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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day: a case for pushing kids out of the nest

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These orphaned robin's eggs that Don found on the ground while he mowed around the spruce tree are normal in the earth's economy. If everything survived, the world would be overrun. Yet I tend to side with the prey, not the bluejay who knocked the nest out of the tree while he raided and stole eggs. There is a mothering instinct in me that wants the defenseless to be protected, and survive.

It's Father's Day in the U.S., and I am feeling grateful that my husband and father of my two children agreed with Goethe: "There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings." I work with college students, and I witness the growing trend of "Velcro" parents to stay involved in the daily (or hourly) comings, goings, successes and failings of their college children. Truth is that the kids are half of that sticky Velcro and seem to want to be in touch many times a day by text. The roots are strong, the wings not so much. (I couldn't wait to be off on my own.)

There is a fantastic article about breaking up with parents written by Terry Castle, the literary critic and professor at Stanford (Susan Sontag called her the most expressive literary critic alive today). I felt something shift when I read it. She uses literary orphans to demonstrate how strong and resilient humans become when they are forced to survive on their own (so many! "Witness Little Goody Two-Shoes, Pollyanna, Heidi, Little Orphan Annie, Kim, Mowgli, Bilbo, Frodo, Anne (of Green Gables), Dorothy (she of Toto and Auntie Em), Peter (as in Pan), Harry (as in Potter)". The article is "The Case for Breaking Up with Your Parents" in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is long. It is excellent.

Of course we live in times of economic hardship, and some of our adult kids have to live with us now and then until they catch a break. The real point of the article is that we must raise children to think for themselves. Imagine a society of independently thinking people.

Happy Father's Day!
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27 comments:

Shari said...

amen!

George said...

Thanks for this post, Ruth, and especially for the Terry Castle article, which I thought was terrific. I find myself astounded daily at how our modern-day parents are excessively involved in their children's lives—and, yes, it's usually through the mutual agreement of parents and their children. When my children call me for advice, I usually refuse to give it. Instead, I encourage them to ask themselves the questions that will lead them to reach a conclusion that is theirs alone. If we do not allow our children to fail, we will not allow them to succeed.

ellen abbott said...

I couldn't agree more. I couldn't wait to be out from under my parents influence and control. I told my own kids after they graduated high school that as far as I was concerned, they were grown and I would no longer parent them. I would give advice but that's all. My daughter moved out right away to an apartment with friends (though she did come back for a short while less than a year later) and my son took off for year's adventure hitchhiking around the country. He also lived with us again off and on for a short periods during that year or so til he got his own apartment. My daughter was completely on her own at 19, my son at about 20.

Jean Spitzer said...

Yes. It's not so much where you live--that's a mix of culture and economics--but how independently you live.

Happy Father's Day.

Jill of All Trades said...

This is FABULOUS! I'm sending to our oldest who is set to bless us with our first grandchild, a girl, in September.

rosaria williams said...

Very thoughtful!

California Girl said...

Along these lines, I think you'll appreciate this OpEd by David Shribman, Editor Pittsburgh Post Gazette
http://www.toledoblade.com/David-Shribman/2012/06/17/2-stand-out-from-crowd-of-graduation-speeches.html

Catfish Tales said...

Such interesting thoughts and comments you have, especially about the 'velcro' parents. I had just the opposite growing up, which I didn't like at all. I always envied the kids who were made to feel special in their fathers' eyes. To me it matters, yes.

rippleeffects said...

Yes... reading your post the term 'helicopter parents' comes to mind, a term Terry Castle has elaborated. It's long as you said, so I've saved it to read later. But I just like to stop and share a thought. Ruth, this probably is the most difficult thing to do, to balance the parental watch with the letting go... not only when they're living at home, but even far away, as you mentioned, with texts, Skype, Chats, etc. Seems like technology has altered parenting style, making it harder to teach independence. Having said all that, I'm also finding that our world has altered so much. It's a much more complex, specialized, and resource/info based society we're in, parental advice and guidance may well be the most secure and least expensive... social capital anyone can rely upon. I understand counsellors play an important role, esp. those with genuine interest and concern for the students, like yourself, but once the young person is out in the work world, he/she has fewer people to safely rely on but the love of a parent.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Shari!

Ruth said...

George, I'm gratified that you read Castle's article and found it terrific, too. I'm afraid I hear about many parents who have such a long-established routine of solving their kids' problems for them, or attempting to prevent problems in the first place, that it becomes harder and harder to foster independence as wisely as you describe. I'm also afraid that a lot of times the same parents seem to need their children to have "perfect" lives, for their own sakes, not their children's!

Ruth said...

