I once worked with a couple who always over–functioned for their child, doing things for her that she could do herself. This daughter always skated through classes because the parents did a lot of her homework. She did not learn how to rely on her own abilities, fall and pick herself back up when she failed, take the necessary risks, develop the ability to think for herself, or try things she might not succeed in doing. Her parents could not tolerate their own anxiety about the uncertainty of their daughter's performance or the pain of watching her struggle. By over-functioning for her, they inadvertently robbed her of the skills and practice necessary to develop competence and mastery in her life. In middle school, she started hanging out with the wrong crowd, doing drugs and drinking. She didn't make it through college and is still living with her parents, who are still taking care of her. Needless to say, they’re really burnt out.
The bottom line is that if a parent’s emotional needs are met through their child, essentially they’re tying her shoes for her every step of the way.
If you have a child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or a behavioral disorder, it gives you even more of a reason to do too much for them. It may even feel as if it’s expected and natural to over–focus on your child. But understand that it’s not really doing them any favors in the long run, because they’re not learning how to do things for themselves. And one day, your child will need to go out into the world and function as an adult. Of course, it's important to understand their disability and help them when appropriate, but try not to let your anxiety compel you to overdo for them and underdo for yourself. When that happens, you run the risk of ending up angry, resentful and burned out.
What do adult under–functioners look like? Under–functioners are skilled in the art of “learned helplessness.” They have quite literally learned to be helpless, because someone was always there to pick up the pieces for them. They often act irresponsibly, aren’t able to handle uncomfortable emotions well, float without goals, become ill a lot, can tend to become addicted to substances, ask for advice when they need to figure things out for themselves and get others to always help them. They will often search out a partner who will take care of their needs and pick up where their parents left off. And keeping a job is hard for under–functioners, because they’re always looking for someone to swoop in and rescue them. For many people who were raised this way, the world is a scary place—and instead of venturing out and making a life for themselves, they choose to stay home with mom and dad indefinitely.
Am I Doing Too Much?