The Hippo


May 29, 2020








Meet Jessica Lahey

Dartmouth Bookstore, 33 Main St., Hanover: Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 6 p.m.
Water Street Bookstore, 125 Water St., Exeter: Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m.
Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord: Friday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m.

Letting them fail
NH author talks about new overparenting book

By Kelly Sennott

Lyme author Jessica Lahey knew there was an audience for her book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, when her earlier article on the topic went viral.

The mom, teacher and writer had taught all over the Upper Valley — Hanover High School, Crossroads Academy and, in the past year, at a drug and alcohol rehab for addicted adolescents — and was writing in an education blog a couple years ago when she decided she wanted a larger audience. She sought advice from friends and family and submitted a story, “Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail,” to The Atlantic.
That January 2013 piece described an overparenting study from the Queensland University of Technology by Judith Locke, but it started with a narrative about one of her first experiences with the issue as a new teacher years before. She’d had to call a student’s mother to inform her she would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism. 
The mother, enraged, explained it wasn’t her daughter who lifted the paragraphs from the website; it was she. She’d written her daughter’s paper.
The story “exploded,” Lahey said via phone a couple weeks before the book’s Aug. 11 release.
Soon, Lahey was doing national TV interviews and contributing regularly for both The Atlantic and The New York Times, where she now writes in a parenting blog, “Motherlode,” every Wednesday. Lahey had been trying to break into the writing industry for years, but now publishers were coming up to her. Eleven publishers, in fact.
Part of the demand, Lahey suspects, came from her perspective as both a teacher and a parent, which is how she she came to fully realize the effect parents were having on their children. She was really thrown into awareness when her sons began entering the grades she taught: middle school. Kids were terrified of failing, and parents — including herself — were at fault.
Lahey’s written The Gift of Failure in a way she hopes is both informative and helpful. It’s part memoir, part research, part how-to. Her favorite books, she said, have always been the ones in which writers try something, screw up and report back about what works and what doesn’t. That’s what she’s done here, with thanks to her guinea pig sons, ages 16 and 11, whom she always checks with before she writes about them.
“The books that are on the market about over-parenting are great. I love them. But they’re the kinds of books — you finish them, and then you feel bad as a parent,” Lahey said. “Experts love to tell us, according to research, what works and what doesn’t work, but I tend to listen to people who have tried it in their real life. … I really like it when people are honest about their mistakes and talk about the lessons they learned.”
This text is meant to engage, to start a dialogue.
“One thing doesn’t always work for all kids and all parents. So I’d like to be able to engage in conversation,” she said. 
She’s had time to work out the kinks of the book; she was in a horse accident, which put off the release a year (it was supposed to come out August 2014), but in retrospect, the time off allowed her to really delve into the project and plow through an in-depth edit, not to mention build up publicity and a platform with The New York Times and The Atlantic. She’s been working in schools part-time during the book’s release but hopes to go back to full-time in 2016.
“My husband suggested that nobody was going to read about teaching. I was grateful he was wrong,” Lahey said. “I always wanted to write. But I love, love, love teaching. I’m a writer and a teacher. I don’t think I can give one or the other up.” 
As seen in the September 3, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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