Over-Parenting Obsession.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

Yesterday I was chatting with a bunch of my favorite moms at school. Our kids are in 5th and 7th grades. This year, middle school doled out email accounts for communication between students, teachers and classmates regarding homework and other school-related activities.

 

One of the moms wondered out loud if any of us “monitored” these emails.

 

Before I could say a word, another mom piped up.

 

“I read every single email. Sent and received. Text messages on her phone too.”

 

She smiled brightly, looking like a rosy-cheeked milkmaid from the Alps. She radiated pride and good mothering. She clearly thought she’d trumped us all.

 

My kneejerk reaction: I don’t have enough time to check my own emails -- much less go through two other inboxes. And although I occasionally glance at my kids’ texts and emails the same way I poke through their backpacks, I would never make it my policy to review their correspondence. Because I don’t have time, true. But also because I believe pretty firmly that my kids need to grow up one day. I don’t want to get in the way of that process.

 

And I guess I’m not alone, based on this week’s Time Magazine cover story, The Case against Over-Parenting.

 

Reporter Nancy Gibbs illustrates a phenomenon you may already know all too well: American parents have gone insane in the last 20 years. We’ve gotten so fixated on our kids' success that parenting has become a form of product development. Of course our obsession comes from a good place: we all want the best for our kids. But throw in all those front page newspaper articles and parenting books about the importance of flash cards and Baby Mozart, how breastfeeding raises IQ points and daycare turns kids violent, plus a few horror stories from other parents, and guess what happens? Panic robs us of all good judgment. This fear, which Gibbs accurately describes as “a kind of parenting fungus: invisible, insidious, perfectly designed to decompose your peace of mind” paradoxically (because we are pretty smart in other ways) makes us stupid.

 

Time gives the example of Kansas elementary school principal Karen Faucher who had to institute a "no rescue" policy at Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village when she noticed the front-office table covered each day with forgotten lunch boxes and notebooks brought in by parents. The tipping point was the day a mom rushed in with a necklace meant to complete her daughter's coordinated outfit. "I'm lucky — I deal with intelligent parents here," Faucher says. "But you saw very intelligent parents doing very stupid things. The parents couldn't help themselves."

 

leslie morgan s...
12.20.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

zb i am so with you. the schools (and other parents) are part of the problem. one mom i know has a great solution: she comes to three events at school each year, and the kids pick which ones matter most. works great.

and i will tell you that in my observation, when parents are at school TOO much, it really messes with the kids. there are some parents (usually moms but gender is not the problem here, b/c dads are bad in other ways, like overinvolvement in sports or homework) who come to school for hours every day, personally walk their child in, pick them up, arrange a playdate for every day of the week, etc.

i've seen moms who do this for years, and geez the kids need some breathing room to make their own friends, their own mistakes, etc.

we get overinvolved because we think/feel it is best for our kids. but it's not. think about when we were kids -- how would you have felt if your parents smothered you like that? it's just too extreme. plus it is a very challenging way to parent!

zbraithwaite
12.10.09

Thank you, Leslie, for such an insightful article. I have a 5 year old in kindergarten this year and I'm amazed at how much participation the school and the teachers expect of parents during school hours. I know my daughter is young and so help with homework is a given. But during school hours too? I remember school being a place where I went everyday when my mom went to work. Not a place where my mom went with me! I really appreciate all the volunteer work that parents put into the schools but sometimes it seems like it's too much, and symptomatic of helicopter parenting -- that the parents don't trust the schools to properly teach their children. For example, tomorrow is "decorate a gingerbread house day." It's going to be great fun for the kids and I know my daughter will enjoy it immensely. But in talking with another mother, she asked me if I was planning on attending because it's supposed to be "quite a big deal". It frankly had never occurred to me to take time off of work to go to this decorating event. But now I'm torn between wanting to be there for my child to show here that I care too, and wanting her to be able to do this for herself and by herself. I'm sure 30 years ago, my mother would never have had this dilemma. Parenting was different then, and so were the schools.

Eileen at MomLi...
11.28.09

I briefly tried to monitor emails, etc., but it quickly became a bigger job than I wanted to take on. It also quickly became obvious that I was being ridiculous. With 4 kids, I simply do not want to spend my time micro-managing my kids' lives. I've often felt unworthy in the presence of those mothers who do somehow manage to know EVERY DETAIL of their kids' school assignments, who visit at lunchtime EVERY DAY and all that...but actually now that my two older girls in in middle and high school, it's nice to see just how self-sufficient they are with their schoolwork. After all, I will NOT be helping them out with their jobs...raising kids who can take care of things for themselves IS the point, isn't it?!?!?!

leslie morgan s...
11.25.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I know parents of 7th graders who still check every single problem, every single essay, on every homework assignment. To me there are a few keys issues here: trust, independence, teacher's roles, and ethics. Your kid has to to learn to be responsible, communicate directly with teachers, do their own homework -- or it is cheating. Truth be told, I know a few parents with kids in college who still check their kids homework and communicate directly with their children's college professors. Yikes!

FLmomof4
11.25.09

You have some good points! The homework issue is interesting. Our oldest is in second grade and this is his first year of "real" homework. He handles most if not all of it in extended care, thankfully. I was in the habit of checking it but he had very few mistakes so lately I have left it as is so he can learn from his mistakes when it is graded by teh teacher. No sense in the kid getting 100% on every paper just because I checked it. Other moms in the class seem to have more problems with this, so I'm thankful my son is handling it well.

mommycita
11.25.09

Yes!!! Beautifully articulated. There is also a deeper dive on this subject in a recent book by Dr. Polly Young-Eisendrath called the Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance. It gives a very clear set of examples of what happens in the 20s and 30s with kids of helicopter parents, and it's not pretty. However, she also includes some info and constructive steps to parent in a more productive fashion. Worth a read (or a skim!).