Letting Go Resist the Urge to Overparent
family matters •••
Are You Helping Too Much?
by Cam Ragland
I mustered up a fresh batch of courage after reading Lenore Skenazy’s controversial parenting book, Free Range Kids. According to the author, my idea of parenting was too restrictive and I had spent too much time worrying. So, as any overachieving mom would do, I set out to make some adjustments.
My family was seated at our favorite restaurant when Ethan, my 7 year-old-son, asked me to take him to the bathroom, a request he had made and I had rejected many times before. I took a deep breath and sent him off on his own. Ethan looked quizzical, but ran off before I decided to tag along. I didn’t take my eyes off his path while I recalled how Skenazy allowed her 10-year-old son to find his way home on the New York City subway—alone. Surely, I could avoid a panic attack while my son found his way back to our table.
His face was beaming with pride when he returned. I knew he was capable. But, how could he have measured his own ability without that moment? My perceived risk had almost robbed him of that important experience. This had been a small step forward after all I knew about successful parenting had been challenged.
I admit I struggle with knowing how much to guard my children from risks that could shape their character. Still, of course, I want to save them from unnecessary pain. I’m learning, however, it may be more detrimental to be “overparenting” or too involved in their lives. I find out often in conversation that I am not alone struggling with this issue. David Anderegg wrote Worried All the Time, which discusses overparenting and how worrying leads to micromanaging our children’s lives to the point of dependency.
I often envy mothers who have the freedom to send their children on the city bus across town to Grandma’s house. Did these moms deliberately make this choice for the child’s benefit, or was there no other choice? Is worry, which fuels this idea of overparenting, related to “access”—access to information and options? Skenazy suggests that we can all adjust the overparenting to healthy levels by adhering to 14 “Free-Range” commandments. I’ve paraphrased only five here that stand out for me, not necessarily listed in order of importance:
l Know when to worry: Our kids are more competent than we believe.
•Turn off the news: Fear seeps in even when you think it doesn’t.
• Don’t think like a lawyer: Avoid playing out the worst-case scenario.
• Relax: Not every little thing you do has that much impact on your child’s development.
• Listen to your kids: They long for their parents to show more faith in them.
One of my favorite quotes is from “Finding Nemo.” I recall it as a mantra when I need to remind myself to let go. Marlin, Nemo’s nervous dad, asks Crush, the tortoise, as they both watch their sons head toward the dangerous current, “How do you know they’re ready?” Crush looks at Marlin and answers, “Well, you never really know, but when they know, you know, y’know?” Y
Cam Ragland is a Virginia mom and writer.