The Wisdom of Julie Lythcott-Haims

By Melissia Mason
As a part of our Fall Family Weekend connections last week, Emma Willard School welcomed Julie Lythcott-Haims—bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult and Your Turn: How to be an Adult—to share wisdom with students and families. 

Julie Lythcott-Haims had been aware of Emma Willard School since her early years in corporate law, having benefited from the mentoring of fellow attorney Mary-Alice Pomputius '82. “Because I had an Emma Willard graduate ahead of me," she told students, "I felt more sure-footed.” Fast-forward years and career changes later, and Julie Lythcott-Haims found herself in a virtual room with the Emma Willard School student body, working to pass that sure footing on to the next generation of leaders.

In her time with students, Lythcott-Haims explained that finding meaning and purpose derives from within us, not from outside definitions of success. Having served as Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University following her law career, Lythcott-Haims had the opportunity to hone the advice she shared with students who were facing pressure at home to fulfill their parents’ definition of “success.” She repeated the mantra, “What do you know to be true about yourself right now? Who are you? What are you good at? What do you love? What difference do you want to make in the world?” 

In sharing significant parts of her life story, Lythcott-Haims revealed moments that taught her about racism at a young age. She shared, “It’s up to us to treat all humans with dignity and kindness.” This thread of kindness was woven throughout her message, including in the five steps she gave students to help them live a life of meaning:
  1. Learn to think and do for yourself.
  2. Try hard.
  3. Notice the voices in your head of other people (the "oughts and shoulds" cacophony) and invite your own voice.
  4. Know yourself and the identities you carry, accept and love that self, and be in places where you can be yourself. We belong everywhere when we belong to ourselves.
  5. Be kind. How you behave to other humans around you is everything.
In her message to parents and families, Lythcott-Haims shared candidly about how she herself had made some of the mistakes she counseled others to avoid. These tendencies to be overprotective, fiercely directive, and excessively hand-hold undermine the agency, resilience, and character of our children. “I call these the ARC of becoming—agency, resilience, and character,” she explains. These three elements are what allow children to become the adults they are meant to be. 

At the end of the parent webinar, Maryna Rudenko P’24 excitedly held up her Ukrainian copy of How to Raise an Adult and explained that she and her husband had read it five years ago. “We’re happy that your advice and your experience helped us to raise our daughter with confidence. Now she’s a student of Emma Willard School,” Maryna shared with Julie. “You inspire people to go easy in parenting—respect parents’ private lives and kids’ interests and talents... to be supportive, take some distance, and let [children] make mistakes and gain their own experience, building their own capacity for a successful future.”

Following her key messages, Lythcott-Haims spent time answering questions—from how kids could talk to their parents if they felt pressured, to how parents can help kids overcome anxiety. Some of the resources she recommended include Kate Julian’s article in The Atlantic on raising children in an anxious age, Devorah Heitner’s book on raising digital natives, Screenwise, and Jessica Lahey’s recent release, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence.

We would like to express our profound appreciation to Julie Lythcott-Haims for her candor and care for our students and families. We are inspired to work toward that balance of intellectual curiosity and personal wellbeing that leads to a life of purpose. To read more about Julie’s work, visit www.julielythcotthaims.com.
    • Julie Lythcott-Haims—author, writer, human

    • How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

    • Your Turn: How to Be an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

    • Real American by Julie Lythcott-Haims

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