The Impact of Overparenting at Every Age

Bear with me as this is a bit longer than usual but I’ve been sitting with it for some time and believe it’s extremely important.

As parents, we all have that innate desire to protect and provide for our kids. Yet, at some point we must ask ourselves: Are we doing too much for them? When do our actions cross the line from guidance to enabling? Overparenting is proven to be very damaging to a developing child.

When we assume our children need more than they do, we are undermining their abilities and hurting their confidence.  Not to mention we are keeping from establishing any amount of stress tolerance.

When they are young it’s little acts like pushing them in a stroller instead of letting them walk or giving them a snack before they even feel hunger.  When they are older it’s making their bed, preparing their breakfast, waking them up in the morning and doing their laundry.  All of this teaches them to believe they need more looking after than they actually do. When they are teens and young adults we justify this by stating how busy our kids are.  If they are too busy to take care of their own basic needs and responsibilities then they are too busy.  Society’s recent pro-parenting shift has its positives. Children are people, and they deserve to have a voice within their home. Parents should always aim to treat their kids with respect, interest and consideration. However, the trend of helicopter parenting has been taken to extremes and, in that, we are also witnessing pro-parenting’s negative effects.

The following statistic touches a nerve for me and I will be writing more about it in the coming months.  A 2011 PEW research survey found that “40% of 18 to 24 year-olds currently live with their parents, and the vast majority of them say they did not move back home because of economic conditions.” Staggering!  Young adults who move out then back in with their parents, whether for financial reasons or not, have led people to refer to them as the Boomerang Generation.  I personally believe there is value in investigating how the raising of our children might play some part in their lack of independence in adulthood.  In many cases we are doing them a grave disservice.

Learning the lessons of how to get their needs met then transitioning to meeting their own needs is not only essential to a person’s survival but to their psychological well-being.

Often, the reasons it is difficult for us to let our kids explore and develop their autonomy has more to do with us than with our children. As parents, it is invaluable to be aware of when we are using our children to fulfill our own needs. How much does our desire to protect them come from them vs. our own need to be a protector? How often are the hugs we give them to provide affection, and how often are they to take affection from them?

So much of parenting involves how we feel about ourselves. As psychologist and author Pat Love has said “The best thing adults can do as parents is to have their needs met by other adults and not by their children.”  I love that! Our kids need us to be the best, most developed and most fulfilled versions of ourselves in all areas of our lives in order to feel independent and secure in theirs. That way, they can emulate and learn from us without feeling they must fill the voids we experience in our own lives.

When we give our kids too much power, we start to act like victims to our children instead of the teachers, caregivers and role models we should be.  It’s no great coincidence that many of the children we see being spoiled or indulged also appear unhappy and dissatisfied. The most honest proof of good parenting is seeing our child doing well, showing interest, learning skills, finding contentment and finding him/herself. What we can offer as parents is love, safety, support and guidance, a strong security from which our children can confidently venture out and independently experience the world.

Written by Lisa Smith

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