Book review – Spoonfed Generation

Earlier in the year I went along with a friend to see Michael Grose speak at a local library on his latest book Spoonfed Generation.  And in the interests of full transparency I actually won my copy of the book! I won it because I was the parent there with the most kids. Most of the parents who were at the event had three or less kids. I was lucky I didn’t bring my friend Katie who has eight gorgeous kids!

Michael commented that it was unusual for a mum of five to be at one of his events for Spoonfed Generation due to the fact that living in a larger family by nature of its dynamics makes kids more independent as the parents have more kids to look after. In fact there is a whole chapter on this in Spoonfed Generation called “A big family mindset” which contains this paragraph:

In families of four or more children, parent attention and aspiration is shared around. It’s never shared evenly, because first-borns carry a greater burden of parent expectation than other birth order positions. Also, parents will give their youngest child more freedom to make their own choices than they gave their first. But in the larger family the parent focus on individual children is less intense than in families of two or fewer children, where parents are more likely to focus like a laser beam on the activities and performance of each child.

I would love to say that I treat our youngest exactly the same as I treated our eldest but would not be the truth. I would like to also say that I haven’t put more burden of parent expectation on our eldest but again that wouldn’t be the truth. In fact I attended the event primarily looking for tips on how to best parent our eldest who was 18 at the time and in his first year of uni.

Throughout the talk, Michael shared key concepts and ideas from the book and it focused mainly on younger children. It was great to have refresher on things and to have it reinforced that the expectations I have of the kids to contribute around the house and wanting them to have work outside of the home was something he also encourages. He didn’t however really address kids outside of secondary school. Likewise while the book is a great read, it doesn’t address this age group (18+) in any detail at all, but it does note that this period can be a difficult one for adolescents:

The perceptions they had of themselves and the outside world when they were in school often don’t quite match up with the reality.

Schools tend to minimise or hide the reality of failure from students. As these adolescents face a future away from the familiarity and security of school, for many it is the first time they encounter failure or really see where they stand according to objective measures. It can be a time when they receive a hefty reality check.

The bonus of going along to Michael’s talk was that I had opportunity to ask a question of him specific to this age group. I asked how much support should I give to adolescents who are still living at home at this age, explaining that I have applied many of the strategies for independence in the book that he suggests when they were younger.

Michael came back and asked me a question, which paraphrased was along these lines:

Did you think that at the end of year 12 you major parenting role was done and he would be fine on is own?

And I guess I sort of did think that. It wasn’t that I thought I would stop being his parent, but year 12 and the completion of secondary school had seemed like some special turning point as a parent and he would somehow be magically more adult!

Michael then shared some personal parenting experience to answer my question. He said that if he had his time over again he would have kept a closer eye on their youngest son when he was this age. He said that many young men find this a challenging time and may need more support than what parents think they do.

He then made a great analogy, he said when kids learn footy, they do Auskick first, they don’t go out and play a full game on the MCG. This is something which is commonly done in education as well and is often referred to as scaffolding:

In the field of education, the term scaffolding refers to a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed. Psychologist and instructional designer Jerome Bruner first used the term ‘scaffolding’ in this context back in the 1960s. The theory is that when students are given the support they need while learning something new, they stand a better chance of using that knowledge independently. {source}

This has been incredibly useful advice for my husband and I as we navigate the world of parenting a uni student living at home.

While Spoonfed Generation doesn’t address the young adult living at home in detail (18+) it is still a very useful and actionable parenting book. It doesn’t simply tell you what you are doing wrong as a parent but it offers solid strategies to help you create independent kids. He identifies five tools and attributes to focus on and uses the acronym RAISE to help us remember them:

  • Resilience
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Self-confidence
  • Emotional intelligence

My two favourite chapters in the book were “Manage like a cat” and “Nurture like a dog”.  Michael describes cats as being self contained and very controlled. To parent independent kids we need to be like cats and learn to manage our own reactions, rather than over react, repeat ourselves or shout at the kids.

When it comes to the dog, it is the nurturing side of parenting. Michael notes that our dog side needs to see us being approachable, conversational and relationship building. He has a fantastic tip in this chapter to help parents access their dog nature

Stand up, put your hands out with your palms up and speak. You should notice a big difference in how you deliver your message from when you spoke with your palms facing down.

I can highly recommend Spoonfed Generation if you are looking for strategies to help the kids do more for themselves and to contribute more to family life. It can be bought online here for $26.95.