Overparenting.  It’s the new buzzword for helicopter parenting, enabling and micromanaging.  I did them all. I’m happy to say that I’ve (mostly) grown out of it.  The truth is that there are still moments when I have the urge to step in and take over.  It’s normal to feel that way; however, I know I’ve made progress when I feel the urge and don’t act on it.

When children are very young, it’s not so bad.  After all, they need to be guided, nurtured and protected.  As they grow up, everything about them grows:  body, brain, exploring their world and relationships.  We parents need to grow up, too, and change how we parent.  It’s now our job to help our children do for themselves, instead of doing for them.

Ideally, our role changes from CEO and General Manager to mentor, guide and support.  But we don’t live in an ideal world.  Here are some everyday examples of how we overparent:

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  • calling a teacher to find out if there is extra credit work to make up for missing assignments
  • giving your children what they want, because you can, or because it’s easier than saying ‘no’ and getting pushback
  • intervening with a coach because you think your child isn’t getting enough playing time
  • nagging and lecturing kids to do their schoolwork, their chores, their laundry

Why is our generation overparenting in ways it seems our parents and grandparents did not?

Here are two major themes:  the race to college and parental fear of children (you read that last one right).

Let’s start with the race to college.  Even before children are born, parents have a vision of what their life will look like, with the dream extending all the way to college and career.  The focus is on grades, preparation for college, and the transcript, with social, emotional and life skills unintentionally taking a back seat.

Way back in the 1970s, it was not a given that all students would attend college.  Now it is expected, and the competition is fierce. Parents don’t want their children to be disappointed… and parents don’t want to be disappointed either!

I can identify with that.  Even during the most challenging of my son’s teen years I was still thinking ahead to college.  It took a courageous person to point out that even if he had the grades, he wasn’t prepared to be successful in college.  That was a real turning point for me to focus on the here and now and on character (his and mine!).  Ultimately it allowed me to support him in developing the qualities that would serve him well in life.  All the rest would follow.

Now, about that parental fear of children.  It is best summed up by Mel Levine, MD, in his book, Ready or Not, Here Life Comes.

“We also live in a time when many mothers and fathers are downright fearful of their own kids, especially their adolescent offspring.  Adolescents often hold the power in a family because they have so many weapons at their disposal (such as drugs, alcohol, tattoos, anorexia, suicidal thoughts, dropping out).”

There’s more, but you get the picture.  The idea that in a sense our kids have ‘weapons’ to use against us has stuck with me.  At a deeper level, our children know how afraid we are of them veering off the straight and narrow.

The past twenty years have seen an alarming increase in frightening behaviors and conditions such as addiction, depression, anxiety, cutting, eating disorders, ADHD, ODD, mood disorders.  Parents are terrified of these possibilities that can result in broken dreams or even death.  They are hyper-vigilant in attempting to prevent any of these from happening.  The unfortunate truth is that this kind of hovering contributes to exactly what they’re trying to prevent.

So what’s a parent to do?  First know that it is never too late to change what you’re doing and to have a new, positive influence on your child.  I know.  I did all those things that didn’t work… but I had help and began the process when my child was 17.  I thought it was all hopeless and beyond repair.  Not true. 

So hold on to that hope, stay tuned, and look for Part 2 on overparenting, where I share my top four steps you can take to turn it all around.