Tag Archives: Fail

Do Kids Move Back in with Parents Because They’re Trained to be Helpless: Parenting Without Borders, Part 10

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.”In Part 7 and Part 8, we explored what education is like in East Asia and Finland. In Part 9, we looked at cultural notions of kindness in raising kids. In Part 10, we’ll explore the possibility that parenting might be fostering a sense of helplessness in children today.

Yes, the title of this post is a tad clickbait-y, but after reading the final chapter in Gross-Loh’s Parenting Without Borders, I can’t help but think that the reams of university students who’ve landed in their parents’ basements upon receiving their diplomas has something to do with the way they’ve been reared. Of course, there are many other factors at play (including things like the economy and recessions, etc.), but I don’t think that this ideas is too fantastical.

Remember the anecdote from Part 9: “In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005, it was to become comfortably rich.” Well, there’s also a big difference in the way that kids are treated at home (even within a given country).

In 1950, an eleven-year-old growing up in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn was responsible for waking up on time, making his own breakfast, and getting himself out the door. […] He also did the family shopping: going to a corner grocer to buy bread or rolls, or to pick up milk.

Contrast that with today’s America:

“I pretty much do all the chores in the house,” [says a mother of three pre-teens aged nine, eleven, and twelve].

According to the author of The Anthropology of Childhood, it’s “absolutely universal” for children to want to help adults in their communities. We think that sheltering kids from work will help them succeed in all those extracurriculars and allow them more time to complete all that homework. The issue here is that while kids want to help, we’re unintentionally squashing that motivation.

When we ignore our children’s eagerness to participate when they are younger, they internalize the idea that contributing is unimportant and they are helpless. They also begin to expect that things will be done for them.

This shouldn’t come as news to anyone who’s read the work of pediatrician Dr. Spock:

Chores, even if not perfectly done, help children gain good self-esteem and make them feel like they are contributing to the family.

And isn’t that what most people want for their kids, anyways? A well-developed sense of self-esteem and a healthy desire to contribute to the world around them? Simply asking children to do chores isn’t enough — it needs to be part of our expectations (or boundaries?). They key here is not necessarily that kids are learning how to contribute to the home, but that they’re learning to feel responsible for themselves. This fosters a sense of self-reliance, so that when they’re older, they know that they’ll be able to figure things out and maybe more importantly, that they’re responsible for figuring things out for themselves.

To illustrate the contrast in cultures, Gross-Loh shares a stunning example of a five-year-old in Japan [Emphasis Added]:

[They] prepare an entire meal for their parents at school and had them do everything by themselves, from paring the potatoes to cutting the meat and carrots for the stew with chef’s knives. Because the social expectation in Japan was that children were capable of acting responsibly and doing chores, the kids had daily practice in helping out at school. Our kids were getting clear and frequent messages about how highly and valued it was to be helpful, self-reliant, and responsible from just about everyone — teachers, friends’ parents, and even from their own friends.

How many parents in North America do you think would let their five-year-olds use a paring knife, much less a chef’s knife? Another poignant quote from the chapter: “When people talk only about what they’re protecting their kids from, they’re not thinking about what they’re depriving them of.” If we don’t give our little ones the chance to fail, how will they learn to succeed?

Brief related tangent — I came across a delightful article recently where a father’s daily question to his kids was, “What did you fail at today?” The idea behind it being that failure is a necessary part of growth.


Building on some of the points on autonomy and self-reliance in this chapter, Gross-Loh also explained the way we ask our children to do things matters. Think about how you like to be asked to do something. If someone is off-handedly demanding your attention while you (and they) are engaged in other tasks, are you interested in complying? Probably not. Now imagine you’re a 5-year old. Do you think you’d be more or less likely to comply?

Even The Best, Fail

In the “West,” there’s definitely a preoccupation with success and perfection. Some may say there’s good reason for that, but I thought it would be enlightening to remember an example when someone, widely considered the best at what they do, failed. The person I had in mind: .

Mariano Rivera is the closer for the New York Yankees. During his , he’s become MLB’s all-time regular season leader in saves, the all-time  postseason leader in saves, been chosen for the all-star team 12 (!) times, won the World Series 5 times, and he is most assuredly going to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Without a doubt, a conversation about the best closer of all-time would have to include Mariano Rivera.

Now that I’ve set the stage for just how good Mariano Rivera is, I want to take you back to the . In particular, . Every young boy (and some girls, too!) dream of getting to be the hero in Game 7 of the World Series. For some little boys and girls, that’s about being up to bat in the Bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and 2 out and the team losing by 3 runs. A grand slam would win the game and forever immortalize them! For other little boys and girls, those who are pitchers (like Mariano Rivera), it’s about being on the mound in the bottom of the 9th. It’s about being the pitcher that the manager and the rest of the team is counting on to finish the game.

This is exactly what happened for Mariano Rivera. In Game 7, the Yankees were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks took the lead in the 6th inning, but the Yankees came back with runs in the 7th and the 8th to take a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the 8th, Joe Torre turned to Mariano Rivera. Mariano did not disappoint in the bottom of the 8th — striking out the side. And then came the 9th inning. Instead of creating a narrative in print, I thought I’d embed a video I found (courtesy of MLB.com) that replays some of the drama/heroics of game 7. It’s only about 4 and a half minutes long and I highly suggest watching all of it, but if you want to skip to the “Mariano Rivera” part, it starts at around 2:20.


This moment was extremely shocking. Even having seen the game live and knowing what’s going to happen, it’s still shocking. One of the best relief pitchers of all-time and widely considered to be at the , failed. It just goes to show us that no matter who you are or where you are in life, fallibility is inescapable.