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I spent the last two weeks with Julie Lythcott-Haims. What I mean by this is that on my way to and from work, I listened to her book How to Raise an Adult. I know Julie as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford from my time working at the university. Now, Julie is better known as an author and parenting expert. Her book was full of great insight and advice on how to raise kids to become independent, caring, and successful adults. As the mom to 8 and 6-year old daughters, I was tuned in to her advice.

As with any book that’s full of advice and vignettes, I found myself wondering why I turned out the way I did. Why am I fiercely independent? Why has the phrase “I’m bored”, always seemed foreign to me? Why do I have a knack for getting things done? Moreover, what does this mean now that I’m a parent?

Julie reminded me that I have my parents to thank for all of these traits. My parents were highly involved in my life, but they never hovered. From the time I was 9 or 10 years old my sister and I spent the summers at home alone. This meant that our days were wide open to fill with both productive and fun things. We had:

  • A daily chore list from mom
  • 4-H projects to complete
  • County fair demonstrations to create and practice
  • Band music to memorize
  • Piano lessons to practice for
  • Volleyball tryout preparation
  • An occasional babysitting or cleaning job
  • Daily viewing of The Price is Right

My parents supported my sister and I in all of this work, but they didn’t do any of the work (aside from the occasional seam that mom would re-sew on a 4-H project to prevent full-on meltdown).

Thinking about this list brought back one of the most confusing memories of my young life. When I was 9, I took my 4-H cooking project to be judged for the county fair. I brought my sample food and Crayola-marker poster describing my project to the judge. The judge said to me “your mom must have done this poster.” At the age of 9, I wasn’t quick-witted enough to counter that statement. Plus, I was dumbfounded at how a complete stranger would take one look at my project and assume my mom did it (plus, she had clearly never seen my mom’s handwriting – P.S. I love you, Mom). I received a “B” on that project. (In 4-H, a “B” is like an “F” in school).

For some reason, the “B” didn’t bother me. The accusation that my parent completed my project was what bothered me. I could have had my mother fight this out for me in some “4-H Court” somewhere, but she didn’t. My parents let me be frustrated and confirmed that this was BS and that I needed to move on.

In her book, Julie describes at length the downfall of parents becoming too involved in their kids lives. She made me grateful that I was given an opportunity as a child to figure all this stuff out by myself. What that means now is that I still get excited to learn new skills and solve problems. I say “challenge accepted” to a big list of things to accomplish. It also means I am working hard to give my kids meaningful responsibility and accountability for themselves. I let them make messes and misspell words. Eventually, I look forward to what they will create when they have open summer days home alone available to them.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: Allow your kids to do their own work, fight their own fights, and celebrate their own victories. They will be stronger, more independent, and happier as a result! Treat your employees the same. They will learn more, be more loyal and develop crucial leadership skills to help them step into your shoes someday.

I highly recommend checking out Julie’s book!


Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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