The best thing I read this week about parenting

You know when you read something that has you enthralled from beginning to end? And as you’re reading, you’re realising that you’re absorbing something very important, something that might change the way you think or the way you do things?

I came across an article this week that had that effect on me. ‘Raising Successful Children‘, an op-ed by psychologist and best-selling author Dr Madeline Levine, appeared in the New York Times. Here is an excerpt:

Raising successful teenagers

Image by Aih/Flickr

“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. Ditto nightly ‘reviews’ of homework, repetitive phone calls to ‘just check if you’re O.K.’ and ‘editing’ (read: writing) your child’s college application essay.

“Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself (if he’s young) or angry at you (if he’s a teenager).”

Dr Levine examines the qualities of ‘authoritative’ parenting, which hits the ‘sweet spot’ that lies somewhere between helicopter parenting and permissive parenting.  This article is quite brilliant, and I recommend every parent reads it.

But it also challenges me.

  • I still make my 14-year-old’s school lunch, because she would walk out the door with nothing if I didn’t. I am not sure what, or how, she eats at school if she doesn’t have money.
  • I still vacuum her bedroom and clean surfaces. I am so sick of nagging her to clean up her room so that we can actually see the floor and desk, that I don’t have it in me to then go for gold and get her to complete the job.
  • I wash and dry her clothes. Because I do everybody’s washing around here.
  • I micro-manage her homework a bit. She needs to be ridden or it won’t get done. I would love to wipe my hands of it and let her learn a life lesson, but I fear it would take several semesters of bad results before she woke up to what’s expected of her and I’m not prepared to sacrifice a year and a half of her schooling.

So these are all things she could do for herself, but instead I do them for her, for all the reasons I’ve given.

What do you do for your kids, that they could do for themselves? Do you fight against hovering like a helicopter parent? Are you the permissive type? Or do you hit the “sweet spot”?



  1. I do think this sort of stuff is a lot easier when your kids are all fairly close in age, saves on arguments about why the younger ones don’t have to do the same stuff as the older ones. I stopped doing everyone’s laundry a few years ago, my youngest, now aged 10, is beginning to be independent with it now – it was a pretty big ask for him to do it all by himself when the new regime was introduced.

    My Ms13 is completely independent with homework, I often have no idea that she’s even had any to do but it all gets done and her results are fine. Mr15 on the other hand needs constant nagging and quite a lot of hands-on help with assignments, we’d be paying for tutoring if it weren’t for having an ex English and History teacher on hand (Grandma). Different kids need different things from us as parents.

    My husband and I do sometimes do things for the kids that they could do for themselves – make a lunch if someone is running a little late, feed Ms13’s rabbits, change bedclothes, but then they sometimes do stuff for us too – they’re my tea-making minions, they cook family meals occasionally, hang our laundry on the line, vacuum the living areas. I think we’re finding the right balance.
    mimbles recently posted..It’s getting thereMy Profile

    • Thanks Mimbles, I agree that having kids close in age would help – I’m glad that’s not just my excuse. And yes, kids are all different and need different things. I can also be happy that my teen is an independent cook, gets herself around town confidently and competently, can – and sometimes does – do the laundry, and thanks to a particular quirk, always has a neat bed with fresh sheets (it’s her thing).

  2. In a perfect world, Dr Levine’s theories might work all the time but in mine you do what keeps things moving along. Which means that I also do the laundry (because no-one else does it!), I make lunches and I help out with assignments when asked.

    But when I’m not able to do things (like yesterday when I was struck down with the flu) my boys can get dinner organised, get themselves showered and off to bed without me hovering over them. And the world continues on.

