I Over Parented My Child

So, I read this article the other day and I’ve been sort of obsessing about it ever since.

How to Land Your Kid in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.

I know. Loaded title, right?

In essence, it talks about this therapist’s experience with a number of patients that she can’t quite figure out. After all, the point of her profession was to “’re-parent’” our patients, to provide a ‘corrective emotional experience’ in which they would unconsciously transfer their early feelings of injury onto us, so we could offer a different response, a more attuned and empathic one than they got in childhood.”

In other words, walk messed up clients through a crappy childhood and introduce them to normal.

Bad parents generally equals screwed up children.

I get that.

But what was interesting to this therapist about this latest batch of patients was that, they didn’t appear to have a problem with their parents.

These 20/30 somethings “suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose—yet they had little to quibble with about Mom or Dad.”

So what was the problem? Why weren’t they happy?

So this thearpist thought, “Was it possible these parents had done too much?”

Here I was, seeing the flesh-and-blood results of the kind of parenting that my peers and I were trying to practice with our own kids, precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day. We were running ourselves ragged in a herculean effort to do right by our kids—yet what seemed like grown-up versions of them were sitting in our offices, saying they felt empty, confused, and anxious. Back in graduate school, the clinical focus had always been on how the lack of parental attunement affects the child. It never occurred to any of us to ask, what if the parents are too attuned? What happens to those kids?

I often wonder if that is my problem. Did I do too much for Dude? (I’m not that worried about Jazz mainly because his personality is so much different than Dude’s). I was a good mom, not a great mom, but a pretty good mom. I think.

I hope.

But did I DO too much for the boy? Now that we’re at a point in his life where he must step away from mommy and do something on his own, he’s scared to death. I can see it in his body language and I can hear it in his voice whenever we discuss his future.

I’ve done SO much for the kid that now that it’s time for him to do something on his own, he simply doesn’t know how.

I did TOO MUCH. I was one of those parents who was simply there TOO MUCH.

I know this, and I take full responsibility for this. I’ve even apologized to Dude for this. I just wanted to make things easy for him, and I did make things easy for him, TOO MUCH. The boy really has never endured a hardship his entire life and by wanting everything for him, I robbed him of the one thing he really needs to be successful in life: initiative.

I’m afraid Dude feels “empty, confused and anxious” because I’ve not allowed him to fight for things growing up and now that I’m no longer willing to hold his hand through this next transition, he’s feeling lost and scared.

I’m feeling all sorts of guilty here. My mom warned me that I was doing too much for him years ago, and though I heard her, and I agreed with her, I couldn’t seem to help myself. Now, I’m afraid we’re both paying the price of my hovering.

It’s time for Dude to grow up and get a job. But I find that I can not allow myself to get involved in this process. I don’t want him to look back on this time period and accuse me of choosing his career for him. He needs to make these decisions on his own. And because I’ve always made Dude’s decisions for him, he’s floundering. Because of me.

I’ve talked to Kevin about this and I’ve done the unthinkable – I’ve handed the reins of control over to him. Whenever I’m frustrated with a situation, I tend to get angry. My voice raises because I’m annoyed and whenever I’m like that, Dude shuts down. He withdrawals into a safe little corner and waits out the storm. So I know, me trying to help him get a job and move on with his life is just not the best thing for him.

He needs his father. He needs a man to help him step out into the big, bad world and be a man. He needs a man to teach him the importance of doing something with his life, of pursuing a career and making enough money to possibly one day support a wife and children.

I sort of feel like my job is done. I sustained him the first 18 years, I saw him through high school, now it’s time for Kevin to step in and steer him onto a different course. I mean, I’ll always be his mama. I’ll always be here for him if he needs me. But right now, I think he needs his father’s guidance more than mine.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. I’m READY to let go of him. I’m READY for him to get a job, save up some money and move out on his own. I’m even looking forward to the day he moves and I can help him set up his own apartment. (See? There I go again, trying to make things easy for him. I guess I’ll help him if he WANTS my help).

Kevin made Dude list ten places he might possibly like to work. (He actually listed 12, and no, I didn’t look at the list. Kevin has asked me to step back and let him handle this. Though it’s hard to let go, I’m also relieved. It’s nice having someone else make the decisions). He then asked Dude to list five things he might want to be when he grew up.

Then he asked him to rate the jobs he listed – which would he really like to have, and which did he not really care that much about. He suggested that he apply at those jobs that he wasn’t that interested in first, just to give him practice applying places. (Smart!)

Then, they talked about his long-term goals. So he wanted to do something with computers. How could he go about achieving that goal? They talked about possibly taking a computer networking class at a vocational college in the spring. (Smart!)

Kevin is a man of action – I tend to just loudly lecture about things. Kevin gets things done. And that’s what Dude needs right now – he needs a plan of action. He needs to act.

He filled out an application last night. And after discussing possible references, he settled on two people for his references and then went about contacting them for information (and permission) to list them on his application. Kevin is giving Dude a chance to drive up to the place himself and turn in his application. If he stalls, then Kevin is prepared to drive him there himself and wait in the car while Dude walks in and turns the application in.

It’s frustrating to me that Dude requires a push IN EVERYTHING the boy does. But again, it’s partly my fault. I sort of TRAINED him to be that way. Now, we need to work on BREAKING that life-long habit. I’m sure it won’t be easy.

I pray that Dude doesn’t grow up feeling “empty, confused and anxious” because of me.

The good news, at least according to Donald Winnicott, the influential English pediatrician and child psychiatrist, was that you didn’t have to be a perfect mother to raise a well-adjusted kid. You just had to be, to use the term Winnicott coined, a “good-enough mother.”

I tried to do my best for the boy – and my best may have been too much.

P.S. I found some other articles about over parenting:

Overparenting: When good intentions go too far, kids can suffer
The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting
The End of Over-Parenting?