Too Much Parenting

Some aren’t quite helicopter parents or lawnmower parents. They may not be overanxious or overprotective. None of those terms capture the scope of the problem: That the enemy of good parenting is excessive interventionism. 

The parent is always getting involved. Having too much advice, too many little things to say and fix. All day long, day after day, moment after moment, the voice and the hand of the parent are at work. Always nudging and cajoling, pushing toward a goal. Always intervening. Do this, don’t do that. Eat this, don’t eat that. Be this, don’t be that. Think this, don’t think that. Believe this, don’t believe that. 

“Parenting” is a concept built around intervention. Rather than just letting things shape up as they may, we have learned from books and lectures and articles on the internet that a thousand little points of invention can edge our kids toward some kind of improvement. So we bump them toward this and we steer them over to that, all the while intervening and intervening constantly. And now overintervention is the new disease of the child.

Even in the early years, parents are constantly nagging in the house on a Saturday morning. Non-stop narrating a list of mistakes and missteps, and suggesting improvements. Parents are arranging and overseeing play instead of leaving kids to figure it out. They are doing third grade homework, and pushing open the doors into the middle school to intervene socially. 

The net effect of all of this help? It leaves kids either feeling insulted and irritable (because they don’t buy it), or it leaves them anxious and dependent (because they do). Being constantly nudged in various directions is undermining. It sends a message that the parent votes no confidence in the abilities of the child. 

Recently I was warned not to write my child’s college admissions essay. (Did I mention he’s a high school freshman and I’m already getting advice about his college application?) I wouldn’t think of writing his essay; it will be his essay. But it’s interesting to hear that parent-written essays are “common” and “easy to spot.” 

We see the obvious fruits of overintervention parenting on college campuses where admissions officers are now taking note of the rare student who calls on his own behalf rather than allowing his Mom to do it. Anxiety is up and autonomy is down for today’s young adults, many of whom look for ways to stay dependent and attached to parents for years longer than previous generations. They lack confidence. They lack skill. 

This unnatural overinterventionism was born out a desire to learn more and do better. But today’s parents are obviously doing too much. 

The answer for overinterventionism parenting? Back off and let go. Leave it to them to figure out. Let your toddler tumble off the little kid slide and learn a better technique for climbing. Send your kids to play, and don’t suggest anything or go along with them; just say, “Go play!” Let go of your kid’s middle school social life and his college essay. Send your young adult to college and say, “You’re in charge now.” Leave them to become competent and confident through experience, trial and error, failure and occasional success. Let the kids do it. Let go. 

Posted on September 19, 2016 .