Overparenting, or “Oh crap, I’m totally guilty of doing this!”

Can you hear the hum of the helicopter hovering over my children?  Sigh.  I can.  And I’m driving the helicopter.

I have often waxed on about how we are overparenting our children and creating anxious, entitled, confused young adults who can barely keep themselves alive, let alone make good decisions and problem solve through bad ones.  While our society makes it challenging to avoid some of the overparenting that happens – anyone with kids likely has judged, or been judged regarding young children walking to and from school alone, or walking to the park alone or with other young friends or siblings – that is just one small part of the epidemic of overparenting that is happening all around us.  We can use that as our excuse if we are super happy with burying our heads in the sand.  But if you picture yourself with your head stuck in the sand, what body part is now most prominent?  If you can’t picture this, ask your spouse or a good friend to demonstrate it… you’ll get the point, and if you’re organized and quick about it, you’ll probably get a good photo to post on Instagram.

So, enlightened parent that I am, I was pretty sure I was doing a semi-reasonable job of NOT overparenting. <insert head in sand photo, or just a dramatic eye roll here>  But the truth is that I am overparenting with the best of them. I read this article today:  Overparenting is Doing More Harm Than Good  And as I read it, I actually said a couple bad words out loud.  Nothing like finding out that you are guilty of EVERY SINGLE item listed to describe overparenting.  Let me summarize for you:

  1. Scheduling play dates instead of letting kids just go outside and find some friends to play with.  Granted, because we are all overparenting, there aren’t always a bunch of kids running around outside to play with, but still.  I do this for Berrik, and I sadly also do this for McKenna and Avi and they are 13 & 11!!!!  Good grief.  #fail
  2. Go to every game or practice.  I have  3 kids so I don’t get to every single game or practice.  But a LOT of them.  And I wouldn’t miss a dance performance, choir performance, piano recital, karate parent night, ball game etc. unless I absolutely could not avoid it.  I thought this was me supporting my kids, and showing them how much I value them. Where is that effing parenting handbook anyways!?!  I thought this was the right thing to do!!!  Last night I was at the dance studio watching Mac dance for the first time this month… <pats herself on the back for nailing non-overparenting of one aspect of McKenna’s life for a solid 10 straight days>.
  3. Hires tutors throughout school years – not because they need tutors, but so they can improve their already excellent grades.  While I haven’t hired tutors for my girls, I did ‘homeschool’ them in math all summer even though they both have high grades in math.  My intention was to help them gain confidence and give them a head start on the school year in a subject they are least comfortable with.  Upon reflection I realize I probably sent them the message that their A wasn’t quite good enough and that I expect more from them.  Ugh. #homeschoolfail #parentingfail #selfesteemenhancingfail
  4. Want kids challenged at the highest level all the time.  Groan…  So guilty of this.  With all three kids.  One might even say I’m currently doing it full speed with Berrik and this homeschooling gig.  #wthiswrongwithme
  5. Want kids to ‘find their passion’ in middle school and/or highschool.  Just last evening at the dance studio, where I was basking in the joy of watching my daughter be challenged at the highest level in her tap class, I had a conversation with another dance teacher about Avi ‘finding her passion’ in choir. As I type this post, I am rolling my eyes at myself so frequently that I’ve given myself a headache.

I was not raised this way.  I was a farm kid who was lucky enough to live in the same farm yard as my grandparents and my cousins, and only a kilometer down the road from more cousins.  We left the house and headed off to whatever adventure we could find all the time, with no intervention from adults, and came back when it was getting dark or we were getting hungry.  We learned problem solving.  For example, on the round bales stacked two high we had to figure out what to do when youngest cousin falls (read: gets dropped) down the holes between the bales to the bottom (sorry Andrea). We discovered how much gas you need in the jerrycan strapped to the dirtbike to get to Sedalia and back. (Mom, did I ever tell you about the time we went to Sedalia?)  I had chores on the weekends and may the good Lord (or more likely Grandma) save you if you didn’t get them done before Mom got home from her shift at the hospital.  We helped with dinner and dishes (except when I just HAD to go to the washroom, and took my book in there to read to give Ryan plenty of time to get a head start on the dishes…for the record, I believe that qualifies as strategic thinking).  We had 2 channels on the TV and one was often a bit fuzzy. We didn’t watch it much.  Our first computer was a Commodore Vic 20 – the 20 is for kilobytes.  So you can imagine we weren’t doing too much on that fancy piece of technology.  We read books.  And played outside.  We put tea towels on our heads to pretend we had long hair, and ate Grandma’s cookie dough until we were sick.  We played school sports and I danced one or two nights per week, likely for 30 minutes at a time.  We went to dance festivals and to be honest I can’t really even recall if we ever won.

There are many things we did that I think we were exceptionally lucky that nothing permanently disfiguring or worse happened.  By today’s standards were were totally underparented. But I will say that when I went to college, I knew how to cook for myself, do my own laundry, and problem solve out of many a pickle… I registered myself for classes, talked to my professors if I had a concern about a grade, and even used that strategic thinking to avoid 8am classes at all costs.

The article I linked to above says this:

Have you ever stopped to question what the end result of all this involvement is? It’s a generation that can’t do anything on its own.

A generation that needs coaches, tutors, mom and dad to be at the sidelines at all times.

A generation that thinks it always needs to be number one at everything.

A generation that is never satisfied with who they are.

A generation of anxious, nervous kids.

A generation that is not hungry for anything because everything is handed to them, everything is fixed for them.

We are robbing them of the opportunity to grow up and discover themselves. To figure out who they are, what they love, what they excel at, what they want to excel at.

Let’s stop protecting them from the world and start preparing them for it, instead.

Sigh.  You know how as a parent you have those days (or more likely 15 minute increments) where you think, wow, I’m really nailing this?  Only yesterday I had one of those moments.  It was while I hovered in my helicopter watching McKenna dance and discussing how my middle schoolers had each found their passions, and mentally congratulating myself for challenging Berrik to learn a few more sight words and achieve more math problem solving skills earlier in the day.

What’s most interesting is that while I intellectually get that overparenting is not doing my kids any favors, it will take a significant mindset shift for me to break these nasty habits.  It’s all about balance, and I’m going to make a concerted effort to try to scale back where I can.  Baby steps.  Head is officially out of the sand, but it’s going to take some time to land this helicopter and park it for good.










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