In the first of this two-part series, we learned that overparenting is another word for hovering, helicoptering and micromanaging. When parents do for their children what they can and ought to do for themselves, it’s called overparenting. When they try to fix or prevent their children’s mistakes, it’s overparenting.
We also took a deeper look at two reasons most of us do this (to a greater or lesser extent): the race for college, and the fear of risky and self-harming behaviors.
How does overparenting affect your children?
The underlying fear is that children will make mistakes, irreparable mistakes. It’s called catastrophizing, imagining the worst and projecting it way into the future, instead of dealing calmly with the issue at hand.
When parents do too much and overprotect, the kids hear the message, “I don’t believe you can handle this yourself, so I have to do it for you.” Eventually, the kids start to believe it, another powerful reason to stop overparenting.
From relationships to academics, from chores to a job, this message and belief cripple our children. They gradually stop thinking for themselves and stop problem-solving. Why bother when Dad already knows the best way to do it and tells you so? They learn that they don’t have to be responsible for themselves. Why pick your dirty clothes up off the floor, when Mom can’t tolerate it and will do it for you? Why take ownership for a problem in school, when your parents may intervene to reduce the consequences or shift the blame?
Another effect is that they become risk-avoidant. They don’t take healthy risks: an AP course that might be challenging and earn a B instead of an A, trying out for an activity in which they don’t already excel, even loading the dishwasher because it won’t be done to a parent’s expectation. They avoid making any decisions, because they might be the ‘wrong’ decision.
What changes can you make to stop overparenting?
1) You’d probably admit that you learned the most from the ‘failures’ and disappointments in your life. Remember that most of them are not fatal. Give your child the gifts of disappointment and making mistakes.
2) When your child does make a mistake, or you want to jump in to prevent one from happening, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Whose problem is this?” If it’s your child’s problem (and it often is), step back. If it’s not about health or safety, let him handle it. He will learn how capable he really is when he figures out how to fix it himself or assume responsibility for the consequences. You can be on the sidelines, available to help if he wants it.
3) Give your children age-appropriate responsibilities that include running a home. They need to know that life is about more than grades and the path to college. It takes all members of a family to make home and family run smoothly… and they’ll learn valuable skills for living on their own.
4) Many decisions are not ‘forever decisions’. Today’s choices can be traded in for another one tomorrow. Let your kids know that while you expect them to take action to reach their goals, they always have choices.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642