    Perhaps I’ve managed an okay balance after all – parenting’s a bit of a juggling act with constant adjustment sometimes, isn’t it?
    What Sarah Did Next recently posted..Music for Monday…My Profile

  3. At my girl’s current age.. I still do most things for her most of the time. However I understand where the article is coming from.. I left home after secondary school for uni overseas and my parents really left me on my own accord. I had to be independent and it was then I really learnt that I was capable of so many things! It was really quite empowering and helped shape the person I am today.
    Ai Sakura recently posted..Zespri Kiwi Fruits Dinner | Start of a 14 Days Challenge! #14DaysofZespriMy Profile

  4. Gosh, that is great advice. I do too many things for my girls that they can do themselves. Can we attached the same advice to our husband? Rachel x
    Rachel from Redcliffe Style recently posted..8 Necessary blogging toolsMy Profile

  5. That really is wonderful advice. I know I should let go a bit already (even though my eldest is only 8) it needs to start sometime right? It’s actually easier to do things for them, but in the long run it’s not to their advantage…thanks for this reminder
    workingwomenaus recently posted..The world WILL keep on spinningMy Profile

    • It helps just to take little steps towards letting go – you need to feel a little uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable 🙂

  6. “Help me do it myself” is a bit of a Montessori mantra and I think I was probably better at letting them have a go at doing things for themselves when they were in a Montessori kindy and we were surrounded by that sort philosophy. Now when they are at an age when they should be able to do everything for themselves I’ve found (for the sake of expediency) I have been doing a bit too much. I just recently had a bit of an attitude change and have been expecting them to cook a meal etc. They have taken a bit more responsibility for washing their own school uniforms after a few mornings we were late because they hadn’t been washed the night before (sometimes your own incompetence can be an advantage).

    However, one of the areas we struggle is homework. The homework load at our schools often makes it difficult to get the girls to help around the house, when they show me what they have to do for the weekend they are right, they don’t have time to sweep and vacuum! They often require a lot of assistance, not so much nagging to do it, but hands on time management, dealing with info overload from their internet research and structuring of the tasks.

    I’m not sure we are anywhere near the “sweet spot” but we are trying.
    Janine Fitzpatrick recently posted..Monday Morning Photo – SeclusionMy Profile

    • Time is a big factor in our house too. Between after school activities and homework, there isn’t a lot of time left. There’s a difference between doing things for our kids to “keep things moving along” as What Sarah Did Next said, and doing things because you underestimate your child’s abilities.

  7. I’m reading all of that nodding, nodding, nodding. Must get a hold of that article. (On a side note, my 30 year old brother just moved out of our Mum and Dad’s earlier in the year. Maybe my parents needed to have a look at a similar style article !0 YEARS AGO!!! Haha!)
    MsMandie recently posted..The Real Housewives Of Melbourne – Olympics EditionMy Profile

  8. Yes, I catch myself doing stuff for my boys that I know they can do for themselves. (Eating for themselves, walking rather than being carried etc). And something in me tells me it’s not quite what I should be doing but I don’t know what the alternative is…does that make sense? I think in some ways, I’m still in that mindset that they’re still the little preemie babies that were being looked after in NICU for 14 long days.
    Sometimes, it’s just easier and quicker when I do it myself…
    Grace recently posted..The third attemptMy Profile

    • Yes, I wonder how much a role our lack of time or impatience plays. I do things all the time because it’s just “easier”. For me. In the short term.

  9. I know this flies in the face of the point u r trying to get across but I think helping yr daughter out is fine. You are doing it because you love and like to nurture her, not just because she won’t do these things herself. Just give yourself s pst on the back for being a good, concerned and loving parent. I think Dr Levine’s theories are too strong.
    Bachelormum recently posted..Our children’s sense of belongingMy Profile

  10. Ive always tried to encourage the kids to do things for themselves. I’m amazed at how many parents still unpack their children’s bags when they get to school, and out their Lunchboxes away. Those sorts of little things are quite big in the kids minds.
    Maybe your daughter has just gotten so used to you doing things, she doesn’t feel the need? I don’t know how, but maybe you have try and get her to take more Responsibilty?
    Jess recently posted..It’s Better to Give Than RecieveMy Profile

  11. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it yesterday. The process has commenced at my house from now on. thank you!
    Gemma Nutshell recently posted..Finding your funk seriesMy Profile

    • Sounds like it resonated with you as much as it did with me. Did you click through and read the whole article? Lots of really interesting stuff. Good luck with the changes Gemma 🙂



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