• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • August 16, 2013 in Columnists

    Everything you need to know about parenting can be learned on skis

    I remember this time of year fondly. Parents everywhere are leaping for joy, singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Well, stay-at-home parents, maybe. As a working mom, summer vacation was way easier.

    When school begins, you have to dress your kids in a socially acceptable manner, pack healthy lunches and help with math homework that’s an exercise in irrelevance. (Shouldn’t the real question be WHY does Johnny have 17 apples and Suzy only 13? Come my child, let’s discuss the merits of equal pay for equal work, as well as corporate agriculture’s decimation of family farming and the perils of genetically modified food saturated with pesticide. These are important. All that adding and subtracting? That’s what calculators are for.)

    For a working parent, summer is a vacation too. The daycare provider offers nutritious lunches and snacks, and if your child wants to wear a pink tutu, cowboy boots and a soccer jersey that day, not a problem. As soon as mid-August rolls around, you have to start paying attention again.

    Side note: What genius started this “Back to School in August” thing? Summer isn’t over until the day after Labor Day, which is when school starts. Two weeks have been snipped off summer vacation. You can run through a lot of sprinklers and suck on a lot of cherry popsicles in two weeks. Remember when childhood was fun? Sheesh.


    Besides worrying about clothes, lunchboxes, homework, and the morning time-juggle to get everyone to school and work on time, once school starts, so does worrying about grades. “Worry.” Poor choice of words. “Obsession” is more like it. And I don’t mean kids. I mean parents.

    Of course good grades are important. Of course parents should care about their children’s progress and support them. But if your focus is solely on the grade and not how your child got it, you’re teaching him/her that getting the “A” is the only thing that matters, and anything less is failure. Ultimately, they’ll avoid challenging themselves because they’re terrified of failing. This is counter-productive to learning.

    When I was in ski class, our teacher (yes, we could take ski class for PE in high school, and yes, we DID have it better in the ’70s, as if Led Zeppelin didn’t categorically demonstrate that) told us that you have to fall to become a good skier. Those who avoid falling aren’t pushing their limits and sharpening their skills. Those who won’t risk falling never get past snowplowing down bunny slopes. They’ll never really be skiers.

    To advance from snow bunny to skier, you need to wipe out, many times, and on a spectacular level. Skis popping off, poles going flying, sliding down the hill on your back and coming to rest akimbo on the slope with snow up your jacket and in your goggles, if they’re still even on your face. You stare skyward, gather yourself up, shake out the snow, strap on the skis and try again. As you face that hill again, you’ll remember where you lost control last time and make adjustments. And you may wipe out again too. But eventually, as long as you don’t give up, you’ll master those moguls.

    I challenge you to find a better metaphor for life than learning to ski.

    It’s the same in school. Got a bad grade on the spelling test? Why? Did you play video games instead of study? Does that “i before e” thing always trip you up? Was it easier to memorize words by spelling them out loud than by writing them? These are the things parents should focus on: Not the grade, but how that grade happened. And then help your child pick a different course next time. It’s not a failure, it’s just a fall. Get back up, dust yourself off, and try again. It’s not a statement on you as a human being, it’s merely a reflection of a strategy that didn’t work. Find a different one.

    Kids need to fail. It’s that simple. They need to skin knees, and get an “F,” and not get picked for the school play. Feeling failure, getting past it, and discovering it’s not the end of the world makes a child resilient. However, parents today are obsessed with raising their children without the experience of disappointment and failure. This makes a child fragile.

    Worse yet, many parents raise their child to believe that s/he is the most unique, amazing, perfect being ever to inhale oxygen on this planet, and do everything in their power to ensure that s/he is treated that way at school. All 12 years. And then these kids hit college and blow apart when they discover that the real world doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their wonderfulness.

    A 2004 Psychology Today article, “A Nation of Wimps,” tumbled down my Facebook wall recently and I wanted to stand up in my chair and shout its brilliance to the universe. (I settled on writing this column.) If you have children, no matter what age, you must read it. For your children’s sake.

    It talks about the parental “hothouse.” Are you raising a child that survives in nature or only under perfect, artificial conditions? Is there an “eternal umbilicus” preventing your child from becoming an adult because you always solve every problem and smooth every rough patch for him/her? Does your child choose her/his own playtime activities or do you schedule every free minute?

    You really want your kid to succeed? Let him/her fail once in awhile, and learn that failure and mistakes are merely learning opportunities, nothing more. We must fall before we can walk.

    Read the article. Do some soul-searching: Is your self-esteem pinned on your child’s success? As one youngster was quoted in the article (notably, to his psychotherapist), “I wish my parents had some hobby other than me.”

    Want a hobby? Try skiing. You might learn a thing or two, all akimbo on the snow.

    • This is AWESOME. I read the original article and Debra, you do a brilliant take on it. THIS is the kind of column that absolutely should go viral. And this is part of the reason why I mentor teens today. We have to stat somewhere to fix the mess that’s been created…

      • Thank you, Sunny. The original article really hit a chord with me. I realized that although I am far from being a perfect parent, and was likely overly-anxious much of the time, my goal was always for my children to be able to launch. They both worked and managed their own paychecks before graduating from high school, and they both started doing their own laundry in middle school. They completed their own homework and their own projects, which were never doctored up by me. One knew how to do some basic cooking before leaving home, and the other was very good at ordering pizza.
        I look at parents today, hovering, hovering, hovering, and I wonder how their children will ever be ready to walk on their own after they graduate – or, for that matter, how they ever learned to walk at all.
        A skinned knee is a sign of growth.

        • Yes. I brought my kids up the same way, and given that you and I were both single parents for a significant portion of their upbringing, we obviously did something right (along with the myriad of mistakes 😉 My son and daughter were able to hit the ground running when they left home because they knew they could survive and come out on top. Unfortunately, I see too many of their contemporaries have gone back home again, and not just for financial reasons.

    • So agreed with the article and your article. My kids failed and got back up from time to time. Their projects for the Science Fair was always one of the worse ones but one of the only ones done by them only. My childhood was filled with criticism so I tried to let my kids do it on their own and helped only when asked and then I asked did they want the truth or did their want spelling or diction correction. They are well adjusted today and are great husbands and parents. So I must have done something right too.

      • Maya North

      • August 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm
      • Reply

      I am soooo with you! I call these people “fairy princess parents” and the products of their parenting are horrifying. They are so overprecious they can put me in a diabetic coma. I treated my kiddos like the wonderful little monsters they were with such gems as “you have a magnificent brain. Will you kindly turn it on? Or do you prefer to walk into walls?” and “If you told me the same thing every day, at the same time of day, 365 days a year and I STILL didn’t get it, you’d think I had BRAIN DAMAGE.” And they survived. And if people spoke to them with less than utmost delicacy and reverence, wow, they didn’t call me weeping like one young woman did (reported to me by one of my nonbiological kids, who had once endured me making her ask me for lunch seven times until she got the tone right). These overcoddled little princes and princesses are in for a rude awakening when the world turns out to be real after all.

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