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Vindication for Lazy Parents (Like Me)

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The other day, while driving into New York City, I heard a radio interview with Dana Goldstein, author of the recent Atlantic article "Don't Help Your Kids With Their Homework."

The article discussed two researchers from Duke University who went through 30 years of surveys to determine what really works when it comes to parental involvement in kids' education--and what doesn't.

The researchers' major finding was this: Don't help your kids with their homework. Kids need to learn how to fail, take responsibility for themselves, and love learning. They also discovered something I've experienced myself: that sometimes when parents help their kids, the parents get it wrong. My kids learned early on not to ask for my help because I often screwed things up for them. (Turns out it's more common than you'd think.)

The study found only three things that made a positive impact, and they were:
  1. Reading A LOT to your kids between the ages of 1 and 5.
  2. Talking to your teenagers about their future and getting them excited about it (helping them dream and promoting something to work toward).
  3. And finally, making sure your kids get good teachers. Because it turns out a good teacher makes a HUGE difference.
I was happy to hear all this and then read the article because I felt vindicated. Frankly, I don't have the time or interest to micromanage my kids' lives. And I've always believed that freedom would serve them better than my handling every little thing for them. They've been picking out their own clothes and getting dressed by themselves since they were 1-year-olds, and doing their own homework since kindergarten.

One call into the radio show from a teacher was also very telling, and something I've personally observed. He said that "helicopter parents" aren't really trying to help their kids; they're trying to live out their own fantasies through their kids. Now, I've taken liberties with his words since I was driving at the time and couldn't write his exact quote down, but regardless, I've seen this over and over again, where the over-involved parents are pushing their kids to do the things they themselves always wanted to do, rather than letting the kids do what they've chosen for themselves.

I think the secret to great parenting is to really love them enough to let them become their own unique selves, at their own pace and in their own way--even if you find it totally alien or wrong. It's the practice of unconditional love that's the secret to everything, not just parenting.

And oh, one more thing this article didn't mention but I've seen in many other studies: Sit down together for a family dinner as often as you can. That's one thing I am not lazy about, and you shouldn't be either if you want to raise happy, healthy kids who do well in school.

I have lots of recipes for foods kids will love right here on my blog...

For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com