Want to Love Your Kids? Stop Overparenting Them
Every first day of school, my mom would greet us at the door with a plate of homemade cookies.
And then, from the second day of school on through the last, we three kids would let ourselves in the house, fix ourselves snacks, and wait until Mom or Dad got home to start dinner. By junior high, I was making my own lunch and doing my own laundry. My parents didn't have to tell me to become my own person or to explore my areas of giftedness. They gave me the gift of showing me the vital importance of using their own gifts.
I'm coming to learn that my upbringing was unique. Many of my friends grew up with parents (usually mothers) whose sole focus was their children. This had little to do, by the way, with whether these parents worked outside the home. It rather had to do with a single-mindedness that put pressure on their children to keep their parents happy. These friends conformed to behavior patterns I see in many young people today: accepting only As at school, overextending themselves in extracurricular activities, hiding themselves from their parents out of fear or shame.
A wise family friend frequently reminded my parents to never make their happiness contingent on their children. Both Mom and Dad would say that was some of their hardest, yet best, work; in removing us from the center of their life, they made room for Christ at the center.
And, according to The New York Times, they also ensured greater success for their children. A recent NYT article explored the effects of "overparenting," reporting that children showed higher confidence and succeeded in their endeavors not when they were coddled or encouraged, but when their interactions with adults are appropriately authoritative. "The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing," reports Madeline Levine.
Parents who give their children appropriate independence, all while exercising their own gifts, means they have found what behavioral psychologist Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi calls "Flow." Flow is a place of greatest usefulness and aliveness that frees us up to play our part in the body of Christ, the part no one else can play. When a dancer makes her craft look effortless, a leader runs a meeting with grace and humor, or a maintenance person stays late to make sure the hospital floors are clean, they are caught up in Flow.
Please hear me: I am not saying that in order to find your Flow, you must find a paid job outside the home. I am not saying that there is only one correct way to raise a family, and that my parents were the best at it. (Believe me, I could tell you stories.)