Can Good Parenting Lead to Unhappy Adults?

A friend gave us a copy of this article from the July/August 2011 issue of Atlantic Magazine.  It deals with parenting, but we think it also has consequences for education and the marriages of parents (thus a connection to this blog).  The title of the article is:  How to Land Your Kid in TherapyWhy the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods, By Lori Gottlieb.  We’ll give you a couple of brief quotes and then a link to the full article.

Here I was, seeing the flesh-and-blood results of the kind of parenting that my peers and I were trying to practice with our own kids, precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day. We were running ourselves ragged in a herculean effort to do right by our kids—yet what seemed like grown-up versions of them were sitting in our offices, saying they felt empty, confused, and anxious. Back in graduate school, the clinical focus had always been on how the lack of parental attunement affects the child. It never occurred to any of us to ask, what if the parents are too attuned? What happens to those kids?

 Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way. “I am happy,” writes Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project, a book that topped the New York Times best-seller list and that has spawned something of a national movement in happiness-seeking, “but I’m not as happy as I should be.”

“You can have the best parenting in the world and you’ll still go through periods where you’re not happy,” Jeff Blume, a family psychologist with a busy practice in Los Angeles, told me when I spoke to him recently. “A kid needs to feel normal anxiety to be resilient. If we want our kids to grow up and be more independent, then we should prepare our kids to leave us every day.”

 Meanwhile, rates of anxiety and depression have also risen in tandem with self-esteem. Why is this? “Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe,” Twenge explains. “Their parents act like their servants, shuttling them to any activity they choose and catering to their every desire. Parents are constantly telling their children how special and talented they are. This gives them an inflated view of their specialness compared to other human beings. Instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else.”

As high school and college teachers we have seen many examples of the kind of parenting described in this article.  We have discovered some negatives for education as students have come to expect that everything will be made easy for them and that their failures will have no negative consequences.  Parents doggedly try to protect their children from the consequences of things like failure to do homework.  Often teachers and administrators give in to the pressures and reduce their expectations.  The long-term consequences for education are ominous.

Finally, the article relates back to our last post about the busyness of the beginning of the new school year.  This parenting style appears to be very demanding of time and emotional energy and may be a factor in couples’ difficulty with finding time to connect with each other. That connection may be more important for our children than any of the other things we do for them.

You can access the complete article Here.

Let us know what you think.  Leave a comment below.


About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
This entry was posted in Aging Together, Marriage, Marriage Enrichment, Marriage Help, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Can Good Parenting Lead to Unhappy Adults?

  1. Marie Haydon says:

    At last somebody recognising that children need to have failures and work hard to achieve their goals themselves. We have 5 children who are mainly adults now. We did encourage them to do many activities, but we were also aware that the 2 of us could only be split in so many ways, so the kids were restricted in what they could do. We have always known our children would leave home – in fact encouraged this! The most important thing for our children was and is our marital relationship. When we are together then love flows, and they reap the benefits of that!

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