Friday, October 26, 2012

Over-Parenting: Are we helping or harming our kids?

Documentary Recommendation: Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids
(Link at the end of this post.)
Markus and I watched this documentary this evening, and it brought up a lot of questions and considerations for us.

We try so hard to let our children know that (almost) anything they may choose to do with their lives is acceptable to us, but is that just another form of coddling? When my son tells us he wants to go to university early - and preferably MIT - we tell him that we can't afford to send him there, but that maybe he can look into UBC. Now, because he's 10 and we've never sent him to school at all, yet, we're looking for an assessment for him so he can prepare for his goal of getting into university early... are we allowing him to set his goals too high? Are we setting him up for failure? Should we encourage him to experience failure?

My daughter wrote a blog she called the "Economy of Joy" and actually did a huge amount of work on researching and developing her ideas. Then she just abandoned it and wanted to write about her life, instead, and stories for other kids to read. And I said - yes, I actually said - well you have subscribers on your Economy of Joy blog; don't you think you should continue that, too? Oh my goodness, Emily! She was a 7-year-old girl! Is her responsibility to her blog readers more important than her whim? Of course not!!

We feel we have to balance the risk of becoming "helicopter parents" with the risk of not helping enough. (These are my husband Markus' words.) Where are the answers? We want them to feel inspired and fulfilled, and therefore spend every penny we make trying to support their interests. Should we pull the kids out of their programs? They may not go to school, but they take dance, private music lessons, art, wilderness exploration, and theatre classes. Soon we'll add electronics mentoring to the mix for our son. And to make matters worse, there is now such a thing as a "standing play date" -- when did this come into existence?! This means that our kids have the blessed opportunity to be assured of visiting each other once a week! Well... that is... once a week except when that standing play date time gets usurped by a special meeting or performance from one of the paid-for weekly activities...

When I was a kid I just went home with somebody, after school, some days. And sometimes I even called my Mum to tell her where I was. Sometimes I just met somebody partway home from school, and we'd build forts in the woods or catch frogs or roll old tires around. I didn't have to have my parents plan it weeks ahead of time! I've tried to encourage my kids to phone friends for visits, but they are met with busy schedules and requests from the friends' parents to speak with me and organize something for a later date.

When I was 10 I was often home alone for a few hours while my mother was out, and really it was normal at the time. Last week I decided to leave my 10-year-old son home alone for 2 hours while I went to babysit the current show at the local gallery, and I left him these simple instructions: "Just please stay home and don't do anything dangerous." After his rather brutal Swiss Army Knife injury last spring, I suspected he'd learned his lesson and would keep safe while nobody was there to help him.

I went to the gallery, and I did not call him. Until my nerves got the better of me. Which, by the way, was a full 10 or so minutes into my sitting of the gallery. No answer. Could he be ignoring the phone? No! I called again. No answer. Could he have gone outside? It's OK, Emily. Don't worry. He'll be safe. Maybe if I just call many times in a row, then he'll know I'm worried and come answer the phone... No answer again. And again. I called at least every 20 minutes for the full two hours, and also tried calling my parents' house (which is beside ours), in case they had seen him and could just confirm that he was still safe and living. No answer there, either. Well... of course they might not be home. I called my sister in law to see if she might just pop by and check on him, but... no answer there either.

By the time my gallery shift was up I was in such a panic that I did not stop for the dinner groceries, but went directly home and into the door, calling his name. I nearly tripped over a very prominently set-up box, upon which he had written "I went out. To the medow." in very large letters. I ran to the meadow. I ran all over the nearby park, telling people I met on the way to please send home my sweet long-haired son if they saw him, calling him in every way he might hear, and checking the ground under likely climbing-trees for unconscious children. By the time I ran home again I was out of breath and clenching the worst knot of tears and dread, and just nauseous from fear. I passed my Pappa in his garden, and he called out nonchalantly, as if he knew exactly what I needed to hear, "Tal's at our house; we just had lunch."

I ran to "Opa and Nana's house", where the gently dramatic sounds of synthesized-pipe-organ were streaming from my son's little fingers, and my Mum met my stricken face with a confused smile: "Are you OK?"

"No!" No I wasn't OK at all, although my son clearly was, and I burst into the most terrible tears. The pipe-organ ceased and my son came to my rescue. He gave me a big hug and I apologized - through sobs - for crying. "It's not your fault. I'm so glad you're OK. Don't worry. I'm sorry..."

And once I'd calmed down he looked very plainly at me and said. "I'm sorry Mama. I left you a note but I guess I should have updated it after I got home again."

Oh no, Tal. It's not you who needs to be sorry. It's me.
But I'm working on it.
Here's the documentary, on CBC. I highly recommend it:


  1. I love your writing Emily....I could really feel your concern.

  2. Yes... don't know if I'm 'over-parenting' or not. When I describe to others all the activities in my children's lives I sound to both them (and me) that there's way too much going on. Yet when I step back I see two young people who thoroughly enjoy all they do. And then I think it must be all right.

    As for leaving them home alone -- I totally support that. Helps growing up in the country, I guess, both them and you/me. Letting them know you trust them will pay off when you don't trust them quite as much!! LOL


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