12 Pieces of Advice for Better Parenting

Parent-child relationships are constantly evolving, and as children grow, “Dear Therapist” writes, parents have to recalibrate what their role is.

two birds looking out at tree branches
Editor’s Note: With Lori Gottlieb on book leave, Rebecca J. Rosen, the editor of “Dear Therapist,” begins another month as The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” archivist, pointing readers to some of Lori’s most beloved columns.

For this month’s “Dear Therapist” roundup, I’ve gathered together a set of columns on one of the topics Lori covers often: parenthood.

Parents write to Lori frequently. They seek advice on how to help their young kids who are struggling socially or emotionally, are acting in confounding ways, or are coming out of the closet. Older parents write in asking about adult kids who have adult problems of their own—unhappy marriages, financial strain, loneliness, addiction. Regardless of age, the question parents ask is usually the same: What is my role here?

That makes sense, because in some ways, that’s the central question of being a parent. Parenting is not like friendship or marriage—relationships whose fundamental structures remain stable over time, even as the dynamics change. Parenting, by contrast, is constantly evolving, as children grow from babies to toddlers to adolescents to adults. At each stage, parents have to recalibrate what their role is—how much control they have, how much protection and support they should offer, how much to stand back and let their child fly or flail. This does not always come naturally, and can even be quite painful. “One of the hardest aspects of being a parent is the reality that if you raise your child well, that child becomes an adult who will go on to make her own life decisions,” Lori writes to one advice-seeker who is upset about her daughter’s choice to live far away. “If we love our children, we must ultimately let them go.”

That’s the paradox Lori guides parents through: Try to hold your children too close, and you won’t be able to see them for who they are. Give them room to grow, and you just might find the intimacy you were looking for.

illustration of an old woman alone in a house

Dear Therapist: I Don’t Understand Why My Son Won’t Talk to Me

My husband and I live close to him, but he rarely visits us.

a family sitting on top of a horse points a sword at a young boy standing with a lacrosse stick

Dear Therapist: I’m So Upset by My Kids’ Middle-School Drama

I’m not sure why I’m reacting so strongly to hearing about conflicts at school.

An illustration shows three girls chatting on a bed, framed by a doorway. Outside the door is a crocodile's tail.

Dear Therapist: I Am a Single Man. My Daughter’s Friends Aren’t Allowed to Visit My House.

I have extended a standing invitation to her friends to visit for playdates or sleepovers, but none has ever come.

Mom watching son do stand-up comedy.

Dear Therapist: My Son Has an Impractical, Ridiculous Career Plan

He wants to be a stand-up comedian. I don’t want him living in my basement at age 35.

parents stand by their disappointed son

Dear Therapist: I’m Worried the College-Admissions Process Is Rigged Against My Son

He has grades and test scores that I think should qualify him for the Ivy League—but he’s also white and upper-middle-class.

woman looks up at a stork flying above her

Dear Therapist: I’m Scared of Having Kids

I feel a rush of longing when I see a cute baby, but I can’t tell if I’m ready to have one of my own.

Mother watching wilting flowers

Dear Therapist: Should I Give My Adult Children More Money?

They’re both angry at me, and I want to mend our relationship.

parent and child hugging

Dear Therapist: Is My Middle Child a Monster?

I’m so tired of people seeing only her bad traits.

illustration of two people who live far from each other
Bianca Bagnarelli

Dear Therapist: My Daughter Doesn’t Care That I Want Her to Live Closer to Home

I don’t think she truly understands the impact that seeing her only once or twice a year is having on us.

Older woman watching woman and man walk upstairs.

Dear Therapist: My Daughter Moved Back Home and Treats Me Like a Roommate

She’s been bringing a steady stream of men back to my house, and her behavior is testing my patience.

two girls splashing in the pool while a mother looks on

Dear Therapist: Do I Need to Have ‘the Talk’ Again With My Daughter?

She just told me she’s gay. I’ve already talked to her about sex with boys—how do I talk to her about girls?

a mother crying with child's toys

Dear Therapist: I Love My Trans Daughter, but I’m Still Struggling

I don’t know how to process what I’m going through.

Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.