Harvey Foundation Brings Best-Selling Author Jessica Lahey To The Island

When author Jessica Lahey takes the stage at the Atheneum’s Great Hall tonight, the topics up for discussion will be serious: over-parenting, substance use disorders, and how parents can talk to their kids about the most difficult subjects, while also letting go just enough to see them fail. But, as she told the Current yesterday, “there’s going to be a lot of laughter. All of this is based on the fact that I’ve made all these mistakes myself. So there’s no guilt, no shame, and no judgement. Just learning.”

Lahey, a Vermont-based teacher, writer, and the best-selling author of “The Gift of Failure” and “Addiction Inoculation,” will be sharing insights from her books and helping island families with strategies to navigate some of the most difficult aspects of parenting in the modern world. She is on the island for an appearance tonight at the Atheneum and Saturday at the Dreamland thanks to the Harvey Foundation, which has sponsored its “Books To Boost” book club in recent months featuring free copies of Lahey’s two popular books. Both events are free and open to the public, and begin at 6:30 p.m.

“What’s important to me is that everyone have tools they can walk away with, actual things they can do right away,” Lahey said. 

A mother of two boys and a middle school teacher for decades, Lahey recognized a pattern of behavior among the parents of her students in the early 2010s that frustrated her. The helicopter parenting not only made her job difficult, but it was affecting her students, who were overly focused on the results, rather than the process and actual learning. But when she noticed her nine-year-old couldn’t tie his own shoes, “I realized I was doing the same thing.” It was the impetus for what would later become “The Gift Of Failure,” published in 2015. 

“Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness,” Lahey wrote in the book. “Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of this world.”

Those words hit home for Adriene Lombardi, the President of the Harvey Foundation and assistant principal at Cyrus Peirce Middle School. Lahey’s work spurred Lombardi and the foundation’s board of directors to launch the “Books To Boost” book club, which provided free copies of Lahey’s two books at the island’s public and private schools, as well as at Mitchell’s Book Corner and Nantucket Bookworks downtown. 

“A lot of us who are raising kids now, we were probably raised the same way, but there’s been a shift in how we think about raising kids because of our culture and social media,” Lombardi said. “We find ourselves not wanting to see anyone fail and if we don’t let kids struggle – even though we never want to see that – they won’t’ learn. And that’s how we learn, from mistakes but with a safety net and support beneath them.”

Lahey begins “Addiction Inoculation” with her own very personal and honest disclosure: “Hi, my name is Jess, and I’m an alcoholic.” In the book, she explores her own struggle with alcoholism as the jumping off point to find the best ways to talk to children about substance abuse and strategies to prevent it from happening. 

She got sober on June 7, 2013, as she was writing “The Gift of Failure.” At the time, she was also teaching teenage students in substance abuse programs. In the back of her head she knew that one day she would write about the drug and alcohol abuse issue. 

“It all came together at once that I would write about what I need to do to prevent my kids from going down the path that I went on, and what happened to my students to land them in my rehab classroom,” she said. “The line I kept coming across was ‘substance use disorder is preventable.’ Which is this massive, vague thing. But what makes it preventable?”

Lahey’s talks will both run about one hour long, with time for Q&A at the end of each session.

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