Overparenting Anonymous: A Parent’s Guide to Letting Go

We’re all guilty of it at one time or another – hovering, overprotecting and rescuing our children. Even though we have the best of intentions, it may not be the best thing for our kids.
stressed boy doing homework, for article on overparenting

Hi, I’m Cindy, and I overparent. And, as my recovering overparenting friend Tere says, “I did it all with the best of intentions.” According to Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., Tere and I are not alone in overparenting. Mogel, clinical psychologist, parenting expert and author of the New York Times best-selling book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, said that most parents in our hyper-competitive culture could use an overparenting anonymous 12-step program.

We are of a generation of parents who want to do everything. Just. Right. From the best prenatal vitamins to the right colleges, we want everything to be perfect for our children. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a really good parent. The problem comes when we try to orchestrate every detail of our children’s lives, demanding perfection of ourselves and of them.

“Your children are likely to succeed in life without perfect childhoods,” Mogel said, herself a recovering overparenter.

In fact, she claims our drive for perfection has caused us to “overprotect, overschedule and overindulge” our children. Being so clued in to every emotional and physical hiccup, and/or being so focused on what our children must have to succeed, are signs we have become, as Mogel calls it, “good, loving parents gone bad.”

“College deans have nicknames for today’s incoming students,” Mogel said. “They call them ‘teacups’ and ‘crispies.’ The teacups have been so managed, overprotected and supported by their parental handlers that they lack the basic life skills needed to survive away from home. The crispies are so exhausted from grade grubbing and worrying about what is going to be on the next test that they are burned out. By overprotecting and overscheduling our children, we are not preparing them to launch.”

Mogel’s overparenting recovery plan includes the following:

1. Stop Emphasizing How “Special” Your Children Are and Accept Them for All Their “Ordinary Glory”

Wait, don’t our children need to repeatedly hear how really special and wonderful they are? Won’t it boost their self-esteem? Quite the contrary, according to Mogel.

“If the pressure to be special gets too intense,” she said, “children end up in the therapist’s office suffering from sleep and eating disorders, chronic stomach aches, hair-pulling, depression and other ailments.”

In The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Mogel quotes a high school student as saying, “My mom and Dad always, always made me feel like I was the best: the most beautiful, the smartest, the most charming. And mostly I’ve done well in everything. But, now I’m finding out that I’m not that unusual. Maybe I’m good enough, but I don’t know anymore.”

2. Teach Your Children to Respect You

“Why are we treating our children like handicapped royalty and allowing them to treat us like fascist dictators?” Mogel asked.

She said that in her work parents complain of children who talk back, don’t accept no for an answer, don’t help around the house without heavy-duty prodding, and use parent’s belongings without asking. She said that the kinds of parents who have the most trouble fall into one of three camps:

  1. The Guilty, Overwhelmed Parent.
  2. The “As Long as your Grades are Good You Can Treat Me Like Dirt” Parent.
  3. The Hypertuned Parent: always in touch with their children’s feelings.

“Today, more than ever, we sympathetic, fair-minded parents need to make a conscious effort to establish ourselves as the honored rulers in our homes,” Mogel said. “It’s okay to demand respect. And it’s okay to say ‘No.’”

3. Don’t Overprotect

“For twenty years now, I have watched as well-meaning, dedicated parents become ever more deeply enmeshed in their children’s lives,” Mogel said. “No matter how busy these parents are, the child’s problems remain a central preoccupation. If parents rush in to rescue their children from every distress, children don’t get an opportunity to learn that they can suffer and recover on their own. Children develop good judgment from exercising bad judgment and seeing how it turns out,” she said, adding that parents have to learn to tolerate their children’s pain and practice self-restraint.

4. Insist That Your Children Do Chores.

“Children deserve more than our love and devotion,” Mogel said. “They deserve to be taught how to fend for themselves and eventually contribute to society.”

She admits that getting children to do chores “is one of the most tiresome jobs you’ll ever have.” But she stands firm saying, “There is a job. It needs to be completed. You delegate, they do. You do not do everything and then simmer in frustration and resentment. They do not have to like it, and it’s not your responsibility to try to talk them into understanding the ultimate benefit of helping around the house.”

5. Introduce Your Child to Spirituality

Mogel encourages the families she works with to practice their religious faith.

“You and your family may choose a different path than that of your forebears, but if you don’t want to get caught up in the anxiety, materialism and competition all around us, you must choose some path to walk on with your children,” she said. “You must name it, follow it and plan the curriculum for the spiritual education as thoughtfully and intelligently as you plan their academic education.”

And if you aren’t involved in a faith community, or have doubts about God yourself? “You don’t need to know the ‘right’ answers in order to talk to your child about God,” Mogel said. “You can let her know that you haven’t figured it all out yet, but you want to continue the conversation all through your life together.”

Finally, Mogel said, “Your child is not your masterpiece. If we expect our kids to be good at everything they become demoralized and dispirited.”

She encouraged recovering overparenters to “think of our children as seeds that came in a packet without a label. We can’t tell what season they will bloom or what kind of flower we will get. But we can pull the biggest weeds, provide sufficient food and water and stand back and see who God has given us.”

Categories: Big Kids