Parents – Stand Back

 I recently read an interesting article by Madeline Levine,  a psychologist, educator, and co-founder of Challenge Success a project birthed at Stanford’s School of Education. She wrote about the dangers of overparenting and said that “Fostering autonomy is key to rearing successful kids.”

Gosh. I knew that. Some years ago I even tried to market a parenting book that espoused that approach, but I guess people listen to a psychologist or some other professional before they listen to just a mom.

When my kids were young, I fostered lots of autonomy. I remember one day in particular. Our oldest was in first or second grade, and she forgot to take her homework when she left for school. The teacher called and asked me to bring the homework in. She knew I only lived a block away, and it would only take a few minutes to run over with said forgotten homework.

I said, “No.”

There was dead silence for a moment, and then she asked why not. Did I not realize what effect not having the homework turned in would have on my daughter’s grade. I told her I did realize that, but since I had no plans to follow our daughter to college with forgotten homework, I thought she should learn now to take care of her own responsibilities.

The teacher was stunned. Our daughter was not real thrilled with me for a few days, but they both got over it.

That daughter went on to make her way through some rough times, graduated from college, raised three wonderful children, and runs her own successful educational consulting business. She is one of the strongest women I know, and I’d like to think I helped her get that way.

One of the biggest concerns of parents today seems to be not wanting their child to be unhappy. Madeline says, “If you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.”

She cautions against rushing in too quickly to shield our children from failure or trying to solve their own problems. That “deprives them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable difficult, challenging, and sometimes devastating demands of life.”

I know a mother’s instinct is to protect her child, but sometimes it is better to stand back and let them build strength for themselves.

In Ms. Levine’s 25 years of counseling children in Marin County in CA, she has seen an interesting trend. “The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parent do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.”

Our role as parents is to raise children who are then able to step out into the world with confidence and an ability to handle that wide reality out there.

How do you balance helping your children when needed and giving them the freedom to fly? Do you believe in pushing them out of the nest?

9 thoughts on “Parents – Stand Back”

  1. I ran lunch over to the school a couple of times when kids were in elementary school. Never homework. I was a working mom, and they learned about consequences if they didn’t have their work ready.

    I don’t believe in pushing them out of the nest too soon. Give them the tools first: how to do your laundry, how to cook a basic meal, paying bills, etc.

  2. I think (and I’m sure you and the author would agree) that parenting is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some kids need to know their parents have their back — will bring in something important they forgot. Some kids would see that as an opportunity to slack. Like most vital things, the right way to do it depends on the case in hand.

    Marian Allen
    Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

  3. D.G. I admit that I ran a few things to the school in the years I had kids going through elementary, but that was very rare. I really did think it was important for them to learn that in the real world nobody would pick up their slack.

    Marian, I agree that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, and it is important that kids know that parents have their back, so to speak. To me that means supporting them in their efforts to become adults capable of handling responsibility. If that means a bit of tough-love along the way, then I am all for that. D.G was so right, tho, about the importance of making sure we give them the tools to take care of those issues of responsibility.

  4. Teaching a child independence through love, rather than dependence through love is so empowering. Probably for both parent and child. Thanks for sharing this post!

  5. Shaunda, you are so right about how the balance between independence and dependence can empower parents as well as children. I know I have always felt good about myself in terms of my parenting. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was done out of love and all my children have grown up to be well-rounded, successful adults.

  6. It’s so hard for me to know when to stand firm. I do really well when it comes to the little things, but when it comes to stuff with the bigger consequences, I seem to cave… I need to work on that. Thanks for sharing…

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