When I recently told a friend about my parenting book on homework, he chuckled a bit and asked: “Do you have a few minutes? I’ve got a good story.”
He told me about a family he knows who shared with him their system for assuring student success. “The parents get all of the information possible in the beginning of the grading period and put all due dates of everything into a GANNT chart.” A GANNT chart is a great tool for breaking down tasks into smaller tasks and is a system I use with clients. So far so good.
“But,” he tells me: “The student isn’t involved at all in the scheduling. The parents do it all for him. So I asked them why, and they told me that he’s too lazy and won’t take the time.”
I tell my friend that this is something a lot of parents have gotten themselves into: helping turning into doing for them.
My friend says: “But he’s a sophomore.”
“I’m not surprised. A lot of parents have trouble letting go.”
He says: “But he’s in college. He’s a sophomore in college.”
This is a trend that has been happening more and more these days: parents having a very tough time letting go of their responsibility to organize, remind, and motivate. Unless there is some significant disability, I think most of us would agree that the second year in college would be a time when parents should be completely out of the loop.
I love these types of stories. Mainly because I can then feel that at least some parent is more anxious than I am. There’s a bit of twistedness about me that feels good about someone having it worse than me! But when I take a step back and consider what those parents are going through, they stop becoming a caricature and instead remind me that the biggest obstacle we face as parents: Fear.
Some president, I think one of the Roosevelts, said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When I was a kid, I hated that line, because it made absolutely no sense to me. I don’t fear fear, I fear falling out of trees, my mom catching my lies. I fear the bully down the street named Carroll (he was a guy, I swear. And no one made fun of his name…they didn’t dare).
I didn’t fear fear. I feared the future. I feared what was going to happen to me. But I think that’s what Roosevelt might have been talking about. We don’t fear things, we fear what MIGHT happen. When I think of those parents and what they might be afraid of, it’s all about the future. I they pull back on their responsibility, they are afraid that their student will struggle in school; they are afraid that he will not do the work at all; they are afraid that he might fail. And ultimately, his parents are afraid that they have failed him, by not preparing him for life.
The irony is that, the more they react to their fears, the more likely that the worst outcome will occur. The more they stay involved, the less he has to. I feel for these parents, who might feel like they have gotten themselves painted into a corner.