Founder and director of Child Development Associates in Scarsdale, psychologist Paul J. Donahue, author of Parenting Without Fear: Letting Go of Worry and Focusing on What Really Matters, chats with us about kids, parents—and the possible pitfalls of raising children in Westchester, circa 2010.
Your book’s title suggests that parents are scared of their kids. Are they? There are plenty of parents who are afraid to be the adult at home, and many have trouble saying no to their kids. When we say no, we’re letting our kids know we’re not their buddies, we’re not their pals—we’re their parents.
Are Westchester kids different from kids elsewhere? Kids here tend to be exposed to a lot at an early age—academically, culturally, socially, and athletically—more so than in other parts of the country. Consequently, they face more pressure to perform and to achieve. But our kids still want to be children—they still want to have downtime and time to play and be with their families as much as kids elsewhere.
How are Westchester parents different from parents elsewhere? Parents here are sophisticated men and women who bring a level of professionalism to their jobs as parents. That can be a good thing. But when we come in with a professional eye, we can lose sight of what childhood is about. We have to make sure we leave time for kids to play, use their imagination, run around outside, and to have a little bit more of an unfettered existence.
Are affluent parents usually more or less effective than those without means? I see a lot of affluent parents who know how to keep their children grounded; many of them have gotten to their positions by learning to work hard. The dilemma for them, however, is how to expose children to lots of opportunities and still teach values about working hard, earning privileges, and not taking for granted everything you have.
How would you describe your own parenting style? My children would tell you that I am pretty demanding. A couple of things that matter most to me are for my kids to learn how to work hard, be responsible, care about other people, and to have fun.
If you could go back in time, what would you do over as a parent? I would be a little more patient with my kids—and I would probably allow them to make a few more mistakes.