THE GIFT OF MADELINE
When the author and psychologist Dr. Madeline Levine agreed to be in Lucky Ducks it not only gave us Madeline, but it gave us a stamp of significance and relevance that allowed us to move forward and made it appealing for others to climb aboard.
It also gave me a blueprint for structure and questioning in the beginning.
Like most docs we strayed and that is inevitable, but for Act One her book was really my bible. I carried it around with me and when people asked what the film was about I could say “It’s about privileged teens and the problems they have. Have you read The Price of Privilege? Madeline Levine is in the our film.” I started referring to her as the High Priestess of Privilege.
She was in fact the very first footage we shot. Gabe, Taylor and I headed out to Marin County in November of 2006 to spend three days with her. It was in those first days I realized I in fact had a film. Those early hours of footage proved we were on to something and I wasn’t crazy.
I do believe that without her generosity and participation the film would not have been made. She has so much wisdom to impart and she has become the real go-to person on the lecture circuit on this topic. I don’t want to wreck the film by telling you what part she plays in it and all that she says. I also don’t want to ruin the amazing twenty-minute interview we have with her in the bonus materials. But in honor of Lucky Ducks week here, I will share with you one of the truly golden nuggets we walked away with.
I may have the quote a little off which is wacky, as I’ve only heard it twelve thousand times in the editing room. But when I just went to put my last DVD I have at home in the TV, something happened to it and it’s refusing to cooperate. Continuing to put it in every TV in the house and swearing at it is not shall we say working for me. Wait, I just remembered it’s on my iPod….what she says exactly is: “If you only take one thing away from what I say, it is to have the capacity to see who you’ve been blessed with, as kids are a blessing; but to the extent that you’re pushing for the child who isn’t there, you will never be able to connect with the child who is there.”
If you’re a parent read that again and really take in what she is saying. I think this is such an important and vital statement in light of what I see around me, and the things I discovered about other parents and myself while making this film. There is so much hover parenting and parents pushing their kids to be something they’re not it’s truly a crime. I think it has always existed, but there is no question that it’s far worse today than it’s ever been. The stats are there to prove it.
There have always been the jokes, which at their core were not really jokes about the Jewish mother and my son the doctor, or people nudging their kids towards law schools and degrees they might not be interested in. I think much of it started with immigrants, certainly with Jews, and then with the Asians that came to this country with little and it is a way of climbing up the rungs of the American Dream ladder, and taking a family from blue collar to white. So in a time and in a place that type of thing has a foundation that can be tolerated and perhaps even applauded. However that is not what we are talking about here.
We’re the generation that came up with Baby Einstein and pushing our kids (I didn’t but many have) into Mandarin classes at the age of three. It didn’t end up in the movie, but when interviewed the writer Molly Jong Fast even said, “Ice hockey in pre-school– what does that even mean?” And I totally agree with her. Though I know what it means; it means mom and dad want little Joshy or Jameson to be the best, the brightest and too often the fastest thus continuing the family habit of if not real perfection than a perfect public family persona for the world to see.
Then we have all the hoopla over which nursery school they’re going to go to as if it makes any difference. We have made it make a difference. It’s coloring for God’s sake, and some singing and game playing and I suppose you work on vowels and consonants. But unless you have a developmentally challenged child they will learn those things. They don’t have to feel like they are less than you want them to be because they didn’t wow the pre-school admissions officer, what does that even mean???
I went to nursery school in LA which is now impossible to get into, but back then in the stone age all you had to do was afford it and show up. I know there are more kids now, I know all of that, and they haven’t built any more great universities and we’ve all had all these kids and we want the best for them and parents really want that bumper sticker that says Harvard, Yale or Brown on the back of the Audi Wagon.
But still – back off! If you don’t take anything else away from what I say and I’m only a faux expert now by spending two years thinking of nothing but this and seeing what happened with my kids, take that away.
I remember a pediatrician once saying to me, do you know anyone who goes off to college who doesn’t know how to read or isn’t toilet trained? Let them be themselves and stop interfering and running their lives. They will get there, each at his own pace and each in his own way, and with many less neurotic impulses if they don’t feel like they are constantly letting you down because they aren’t nationally ranked tennis players.
They will learn and they may not learn what and the way you want them to. But they have to learn sometimes on their time and not yours and it’s not a reflection of the parent if the kid isn’t up to the parent’s speed. Madeline talks a lot about this in her interview, you should get the DVD just for her advice.
I see parents pushing and pushing their kids from two years on through college in directions the kid has no desire to go in. This is not only robbing your child of their identity and the chance for them to discover who they are, but it is sending the message to them that you are not actually paying attention to who they are. And nothing, nothing makes a person feel worse about themselves, especially a child, than not being acknowledged and loved for their uniqueness.
If a kid feels like if they don’t kick ass on the soccer field and end up as captain of the team that wins their division they are somehow letting their dad down, this to me is just heinous. I don’t use the word lightly; I know the impact it has.
It didn’t end up in the film for a variety of reasons, time being the main one, but I cannot tell you how many kids/teens I spoke with were going into business, banking and other activities only, only because it was expected of them. And if they didn’t they would not only be letting their parents down, but how would they ever afford the lifestyle to which they had grown accustomed?
One boy wanted to be an artist, but he felt he had to go to Wall Street as that is what he had been groomed to do. I don’t want to think of what he will feel like at fifty when he looks back on his life.
This entire way of thinking has been planted, nurtured and now harvested by us Boomers. It did not exist on the monumental scale it does now when I was growing up.
I have and do complain about my mother on here and my father at times, but nobody ever expected me or pushed me to be anything other than what I was. That’s not entirely true, my mother wanted me to marry a Duke or a Baron and by not doing that I totally let her down. But nobody threw a map down in front of me at the age of four and said this is where you are going and here is the retinue of people who are going to help you get there. I was forced to take tennis and guitar but only to a point– I got to stop at ten. And I’m totally getting off topic. But the point is, I found my way to where I was supposed to be in my own time. And I didn’t go to college and I have lectured at MIT. So who cares if as someone once told me about Taylor, she was inferior spatially?
She was three. What did that mean? She wasn’t good at puzzles. Well, show me where that will impede her productivity in life. I have managed fine and never had a job required me to do a puzzle. But I know parents who are ready to jump out the window when they get that kind of news. And then they go and get someone to work with the kid on puzzles. And the kid takes away the message I’m lousy at puzzles – well maybe he is, but perhaps he will wake up at twelve and be a musical wonder or a mathematician. That’s the way life is supposed to work.
Give it up.
Parents do their kids’ assignments so they look better. Well, what message is that sending? You’re not good enough to do it on your own.
How do you learn about life if you don’t fall and learn to pick yourself up and do things for yourself? That is another thing we delve into and one of Madeline’s other big peeves. Parents do not let their kids fall and learn to pick themselves up and in turn learn to trust themselves.
We saw kids in India who at four were taking care of two younger siblings. Here a kid at four can’t find his own sippy cup half the time, without someone doing it for him.
Like yesterday I could go on all day with this too. But, really, each child is totally different and those of you with twins see this more quickly than the rest of us. Two babies born of the same parents, in the same womb, at the same time – totally different in every way.
So take the gift of Madeline’s wisdom and see your child for who they are, not who you want them to be; which is really at that point an extension of who you are or a fulfillment of your unrealized dreams. Let them dream their own dreams, and of course you are there to help them see those dreams come true. But who are we if we are robbed of the ability to be ourselves and define ourselves, form our own dreams and make those dreams come true?