There are many reasons we as parents end up doing too much for our kids and I don’t mean materially providing for our kids. This is not about them having an iPod or a Nintendo. This is about not giving them the opportunity to do things for themselves.
It starts off with the most important reason – they are so cute and they are our babies!!! Never mind that they might be now close upon 8 or 10 or 18, they are our babies and we love ‘doing things for them’. Sound familiar? I’d like to think that I do things for Junior ‘within reason’. Honestly though, there are times that I do happen to be the Over Functioning Mum rather than the Helpful Mum who empowers her child. Reflect upon yourself, I’m sure there are times when you cross that line too.
Obviously, we all try to be ‘good’ parents. We try to teach our children to be independent, manage things by themselves and of course our ultimate goal is to make sure that they are responsible, confident and independent adults. To this end, we do a lot for our children. We read to them; and as they get older we sometimes sit with them and wait till they read, explaining new words and making sure they understand what they have read and supervise their homework (let’s admit it, if we don’t sometimes it is never going to be done!). Then there are the afternoon, after school classes that we take our children to. Here too, we stay behind and wait for them to finish classes. In reality, we ‘overparent’, there are so many things along the way that we do, that in fact does not allow our kids to figure things out for themselves and do them by themselves.
Let’s get back to the reasons why on most times we don’t let our children do things for themselves. As I mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons is that we always think that they our ‘babies’, we ‘have’ to do certain things for them. Other reasons include the fact that our current lifestyles are so fast paced, it’s considerably easier doing things our selves – for example, we always make breakfast for our children – even on a weekend. When was the last time you got your little one to make a sandwich for himself. Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is pretty straightforward and frankly any eight old should be able to manage it. Same goes for pouring a bowl of cereal or even prep for dinner like marinating some chicken legs or prepping a salad. Remember those kids in Masterchef who are young as 8 years who are making pavlovas and cheesecakes!! I remember growing up, my grandfather absolutely refused to let my mum let me cook, he was very nervous about my long hair and the cooker. I went into my twenties not being able to cook, while my cousin sister was stringing beans at the age of 6 years. Thankfully since then I’ve started experimenting with cooking and there are days my concoctions have my family licking the plates and bowls and sadly there are days when I have to force everyone to finish up!! My point in all this is that, there are things that children can do and should be allowed to do. Sure it might be easier and faster for us to simply make that sandwich (cleanup after kids are in the kitchen require more effort) but they need to learn to do things for themselves and we as parents should let them. Most of our Sri Lankan kids go into university not being able to cook and then suffer dreadfully as they miss the kind of food they are used to. To let your kids become independent and confident, you need to empower them and this can start from their younger days. You need not wait till they are in their teens or later.
Other classic examples of overparenting are putting on younger children’s socks, shoes and/or tying their shoelaces. I know school mornings are busy and add the fuss that goes on, sometimes, it just seems simpler for you to do it yourself, trust me I know. Just because it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best solution. Children need to learn to do things by themselves, so even if you have to wake yourself and kids up early, do so, so that they can put on their own clothes and shoes.
Here’s another thing to consider, have you noticed those kids at school whose parents are less involved than you? You don’t see them much at school; they are ones who are in charge of picking up their younger siblings and sorting their own books and finding their way to their own afterschool classes by themselves (inside the school)? They are the ones who are far more confident, who are aware of their surroundings, peers and teachers. They are the ones who can manage more confidently and are able to do things by themselves. What about that child who carries a mineral water bottle rather than a fancy bottle of water – he’s the child who has learnt that leaving his water bottle in school is going to end up with him carrying a mineral bottle. If you are like me and have 6 bottles stocked up at the beginning of the term to replace all the bottles your child would lose during the term, stop! You shouldn’t be giving your little one a mineral bottle for long (due to health reasons), but a few days and he’ll never lose his water bottle again!
If you are a parent who cleans up after your little one plays with his toys because you’d rather avoid his mandatory melt-down and because it’s simpler to do it yourself or if you pack his school bag because when he does it too often he misses books, you’re just making your life easier and not necessarily his. If your little one ends up not packing his school bag properly, don’t correct his mistake and put the books yourself – let him go to school and realise it’s not there. When he realises he has to rewrite his notes when he gets home and there isn’t enough time to play or if he gets reprimanded by a teacher, he will learn to be more responsible about packing his bag. It’s not being unkind; you’re simply giving him the ability to grow up independent and responsible. If you’re also constantly asking teachers about work and things that are required to be bought to school, stop! Let you child do it himself and if he forgets ones or twice, he will face the consequences and learn to listen more closely next time. You are empowering them.
Then there’s yourself to consider if you are overparenting – at some point you will end up feeling frustrated at your child’s inability to do things himself. You might not see that it’s your own fault – but if your child cannot follow orders or doesn’t complete tasks properly, you will start to feel frustrated. The root cause of this is of course your own parenting style. Too soon, you will be burned out and constantly tired since you are doing most of the work that your child should be doing for himself.
There is a clear definition between overparenting, parenting and neglecting your child, it very easy to stay in within the parenting box. You just need to step back and empower your child. When deciding which activities your child needs to do by himself – use your own judgment; consider his age and capabilities and work towards goals which will keep him being independent. Remember, it is just as important to teach them to do things for themselves as it is to actually do it for them.