Tag Archives: control freak

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Avoid Over-Parenting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, so much for the end of over-parenting.

After a year’s hiatus from that dreaded term – “helicopter parenting” – now you can’t pick up a magazine or go Online without being bombarded by more stories about over-involved parents. They’re monitoring what their kids eat…how they do their homework…even who their friends are.

And what’s worse, over-parenting, we now learn,  isn’t just bad for the kids. It also makes adults unhappy. They set too high a standard for themselves and end up disappointed. They’re not just exhausted, but lonely.

As someone who’s prone to worry about, well, everything, I’m also naturally prone to over-parenting. And yet, I also know that this isn’t the person I want to be.

Here are five ways to help yourself curb the over-parenting impulse:

1. Find somewhere else to put your energy. I think that one of the reasons that people over-parent is that they don’t have any other place to put that energy. This is a criticism often levied at SAHM’s, who are criticized, rightly or wrongly, for making parenting a career. But I know plenty of working parents for whom it’s equally true. They come home from the office and channel all the adrenaline that goes into supervising staff and hitting deadlines into over-monitoring their kids. The trick – whether you work inside or outside of the home – is to have a hobby or some other activity that can sap up some of that extra energy. It might be volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Or joining the PTA. Or becoming a board member at a local charity. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that you’ve got a focus outside your kids.

2. Consult an expert. This may sound counter-intuitive, since one part of over-parenting – in America, at least – is to over-pathologize every single aspect of your children’s behavior in an endless struggle to perfect their shortcomings. Having said that, sometimes seeing an expert can also correct that tendency to do so. I recently took my daughter to see a speech therapist to re-evaluate her lisp. During the course of the evaluation it became painfully obvious that a. my daughter’s lisp is slight b. she herself has no problem with it and c. the therapist didn’t think it warranted any further therapy. Without coming out and saying so (the speech therapist was, after all, English), she basically let me know that this was really my problem, not my daughter’s. And that by insisting that my daughter’s speech could be clearer, I was actually making things worse. Lesson learned. Mouth zipped. Next?

3. Take The Long View. I’ve posted before about how all of my conflicts with my husband can be reduced to one single dimension: I go too fast, he goes too slow. But there’s a corollary to this dynamic which is actually quite useful for confronting over-parenting within…OK, one of us. Which is that precisely because I often gallop through life at breakneck speed, I’m often very focused on the short run. And so with any “flaw” that I detect in my children – i.e., they’re not reading enough, they’re reading too much, they’re not social enough, they’re too social, etc. – I tend to magnify its short-run effects. My husband is really good at reminding me that what matters is the long run. If my son is being silly and goofing off in class, my husband will ask me if I really think that he’ll go through life like that? And when he frames it that way, I realize that I don’t. It puts whatever behavior is troubling me at present in perspective and I can take a huge, much-needed breath.

4. Recognize that there’s only so much you can do. As an acknowledged control freak, I’m often loathe to throw up my hands and accept that I’m not God. I always think that if I just put in a bit more effort in dotting every i and crossing every t, I really can fix everything around me. Which is, of course, conducive to terrible parenting. Wherever you stand on the whole nature vs. nurture debate, one of the most startling – and relieving – aspects of being a parent is that you wake up one day and realize that your kids aren’t you. They have their own interests, their own personalities, their own rhythms. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that. (Thank Goodness!)

5. Move to Europe. One of the most insightful things I’ve read on this whole helicopter parenting debate was on the Motherlode blog at the New York Times. It was a comment by a reader from Europe who opined that perhaps the reason American parents are so over-anxious about their children is that they have too many choices and there is too much variance within those choices. In Europe, the commenter argued – and largely because of different public policies – child care, education and even toys tend to be much more homogeneous. And because there are fewer choices and those that exist are of similar quality, parents obsess less over getting “the very best.” This may be a bit of a stereotype, but I suspect that it contains a grain of truth. So if you’re really throwing up your hands right now and just don’t know what to do, remember: You’ll always have Paris.

*****

For those who are interested, I was over on Politics Daily yesterday talking about French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign finance scandal.

