Tag Archives: nature vs. nurture

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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