Lately much of my work as a life coach has been focused on helping parents to find a healthy balance between helicopter parenting and “forget it, do whatever you want” parenting. As evidenced by the slightly crazed look in parent’s eyes when I suggest that they are hovering, finding that balance is a tough one. I struggle with it with my own three children yet one pervasive thought helps me stay on the ‘hold on loosely’ end of the parenting spectrum; the story my children will tell about themselves when they are old enough to venture out on their own.
I’ve met many young adults in my life and far too many of them have stories that sound like bad fiction at best and a Greek tragedy at worst. Yet most of these young people had pretty fabulous, relatively drama free childhoods, so why such sad stories? The answer seems to be that parental hovering didn’t lead to confident children. Most of these young people say things such as, “I can’t really handle that.” “School is too hard, I’m not smart enough.” “Too scary, I can’t do it.”
Those are pretty miserable stories to hear from bright, educated, young people. Yet when we stand over them, know most aspects of their lives, run interference for every minor heartache, aren’t we helping them to the sad story that they carry with them into adulthood? Is that really what you want for your children? If not, then why do you do their homework for them? Call coaches or teachers when they are old enough to make that call on their own? Interfere with their friendships and activities?
When I ask parents about this they always tell me that they are terrified their children will be hurt or fail. I understand this, I really do. Having children is a scary adventure done with your heart outside of your chest, vulnerable until the end of time. Yet, by not letting them fall, get back up, learn their own lessons, and learn how to learn, we are setting them up for that failure that scares us so completely. I understand that it seems counterintuitive to let them learn the hard way but think about how you got to where you are today. My guess is that a series of failures that propelled you to success is the path that you took, and the perfect one at that. Why won’t you let your child learn in the same way?
When I sent my first, slightly overwatered, child off to college, I realized that I might have done him a disservice with all of that watering I’d done. Luckily (or despite me) my little flower bud did quite well and his story seems to be, “I was scared, I was homesick, I missed my dog but I knew I’d be ok.” I’ll take that story and I’ll shoot for similar stories from my other two. Which means I will have to manage my own reaction to friend horror stories, less than exciting grades, poor work habits, sneaky behavior, and all of the other joys that come with raising children. It won’t be easy, I’ll want to step in, clean up, and put them back on their feet yet will I really be helping them tell their own story if I do that?
Will you consider your child to be a failure if they don’t go to college, choose a community college, choose a mate that you find unsuitable, work for minimum wage, volunteer their time, or G-d forbid marry outside of your political party? I might have gone a bit too far on that last one but the rest are real fears that I hear from parents frequently. The truth is that until you are willing to accept the choices your children make as adults, you are crossing the line well into the hovering category and inevitably you will not be helping your children. How about have faith that they will find their way on a path that is probably not straight and probably not what you want but that will be just right for them. That path will be the one to lead them to their story, a story of survival, overcoming adversity, and learning how to care for themselves. Why deny them the true story of their own lives?
Lisa Kaplin is a life coach and psychologist at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com
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