Friday, December 05, 2008

Over Parented (or is it Parenting) Law Professors

There was an extended book review/ article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about over parenting and how it can result in a fairly inept adult. Over parenting, if you unfamiliar with the term, is the largely upper middle class tendency toward making sure a child never experiences a sense of not succeeding. This means the child spends his or her life in a protective bubble that hardly prepares him or her for life.

Over parenting has clearly hit law schools. At mine, untenureds are given the first and every other summer off with pay, assigned multiple mentors, and have teaching assignment tailored so they can write. I doubt it is much different at other law schools.

At first, I thought these changes were a reaction to the first wave of over parented kids becoming old enough to be law professors. In effect, their protective bubbles would continue at least until the point of being tenured which, then, is like a life time protective bubble.

This model did not fit the actual individuals hired since they seem, to me at least, to be pretty adept at dealing with life and the job. In fact, a couple have confided that what I am calling over parenting makes them uncomfortable. It would drive me crazy.

I realized then the problem may not be with the untenureds at all. Isn't it more likely that the impetus comes not from the parented but from the parenters? It seems increasingly clear that overparenting adults cannot distinguish between their own children and people who they relegate to the status of children in the work place. In the case of conventional over parenting, those engaged may get something out of it that goes a bit beyond love and caring. Or, if it is only love and caring, it is the type of smothering that eventually hurts the person who is loved.

What we will not know for a few more years is whether over parenting of untenured law professors will be as disabling as it is for children.


Tamar said...

This is the first I've seen overparenting applied to a different context. In the original form, what spawns the overparenting is not just wanting to protect kids from failure or disappointment, but the parent's own anxiety about the future and needing to have guarantees (via their kids too).

So is there anxiety that somehow the departments are at risk and therefore the overparenting to secure the future?

As a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders, I write about these issues in several of my books. My goal is to help parents allay their own anxiety by nurturing resilience in their kids to handle situations rather than to bubble wrap or handle the situations for them. Perhaps tenured professors could find that middle ground too--

Tamar Chansky

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Tamar: Thanks for your comment. I think in law schools the impetus is from the "parents" but the anxiety is about being viewed as "insensitive," or "uncollegial." It is far less about the welfare of the children or about the welfare of the department. Far more about the social position with respect to other people you are likely to spend your working life with.

If I could switch it to conventional parenting, it would be comparable to avoiding the charge that one has not been a loving or caring parent.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for law, but part of this may be unconscious (or conscious) compensation for today's far higher demands of research productivity toward tenure than existed when most of the "parents" earned their tenure.