Thursday, February 1, 2018

On Overparenting

         These days I rarely read non-fiction. I think maybe it’s because I read so much non-fiction during college and graduate school that to be free to read whatever I want is like a permanent vacation. And fiction for me is typically “brain candy” – it requires less thinking than my daily life does.
         But I heard about a book on NPR one day and it made me do what I normally do while excited by a book while driving – at the next stop light I opened up the Amazon app and put it on my Books wish list. Julie Lythcott-Haims, previously a dean at Stanford University who worked with early college students, wrote How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Some of the students that she met and then described in the book were similar to my students, while some of them were not. Hearing the topics she discussed in the book made me want to read it just because it was interesting (and because, hell, we’d all like to prepare our kids to be adults, right?).
         Reading non-fiction is a bit slower for me – I assume I don’t skim as much as I do with fiction. But so far here’s some of my thoughts…
When she talks about overparenting younger kids, it gets me thinking about how does parenting a kid with special needs fit work. I would love to give my kids more independence and so I started. I usually walk them into school and sit with them through breakfast, then make sure they make their way to their classrooms. This week I started just bringing them in and making sure they got to the cafeteria, then I left. We went through the script of what do we do (go in school, go to the cafeteria, get our breakfast, sit down, eat, pick up at the first bell, get our gear, and go to our classroom) 4-5 times per day just to make sure that they had the list to fall back on. Silas (age 7) did just fine. Sage, on the 2nd day, was still in the cafeteria a minute before the tardy bell. Perhaps he is not ready for me to be of less assistance; we’re going to try again tomorrow and see. I’m not going to assume that he can’t follow a set of instructions (that we have followed for 3 years) just because he had a rough start this morning, but it makes me wonder what the expectations for parenting for children with special needs are (and most likely the answer is “child by child basis”).
Parents are afraid of strangers hurting their kids, but statistically they’re more likely to be kidnapped or assaulted by family members or someone they already know. This I already knew. But what I didn’t think about was how much parents have become afraid of other parents. If you’re trying to pull back on the overparenting and another parent (who isn’t) sees your kids, let’s say, out alone after the other parents think they should be, they’ll call the police. So here’s a parent trying to make sure their child knows their own way home from a friend’s house, and someone else calls the police because they’re afraid that the kid is going to get hurt/kidnapped and that the parent isn’t doing “their job” to keep the kid safe. So not only are parents fearful of something happening to our kids, but we’re afraid someone else is going to think we’re not parenting “enough” and call us out on it (with perhaps legal repercussions).
According to Lythcott-Haims, parents overparent out of fear of failure for their kids. Not so much that the kid will fail, but that the kid will fail to live up to the expectations that the parent has for them (or the goals that the parent has for them). I really chewed on this one for a bit and thought about my parenting and my expectations for my kids. I want them to enjoy their childhood, end up being good people as adults, and be content with their adulthood. To me that means being able to build positive relationships, find some things that they love (hobbies and career), and not be a stressed out kid covered with requirements that make them fearful of failing themselves. I think this is why we have kind of avoided sports and outside activities up to this point. I don’t want an over-scheduled kid. I want to enjoy the time that I have with my kids outside of school (which isn’t much because of after school care), and they haven’t shown much interest in sports or other activities. I hope that if they do, if Silas says, “I want to play basketball because we learned about it in gym and it’s fun,” that I would be able to say, “OK, let’s figure this out.” But for now, I’m letting them do their own thing.
A lot of what she writes about is from the perspective of upper SES parents who want to push their kids into Ivy League schools with full scholarships for sports or academics or whatnot. I’m honestly trying to make my kids more independent by dressing themselves and getting up by themselves at this point, so I’m not so much worried about how their academic resume looks.

Do you feel as if you do too much for your kids? If so, how would you like to pull back a little? If you don’t, how do you make sure that you’re fostering independence?

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