Other parents have a tough time finding the balance between the two extremes of neglecting and over-protecting. Where is that balance and how do you know if you’ve found it?
First of all, we need a little more information. Do you have a life, or are you living through your children? That would be a good clue as to where that balance has shifted. If you are not paying attention to your own life–perhaps you are letting it linger in a holding pattern until your children grow up–you are likely too focused on the children. Yes, I know that sounds like heresy in a world that is well aware that there are many neglected children. However, there are children of people so focused on their own careers and social advancement, providing everything material for their children, that the children actually experience neglect in the lap of luxury. So, there must be balance.
We must remember that we are the role models for our children. Every day, we are teaching them by the simple act of being who we are. They watch us constantly. Although they will often fail to do what we say, they seldom fail to do what we do. An example you might relate to:
PARENT: (Voice raised in volume, intensity & pace) “Don’t you yell at me, young man!”
Do you think that young man learned anything about not yelling? Not likely.
We are responsible for teaching our children how to be men and women, AND how to be men and women in relationship and in the world. We need balance in our own lives to demonstrate what balance is.
If we over-react to everything our child does, whether that is being wildly ecstatic over a game win, or devastated by the lack of a birthday invitation, we teach the child that emotion is cheap. How do they learn to be resilient, flexible, and able to roll with the punches of life? We have to teach them to take things in stride and keep them in proportion.
In the summer of 2011, Lori Gottlieb wrote a piece for The Atlantic, called How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. She pointed out that it is often people trying to hard to be the best parents that land their kids in therapy, not just the ones who neglect their kids. She wrote:
“And yet, underlying all this parental angst is the hopeful belief that if we just make the right choices, that if we just do things a certain way, our kids will turn out to be not just happy adults, but adults that make us happy. This is a misguided notion, because while nurture certainly matters, it doesn’t completely trump nature, and different kinds of nurture work for different kinds of kids (which explains why siblings can have very different experiences of their childhoods under the same roof). We can expose our kids to art, but we can’t teach them creativity. We can try to protect them from nasty classmates and bad grades and all kinds of rejection and their own limitations, but eventually they will bump up against these things anyway. In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up. Maybe we parents are the ones who have some growing up to do — and some letting go.”
Gottlieb also mentioned Barry Schwartz from Swarthmore, who:
“…believes that well-meaning parents give their kids so much choice on a daily basis that the children become not just entitled, but paralyzed. “The ideology of our time is that choice is good and more choice is better,” he said. “But we’ve found that’s not true.”
Entitled kids become entitled young adults. That’s a terrible legacy to give your child. The entitled child grows up and enters the world of independent living and work only to crash headlong into situations in which they cannot have what they want. Yes, they are ahead of the game by knowing that they can ask for what they want, and they do. It is the frustration, disappointment and anger they experience when they find that the world owes them nothing and that no parent figure is rushing in to save them that is the unfortunate set-up from over-parenting.
Much of the balance of good-enough parenting is found in:
- Attention, not hyper-vigilance
- Interest, not inquisition
- Observation, not over-protection
- Demonstration, not demand
- Boundaries, not bargaining
- Moderation, not over-indulgence
- Empowerment, not entitlement
- Safety, not immobilization
- Guidance, not guilt
- Empathy, not entanglement
- Acceptance, not rejection
- Respect, not homage
So, a few ideas on creating the balance between neglecting and over-protecting to help us be good-enough parents. Everyone will be healthier and happier for it!
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