4702881225_b7d1c86d48_nI know it’s not a popular sentiment nowadays, but I’ve always thought that children thrive with a certain amount of benign neglect. Now don’t get your knickers in a knot, I don’t mean actual neglect, but rather an attitude that is counter to the hyper-vigilant parenting that has become the gold standard of today’s parents. I’m not exactly sure how we got here, but “good parenting” is often seen as a parent who is ever involved and ever present. While attachment parenting is great for infants, it seems to me that our goal as a parent is to slowly but surely wean our kids away from us, so that by their late teens and twenties they are able to stand alone, with us firmly in the background.

An article I recently read in Psychology Today was brutally critical of today’s parents.

Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history…. “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”…

With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we’re on our way to creating a nation of wimps….

I wish my parents had some hobby other than me,” one young patient told David Anderegg, a child psychologist in Lenox, Massachusetts, and professor of psychology at Bennington College. Anderegg finds that anxious parents are hyperattentive to their kids, reactive to every blip of their child’s day, eager to solve every problem for their child—and believe that’s good parenting. “If you have an infant and the baby has gas, burping the baby is being a good parent. But when you have a 10-year-old who has metaphoric gas, you don’t have to burp him. You have to let him sit with it, try to figure out what to do about it. He then learns to tolerate moderate amounts of difficulty, and it’s not the end of the world.”

And most of all, self-consciousness removes the safety to be experimental and playful. “If every drawing is going to end up on your parents’ refrigerator, you’re not free to fool around, to goof up or make mistakes,” says Anderegg.

Judging Ourselves as Parents

Ouch! I don’t see myself totally reflected in their description, but I see enough shadows to make me take stock. I think in part we helicopter parent because we don’t want to be found lacking. It is so so easy to fall into the trap of seeing our kid’s success or failure as a reflection of our success or failure as a parent. Who doesn’t feel proud when their kid is the fastest in class at the multiplication tables? Or is the youngest brown belt at karate? Or is semi-fluent in Chinese by age 12? Or is the leading scorer on her soccer team? I know because I’ve felt that. I’ve also felt the embarrassment and worry when my kid was one of the slowest at the multiplication tables or was the one picking dandelions as the rest of the soccer team raced by.

Is Attachment Parenting to Blame?

Those of us who’ve touted attachment parenting are also partly to blame. Perhaps we haven’t been clear enough that the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise independent self-reliant adults. It’s so easy to forget that our kids are not really ours, and that our role in being the primary support in their life is supposed to be short lived.

To be perfectly honest, I hate the idea of becoming obsolescent. My identity is tied up in being a mom. But part and parcel of good parenting is working ourselves out of a job and shifting our identity. Damnit. This process begins in toddlerhood, and continues slowly throughout childhood. Failure and a certain degree of messiness is part of this process. Let’s start viewing failure and messiness as a mark of good parenting.

Do you see examples of the over-involved hovering parent amongst your peers? 


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