Ellen, what you encouraged your kids to do has no doubt made their lives (and yours) far richer than if you had not done so. Why do parents think that the opposite is true? Life is full of risks, and it's hard as a parent to let go. But it gets easier after those first few exposures to independent experience, when we find out they survive.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Jean. Yes, that's so true! It's how we think of ourselves, not our location necessarily.

Ruth said...

Jill, that's marvelous! And congratulations to you for the familial joy to come with your first grandchild!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Rosaria!

Ruth said...

Thanks, CG. That commencement speech "you're nothing special" has really made an impact around the country, and I hope it helps Velcro parents as much as their kids.

Ruth said...

Shers, there is quite a sad gap between the parents who cling too close, and the parents who do not cling closely enough. I relate to your experience as well and feel like I'm forever trying to overcome the lack of confidence that resulted.

Ruth said...

Arti, thank you for your excellent point. The world has become an overwhelming place, pace, and we are getting more information about it than we can respond to. I agree that within such a complex swirl of realities, home must be safe and approachable, and never cease to be a source of comfort and support. No doubt that is where much of this trend comes from, and it's the parents themselves who feel unsafe.

Peter Olson said...

Certanly mixed feelings, when the kids "fly" away, even if today they do it late (studies, no job...) and today also compensated by easy communication. Compare with the immigration a century ago, often some kind of "adieu" for ever.

Ginnie said...

A thousand YESES to this, Ruth! I have for some reason never identified with those parents who hated to see their kids go off to kindergarten or college...or depart the nest. I LOVED the freedom for me as well as for my kids. I know we live in a different economic world today but still....

I haven't read Terry Castle's article yet but I have a feeling I'll love it. Thanks for the link!

Happy Father's Day to Don, and you, the day after!

missing moments said...

A wonderful post Ruth. I ascribe to this way of thinking as well. I couldn't wait to get out on my own as did my 3 oldest children. But then, there is my 4th child, and she seems much less eager to spread her wings. College graduated, taking additional classes and working part-time, it has been challenging to find work to support herself. Times are different, children are different and perhaps I am different. Whatever, a wonderful post!

Vagabonde said...

What a thought provoking post! I had no idea that kids stayed in constant contact with their parents as described in the article – talk, text, Skype like this every day? (I have Skype on my computer but have not used it yet – in 2 years!) I left Paris for the USA at 21, alone, and did not go back home for 2 years. Now I have two grown daughters, one with 3 children, and I talk to them once a week (when they are on the road) and sometimes less than that. I don’t text or facebook.

I think a lot of this is due to the way children are brought up. I read a book called “Bringing up Bebe” by an American mother in Paris, Pamela Druckerman, and it showed it well. She saw how French parents expected their babies to sleep through the night by 3 or 4 months old. Most children there eat everything too and are not picky like here. The children there are not the center of attention – they are left to play by themselves. It showed me that there are huge differences in the way American parents bring up their children and also that I had brought mine the French way. The bringing up here goes with everything else that is “bigger.” Cars are bigger like the huge SUVs, food portions are huge – enormous steaks, “biggify” French fries, huge consumption of energy and water and so on, so why no “super-parenting” with the results we see. This does not mean that the education of the kids here is any better – it is not. It also does not mean that they are happier – they are not. Traveling in so many countries I have never seen the stickers on cars like in the US such as “my child is number one, or on the X team, at X school” - so what…

Children need to be loved and brought up in a way to be independent – parents should not cling to them. You are so right children should be raised to think for themselves – I wish many parents would read your post.

The Solitary Walker said...

I agree with all of this, Ruth. I was lucky in being given much freedom and independence as child — to roam at will in the countryside, for instance.

Unfortunately, however, I think that my own children were Velcro-d far too much.

Jeanie said...

I couldn't agree with you more, although now that Kevin has left for a newlife in Duluth, I say so with a tad less conviction! AIt's hard when they are out of the house, isn't it (although ours hadn't been IN the house -- but they were at least in town!). I must read "Breaking Up with Your Parents -- thanks for posting the link!

GailO said...

My eldest and I have been talking a lot about raising independant children lately. Her eldest will soon be seven and it is difficult to watch him as he blunders his way into the world sometimes. I am proud that both of my girls have found their way in the world so well.

Will definitely find time to read that article...most of those childhood books were my favorites!

Loring Wirbel said...

The story of Velcro parents who actually accompany kids to job interviews, AFTER college graduation, shocks me. Abby graduates in a couple weeks, and Carol is learning now NOT to be a helicopter mom. Abby was going to go to Spain to teach for a year, though economic conditions in Europe may sink that effort. In the meantime, she has purchased a manual typewriter so she can make retro job inquiries. She wrote her mom a birthday card about Velcro-helicopter and the nature of separation, and it was sweet and touching.

Montag said...

Thank you very much for the link to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

I shall have to finish the rest of my 2012 robin story; it turned into quite a tragedy, complete with midnight burials!