even though I had absolutely no want or need to take math for my college major. I gave myself nosebleeds, pretty much for nothing.
Slow down. This also applies to extra tutors, summer courses, and starting travel sports way too early.
Take this opportunity instead to ground expectations. Do you really want to be pushing your kid for Harvard/The Olympics/Mensa/Professional sports at 10? The book even calls this the “Athletic Academic Industrial Complex”.
6. Hard work vs results
We’ve talked about growth versus fixed mindset, so I think we all see the value in kids working hard to reach their goals. However, parents should remember that their kids are more than just their grades. Acknowledge and praise their hard work. Let them know that you see how determined and strong they are. Are they also compassionate, thoughtful, self-aware?
“The rates of anxiety among rich kids rivals that of the poorest kids in the nation. They contend with very different stressors, but they face the kinds of insecurity that people find unsettling. The rich don’t know where they stand or how they measure up, or if someone loves them for their own sake.”
Yes, this definitely sounds privileged, but it doesn’t make it less true.
7. Teaching the test
This probably sings the most in the book because the author is a former tutor. Studying and homework can be more than just memorizing the content and acing a Scantron test. Some of the students in the book depend entirely too much on “what’s the right answer” and lack the critical thinking that goes into high school academics. They become less confident in their opinions and just want to be told what to write down.
Another symptom of teaching the test is that content doesn’t stick. Once the teacher is on to the next subject or next unit, everything that was drilled or memorized is now out the door. Part of critical thinking and executive function is to see connections between concepts. That comes more easily when the student is genuinely engaged and can retain what they are learning.
I don’t want to caricature wealthy parents. From the book, it seems like they are either wholly absent or the worst form of helicopter parent. We’ve all seen at least one episode of Gossip Girl, so we can see the picture the author has painted.
But regardless of income, we are all parents with the same motivations and intentions. Whether this book speaks to the competitive tendencies of some parents, or the workaholics, or those who are just worried that their child is going to be a broke 28-year-old living in their basement, it gives a sneak-peek into what happens when parents aren’t in touch with their kids and their basic emotional and mental needs.
Yes, we all get scared thinking about how our kids will handle the “real world”, but the real world is not home. Home should be safe space for kids where they can be accepted. And that is something every parent should strive to provide.
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