Image: With Mom by MJIphotos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Improve A Long-Term Relationship

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s post goes to the heart of keeping a long-standing relationship going. If you’re in one – whether with a partner, a spouse or even a roommate – you know that over time, things can get a bit stale. You start having the same fights over and over. You start completing your partner’s sentences, in a way that breeds boredom rather than intimacy. You know – with agonizing specificity – exactly what the other person likes to eat for breakfast.

So it’s time to shake things up a bit. Change the routine. And also change the way you act towards the other person. You’ll be surprised how well it works. Here are five concrete suggestions for how to do this:

1. Make a small gesture. Happiness blogger Gretchen Rubin lists “Give Proofs of Love” as one of her resolutions. By which she means that it’s as important to demonstrate your love to someone else as it is to love them. Perhaps even more important. There are lots of ways to show someone you love them. You can buy them a new car. Book an appointment with a career counselor. Decorate their room with their favorite things. But you can also do small things. In my case, I noticed one morning that my husband’s toast had popped out of the toaster and was ready to be buttered. While that’s not normally something I’d do for him (speaking of breakfast routines), one day I decided that I’d do it, just to be nice. Guess what? He noticed. And thanked me. Then I did it again. He thanked me again. And I realized how even a tiny gesture can speak volumes.

2. Defer to your partner on a decision. If you’re in a long-term relationship, chances are you’re making loads of decisions together all the time: where to live, which school to send the kids to, how to balance career/family. Some of those can and must be done together. But occasionally a decision will come along where you can afford not to weigh in as much as you otherwise might. In my case, it’s our upcoming move. I’m a bit of a control freak. (In case you haven’t noticed.) And in an ideal world, I’d probably approach our move somewhat differently than my husband would. But I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to defer to him on this one. He’s less spastic (for lack of a better word) than I am about moving. And it just seemed like a real shame to try to micro-manage this particular event in our lives (and all the stress, anxiety and quarrels that would likely provoke), so I  just let him take the lead. And you know what? We’re both more relaxed about it now.

3. Make A Sanctuary. Once you’ve spent years in a relationship of any sort, it’s easy to start letting other parts of your individual lives (work, kids, relatives) invade your space together. Try not to let this happen. Obviously, you can’t seal off your relationship completely. But you can at least try to protect it. I had one set of friends (a couple) who made a rule that “all work stays at the door.” By which they meant that their bedroom would be a sanctuary. They were both allowed to work in the evening – they had to, sometimes – but when they were finished working, all work had to stay by the door literally outside their bedroom. I thought this was a great idea.

4. Carve out Time. Of course, a sanctuary isn’t any good to you unless you actually spend some time there. So in addition to demarcating your private space, you need also to do things together inside it. Whatever you enjoy most. In my own case, my husband and I try to set aside time every night to talk about the day and then watch something together – a DVD commentary, a BBC documentary, The Daily Show. Another couple I know makes a point of eating dinner together every night after their daughter goes to sleep (*he* cooks, mind you!), even if it’s 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night.  Still another couple I know takes a run together once a week in the morning and stops for tea mid-way through. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but that you do it together.

5. Go On An Overnight Getaway. Ok, this advice may be less good for the room mates at hand. But if you’re in a long-term romantic relationship, a great way to re-ignite that flame is to go on an adventure. If you can’t afford to pay for a hotel and sitter, then see if you can send your kids to a friend or relative and have the night to yourselves in your own home. That can be just as fun. If you can afford to splurge once in a while, it’s well worth the effort. We had some friends in Chicago who spent the entire weekend of their 10th anniversary at a hotel in downtown Chicago just 9 miles away from where the live. They had a blast. Last week, we managed to finagle a free room in a fancy hotel in London while my mother was visiting. True, we were on the smoking floor. But I can’t tell you how much fun it was to get dressed up and go down to Soho and have dinner at  a chic restaurant on a Thursday night and then amble back (at a leisurely pace!) to our fancy digs. Bliss!

*****

For those who are interested, hop on over to PoliticsDaily.com to see why I think Nick Clegg has fundamentally changed the nature of British electoral politics.


Image: Toasts by Electric Bielka via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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