Lori Gottlieb has just started a schoolyard brawl.
With an article in the Atlantic that hit newsstands this week, the writer, therapist and mother has lassoed an increasingly common complaint among parents, grandparents, teachers and professors: modern parents are ruining their children.
Gottlieb, who previously wrote “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” (Dutton, 2010) quotes other therapists, authors and a few teachers about how they’ve been witnessing a sea change among kids and teenagers. They told her that the younger generation is plagued with anxiety and paper-thin egos. The culprits, they say, are not the bad parents, but the best parents.
The 7,000-plus-word piece “How To Land Your Kid In Therapy,” is receiving outsize attention. Besides all the letters and comments the Atlantic is fielding, it’s popping up on parents’ Facebook pages and in their inboxes.
Here’s an excerpt:
“And yet, underlying all this parental angst is the hopeful belief that if we just make the right choices, that if we just do things a certain way, our kids will turn out to be not just happy adults, but adults that make us happy. This is a misguided notion, because while nurture certainly matters, it doesn’t completely trump nature, and different kinds of nurture work for different kinds of kids (which explains why siblings can have very different experiences of their childhoods under the same roof). We can expose our kids to art, but we can’t teach them creativity. We can try to protect them from nasty classmates and bad grades and all kinds of rejection and their own limitations, but eventually they will bump up against these things anyway. In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up. Maybe we parents are the ones who have some growing up to do — and some letting go.”
Gottlieb’s argument, similar to her previous book about marriage, is that we’d all be much happier if we accept good enough — good enough, or less involved, parenting and good enough, or average, kids. As one of her sources tells her “Our children are not our masterpieces.”
It sounds perfectly sound in theory. In practice, though, when the approach involves ignoring playground bullying or not helping with homework or agreeing with a child that she “sucks at math,” it starts to seem radical.
My colleague Jay Matthews, for instance, recently wrote a column that also seemed perfectly sound on why parents should be allowed more, not less, influence in children’s schooling.
In “Who says I’m an over-involved dad,” Matthews argued: “Helping your child learn should not be something shameful. Let’s say out loud that we are going to pass on what we know, no matter what anyone else thinks about it.”
The “good enough” advocates would likely call that “over-parenting.” Which kid is going to land on the therapist’s couch?
What do you think? Is “good enough” not enough or has “good parenting” become too much?