Blithe Spirit

Once, the idea was the independent, self-reliant child.

Nearly 30 years ago, sociologist Robert Bellah and his team of co-authors in Habits of the Heart (1985) described the American parenting ideal as the production of independent children who “leave home,” both figuratively and literally. To never leave home, they wrote, violated the cardinal American virtue of self-reliance, contradicting self-understandings that individuals should “earn everything we get, accept no handouts or gifts, and free ourselves from our families of origin.” The essence of parenting was preparing children for just such a separation, reflecting the American belief that a meaningful life could be had only by breaking free from family and giving birth, in a sense, to oneself. “However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children, the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” Successful launching was the quest, and…

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