8 Concrete, No BS Ways To Stop Overparenting Your Kids

Photo: Sabrina Bracher / Shutterstock
mother carrying daughter on back

So many parents are stressed, overwhelmed, and guilty nowadays, which I attribute directly to our child-centered culture. Parents feel that they must enrich, validate, and engage with their kids constantly, which is very different from previous eras of child-rearing.

Parents today struggle with knowing how to get their kids to play independently or fight their own battles. This leads to kids feeling fragile, dependent on adults to meet even their most fleeting “need” (aka want), and anxious about growing up. But the effects of overparenting aren’t only bad for kids’ sense of burgeoning self-reliance.

If you allow parenting to grow all-encompassing, you and your partner (or you, yourself, and your friends/family/interests if you’re single) have no time without the constant pressure of attending to your kids. This hyper-focus on the children to the exclusion of the self/couple is bad for your marriage, your self-esteem, and your children’s sense of calm and confidence in the world.

Many overparented kids that I see as young adults do not want kids themselves, because their parents’ lives seemed so burdened and uninteresting, filled with only work and childcare.

Imagine being so consumed with your kids that, while they don’t doubt your love for them for a minute, they conceive of adulthood as crushing servitude towards children, and therefore try to delay it as long as possible. This is the ironic reality that I see every day in my practice.

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Furthermore, many parents eventually divorce because they did not pay their relationship the attention it needed and put it on the back burner for the entirety of the child’s life. This gives your child a dismal outlook on adult relationships, as well as, of course, the stress of a divorce.

If you want to cut back on your overparenting, here are some specific, concrete, no-BS ways to do it.

Some of them may seem easier than others and do what you can. Even just by reading this post, you are opening your mind to the perspective that overparenting isn’t doing your child any favors, and that there may be a way to enjoy your own life and model a happy and fulfilled adulthood while also being a good parent. I am going to make these short, sweet (no actually these may be unflattering and uncomfortable), and to the point.

Here are 8 concrete, no-BS ways to stop overparenting your kids:

1. Stop talking to your kids when they are doing other stuff or when they don’t want to talk

You are allowing (a) your own anxiety about your children thinking you don’t care about them, or (2) your guilt over having been apart from them at some juncture to make you literally interrupt them from something else they are happily engaged in just to stress the both of you out. Instead, you could let them be happy and take a break and go be happy yourself.

2. Stop praising your kid unless you’re really impressed or they really made a big effort at something

This overpraises backfires and weakens your child’s confidence. I discuss this fake praise epidemic at length here.

RELATED: Mom Calls Out 'Gentle Parenting' Trend & Refuses To Feel Bad About Having 'Feelings Other Than Love' For Her Kids

3. Ask your kid questions instead of solving their problems

This may make you very anxious because you’re giving up the illusion of control that you can preserve when you tell your kid exactly how to handle their life.

I say “illusion” because your kid isn’t going to do everything you say anyway, and if they did, that would be a bigger problem that would speak to a lack of confidence in their own decision-making and self-efficacy. Here are some questions.

4. Share unflattering stories from your own life including the ones where your judgment was terrible at their age

Knowing that you got so drunk you threw up at prom is, strangely, a great thing for your teen to hear.

It makes them feel closer to you, and they are more likely to confide in you about their own mess-ups. Was there ever a kid in the history of the world who said, “You know, since Mom insists she never got drunk before she was 21, I guess I’ll wait till then too”? Holding back stories of your own poor choices makes you seem distant and unrelatable to your child and it is also stressful for you to pretend to be perfect.

5. Be affectionate with your partner and show them what a physically affectionate adult relationship looks like

Of course, don’t have sex where your kids can see, but if they hear the bed moving, this is nothing bad and in fact, is something that many of my adult clients recount in therapy as reassuring evidence that their parents had a happy marriage.

Our puritanical culture coupled with a hyperfocus on “not traumatizing kids” leads to many parents refusing to discuss sex with their kids or show their kids any evidence that they still have it. All this does is leave your child with no information and, again, the idea of marriage as a joyless desert of childrearing.

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6. Give the child chores that actually help you out

If they are jerks about this, then make their money or chauffeur service dependent on the chores.

The more your child learns to do at a young age, the more automatically they can do things around the house as an adult. Think of it as helping them be a better roommate and/or spouse one day. Also, stop doing chores you don’t like and outsource them to your kids. You do enough stuff, like providing food and shelter and probably a college savings account, to have to also do stuff you hate.

7. Stop letting your kid stay up as late as you

Or if they are old enough to stay up later, it is only in their rooms, doing something quiet like reading, and you said goodnight before that time starts.

You and your partner, or just you, need at least 1–2 hours of child-free time per night in order to be a fully functioning adult unit. If this hurts your child’s feelings, introspect deeply about what you have unintentionally taught them that would make them think that parents wanting to hang out sans kids is a bad thing.

Spoiler: it’s the whole “adulthood sucks and you are the Sun around which we orbit” motif again.

8. Talk yourself up

So many parents are so self-deprecating that it makes me cringe. This child has 50% of your DNA. Stop saying (explicitly or implicitly) that you are unattractive, fat, stupid, or anything else. Talk up your victories and toot your own horn. Tell them when they are smart like you or funny like you.

Observe, “You are independent like me.” Stop building your kid up while tearing yourself down or even just while failing to build yourself up equally.

Kids do what you do not what you say. One time of the hearing, “You’re great at math like me” is more valuable than 15 vague “You’re so smart” comments that even the kid thinks may be BS. This last one is less about overparenting and more about being a role model for a happy, successful, and confident adult.

If these points resonate with you, try and implement at least a few. Or talk them over with your partner.

Note: Do not take any of these to an extreme, obviously. For example, obviously, there are times you need to interrupt your kids when they are happily reading a book because dinner is on the table. Try instead to use the points to examine how you may have unintentionally been making parenting more onerous than it needs to be.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.