I cannot recall how many times I have referenced and/or recommended Dr. Michael Thompson’s book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow since it was published in 2012. While a majority of the book focuses on the value of summer camp experiences, chapter one presents a series of things that Dr. Thompson believes we cannot provide for our children. I believe this list is worth considering in the broader context of parenting and as we move forward during the school year together. After all, one arrives at quite a number when calculating the total number of hours that children spend away from parents when attending school from preschool through college!
Dr. Thompson believes that “childhood requires an endpoint – children need to turn into adults – and parents need to have some images of adulthood in mind.” He discusses how it is our ultimate task to raise children who can leave us and how our lives our filled with many instances of letting go, “from the time you release the hand of your toddler so that she can take a few steps on her own, to the day you wave good-bye to your son or daughter moving away to college or life on their own.”
Dr. Thompson has worked with parents who want to do more and more for their children and are motivated by the belief that increased amounts of time, attention, and money better supports their child’s preparation for life. In his conversations with parents, many are “surprised and relieved to learn that, developmentally speaking, there is a limit to what they can and should do for their children. More specifically, there are eight fundamental things that parents want to do for or give to their children, but cannot:
1. We cannot make our children happy.
2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem.
3. We cannot make friends for our children or manage their friendships.
4. We cannot double as our children’s agent, manager, or coach.
5. We cannot create the “second family” for which our children yearn in order to facilitate their growth.
6. We cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.
7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.
8. We cannot make our children independent.
These are their developmental “tasks.” Throughout their lives as children, “they will have a lot of sweet moments without you there to see them happen. If you believe your job is to raise your children so that they can leave you, there is only one way to know whether you have done your job: to let them go and watch from a distance as they grow.”
(As a parent, I carry a wallet-sized version of the 8 fundamentals listed above with me at all times. Let me know if you’d like one.)
Dr. Thompson, who spoke with BFS parents at the onset of the pandemic in 2020, “is a consultant, author, and psychologist specializing in children and families. He is the supervising psychologist for the Belmont Hill School and has worked in more than seven hundred schools across the United States, as well in international schools in Central America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.”