kitchen table math, the sequel: Katharine on Hold On to Your Kids

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Katharine on Hold On to Your Kids

I see Katharine's been writing about Gordon Neufeld's Hold On to Your Kids, a subject I've been planning to get back to:
Speaking as an n of 1, I can attest that raising a child in an adult-oriented house produces a terrific kid. C. is 18 now, and he's exactly the person we hoped he'd be (knock on wood). We hear the same from his teachers. Last week Ed was in a meeting with one of C's first-semester professors, and when she realized C. was Ed's son, she said C. was "very important to the course."

The reason C. could be "important" to a freshman seminar, I assume, is that he is naturally attuned to adults. Now that I've read Neufeld, I realize C. has essentially none of that .... I don't know what to call it.

That 'clubby,' secret-identity feeling you get from many adolescents----?

C. feels at home with adults. Put it that way.

The parent/teacher connection struck me so forcefully when I read Neufeld side-by-side with Steinberg (Beyond the Classroom). Kids raised in permissive homes, Steinberg shows, are peer-oriented; kids raised in authoritative homes are oriented toward adults: parents and teachers.

Steinberg's research shows that adult-orientation is highly productive in terms of school and entry-level jobs. By the time kids are 18, the difference between peer-orientation and adult-orientation is significant..

For the record, I don't really know how we raised an adult-oriented teen in a peer-oriented culture. Until 2 months ago I'd never heard of Neufeld, and when my kids were little I shared with everyone else the same unexamined set of beliefs about the importance of peer socialization -- maybe especially so given the fact that out typical child, C., had two autistic brothers.

I can't say that I worried about socialization (I didn't), but I did fret about it from time to time....I wondered whether C. was too shy, and when he was little I was constantly shlepping him to play dates hither and yon. But as he grew older I didn't bother with the play dates. C. always had a solid group of friends who were and are good kids; in fact, he still has today almost every friend he made when he was as young as age 4. He has another set of friends from his Jesuit high school and a new group now at NYU. The fact that C. had friends seemed good enough to me, so I spent my time worrying about math.

As to why he was an adult-oriented child, I'm guessing the reasons include:
  • Authoritative parenting - both Ed and I had authoritative parents ourselves; permissive parenting is pretty foreign to our experience. While Neufeld doesn't talk about authoritative parenting (at least not in the first third of his book) I suspect authoritative parenting per se probably produces adult-orientation.
  •  2 siblings with autism - from early days, I knew C. would one day be responsible for his siblings, and that fact has always been front and center. My goal has been to socialize C. to understand and welcome this fact -- not to protect him from knowledge of his fate, as other parents of disabled kids sometimes seem to do. As a direct result, C. is great working with disabled kids. I don't (necessarily) see him going into special education, but he would be terrific as a SPED teacher or therapist. 
  • Strength in numbers - because of the 2 boys with autism, we have always had a crazy number of adults in the house. As I write now, there are 3 adults in the house and just one child, Andrew. I remember years ago, reading Jean Kerr I think it was, on the subject of having twins. As I recall, she said that when it's 2 parents and 1 kid, you're in charge. When suddenly it's 2 parents and 3 kids (the Kerrs had a singleton and then twins same way Ed and I did), suddenly you're outnumbered and everything changes. In our house, the grown-ups have had parity with the kids.


Auntie Ann said...

When I was a kid, I remember going to parties and often ending up in the kitchen talking to the parents.

In school, I always seemed to be more attuned to the frustrations, jokes, and workload of the teachers than most of my peers, and many winks were exchanged between the teachers and me.

I don't think my parents had much to do with it--unless it was because they never talked to me like a kid, always with adult words and with real conversations. They weren't hovering or very hands-on. I did my homework and went out to play without them always watching over my shoulder. If I really needed them, though, I knew they'd be there. It was support, not constant direction.

I'm definitely on the Left-Brain side of things, though, so maybe it stemmed from that. That would suggest that some of it is simply what you come into this world with.

What are the causes and effects? And is it just the old argument of nature versus nurture? Are adult-oriented kids that way because their parents were when they were kids too; and it is, to some degree, inherited? Or are they adult-oriented because of the choices their parents made (of course influenced by their own nature) with respect to the upbringing of their children?

Certainly the latter can have a great effect, and I'm sure we all know some amazing kids who were simply raised right. But we could also point to amazing people who had been raised in chaotic households, but still were very adult focused.

How large are the groups that can be influenced by such conscious parenting decisions? Are we talking about the majority of kids or are we just nibbling around the edges?

ChemProf said...

There's also another piece in there, what Sarah Hoyt calls the "odds," and her description is a terrifyingly accurate description of my childhood. Some of us who are left-brained are also just plain "off" or "odd," and we could be identified in kindergarten. The adults were less bugged by us (or that was my experience anyway), so I was naturally going to be adult oriented.

Adults think it is cute when a third grader knows all about the presidents. Other third graders think you are a weirdo (accurately), and don't see why you aren't interested in normal things. You think their normal things are boring. Who are you going to want to talk to?

So yeah, I think this can be a hard one to figure out. But it is clear that Neufeld is talking about normal kids, and that those kids may have more susceptibility to peer orientation.

ChemProf said...

Sarah Hoyt, by the way is a science fiction author, and for a description of "Odds" see

Crimson Wife said...

I have always thought this is the reason why the oldest child tends to be the most mature and typically the highest achieving of the kids in the family, while the youngest typically ends up the most peer-savvy but often relatively underachieving academically compared to his/her potential.

Bostonian said...

"Speaking as an n of 1, I can attest that raising a child in an adult-oriented house produces a terrific kid. C. is 18 now, and he's exactly the person we hoped he'd be (knock on wood)."

No, your n is 3, and your kids are different from each other because of their genes, not how you raised them. I wonder why you accept that for the case of autism but not for other personality differences.

Crimson Wife said...

If it is purely genetic, then wouldn't we see a relatively even birth order distribution of high achievers? How do you explain away the disproportionate percent of firstborns?

Cranberry said...

Perhaps the firstborns received more attention in infancy, more material support (food, money to pay tuition), and more support from the grandparents.

Crimson Wife said...

Firstborns receive MORE material support? Most families get wealthier as the parents get older, and the firstborn spends more of his/her time growing up during the parents' broker years than laterborns. We have way more money now than a decade ago when my oldest was a baby and we were broke 20somethings. Similarly, my youngest brother grew up in a financial situation that was significantly more affluent than the one in which I did.

cranberry said...

Affluence need not translate into support or activities which influence a child's academic/financial achievement in adulthood. You can spend $100 on an outfit for an infant, or use a relative's hand-me-downs. Whichever you choose won't make any difference in later achievement.

Contact with grandma and an educated mother may be better for later achievement than industrial daycare with badly-paid attendants. The ski vacation may not be as educational as a vacation spent visiting the local art and history museums on their free days.

Tuition money for college does run out. The first born is more likely to have grandparents around to help with tuition. The youngest of 4 is much more likely to find the family college fund drained and parents entering retirement.

Crimson Wife said...

Laterborns are far less likely to spend time in daycare in my experience. I know so many moms who resumed their paid positions after their first child but quit after the birth of baby #2 or #3. My oldest is the only one of my 3 to have spent time in daycare (from 9 months until shortly after her 3rd birthday).