On Raising Happy Children (and My Fan Club)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Michael, Michael, and … Madeline?

Oh, I’m sorting out the name order of my new fan club. Obviously.

The first Michael is The King of Pop, Michael Jackson. My parents are happy to show you pictures of my young Nikki B. bedroom, with posters of MJ plastered on all walls.

The second one goes to Michael J. Fox, from the Family Ties and the first Back to the Future movie days. (Sure, Spin City was fine, and so are the newer roles MJF has popped up in lately, but, uh, this is my fan club. So, quiet down, you three in the back.)

Madeline is for the clinician, author and psychologist Madeline Levine. I recently wrote about Levine’s new book Teach Your Children Well and how much I was looking forward to reading it. Well, it arrived in the mail yesterday, just as I was reading her latest opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times about “Raising Successful Children.”

Look, I was already excited about the fact that I was reading Sunday’s paper on a Monday. Only one day late!  Then there was the brown smiling box on the doorstep. Good things. But then I started to read this newspaper piece …

That’s when I decided to add another “M” to the fan club. This woman is simply great! I was nodding along with every word so much so that I actually grabbed my purple pen to start underlining key points and passages. She’s talking such good sense, and without making you — the parent — feel like everything you’re doing right now is absolutely the worst. Don’t get it twisted, though, Levine does give you the straight dope. She’s not mincing words to paint pretty rainbow pictures.

“If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.”

“It is the inability to maintain parental boundaries that most damages child development.”

The article is a must-read because it gets down to a basic and necessary message: You can help guide your child towards happiness. However, first you need to check your definition of happiness. What does being successful mean to you? What are your real hopes for your child as they move through this life? Those questions are addressed, it seems, in Levine’s new book. Remember that heavy line from the book’s NYT’s review? Our current version of success is a failure. Oh, indeed, I’ll be writing about that book soon.

In this latest piece, though, Levine talks about finding the “sweet spot of parental involvement.” Basically, the right mix of let me help you and let me help you by letting you help yourself. But, as Levine concedes, it’s a challenge getting there. It feels counterintuitive, to let your kids stumble, to support them by limiting your interference. Yes, it may be tough to get the hang of it, but get the hang of it, if you truly want happiness for your kids.

“The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.

“The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality.”  

Levine offers us solid intel on the success found in failures and how maintaining parental boundaries might very well be the best thing you can do for your child. But it was the last paragraph of this article that sold me on her (and scored Levine a place in the fancy fan club I’ve got going here). That’s the section where she talks about the importance of showing your children what being happy looks like … by living a fulfilled life of your own.

“One of the most important things we do for our children is to present them with a version of adult life that is appealing and worth striving for.”

Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • 1
    Alicia says:

    Very well said and I definitely agree. I need to read this article!

  • 2
    Kristin says:

    I (mentally) underlined many of the same thoughts. I was also very relieved that she points out that authoritative parents cultivate motivation. Phew!

    I remember around the middle of my teaching career (assuming it’s pretty much spent) one of my students said, “Miss, you’re going to be a great parent.” Her reasoning? I was strict. Really strict. Now, I’m not sure that she’s correct, but I am so glad that we’re over the “I’m my kid’s best friend” hump for now. That is just NOT what they need.

    Love your rundown here. And I think I need to reread the article to get everything out of it.