PARENTS

Overparenting: Are We Damaging Our Children By Trying Too Hard?

14/08/2014 16:49 | Updated 22 May 2015

Overparenting: Are we damaging our children by trying too hard?

Overparenting. Have you noticed that becoming a bit of a buzzword? It's used to describe the tendency we modern parents have to do too much for our children, to the detriment (some experts say) of their healthy development, not to mention our own wellbeing and, probably, sanity.

A new book, Minimalist Parenting, by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest, promises we can 'Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less' – and that sounds pretty good to me.

I mean, I'm always banging on about how I don't have enough hours in the day and how knackered I am. I am also constantly quietly berating myself – I'm doing all of it, but perhaps none of it as well as I'd like to.

So how did we get to this place? How did overparenting become a natural state for us? I don't think it has happened by accident.

We are bombarded with messages from a mass media which takes every opportunity to tell us about every possible thing that could kill or damage or our children, and we live in a society rampant with consumerism, a world which would have us believe we are failing our kids if we don't buy, well, everything.

Then there's the whole rat race thing, which seems to be getting just rattier and rattier. It's hard to quell those competitive urges when 'good' school and nursery places are seemingly further and further out of reach (unless you have a spare £100k to move house), and when the future sprawls out like a desert, the oases of 'prospects' gated to all but the children who have excelled not only academically, but in their extra curricular activities.

It's really no wonder so many of us are bending over backwards to pave the way to what, we have come to believe, is a promising future for our offspring, is it? To a greater or lesser degree, are the majority of us falling under one of the new 21st century parenting labels?

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Let's see, we have 'tiger parents' (who control everything their children do and push them relentlessly towards academic success), 'lawnmower parents' (who flatten every obstacle in their children's paths) and 'helicopter parents' (who hover over their children constantly, allowing them some freedom, while always remaining there to help or to prevent disaster or failure).

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The trouble is, while we all soldier on, in the bleary-eyed belief we're doing the best thing for our children, psychologists and parenting gurus are increasingly warning us that this is not the way to go.

We are not allowing our children to make their own mistakes and to learn about the world independently, they say. By filling every second of our children's free time with activities and classes (or indeed chucking iPads and games consoles in their direction as we head to the laptop to catch up on work) we might actually be stifling their very real need to work out for themselves what interests them, to use their own imaginations, and to call upon their own internal resources.

The risk is, while we're all breaking our backs in our efforts to raise well adjusted children, what we might end up with is a generation of maladjusted adults, less capable of independence than we ever were, in both emotional and practical terms.

I can see the theory behind it. In fact it's glaringly obvious that even quite little children do need to be allowed freedom and responsibility – seedlings sprout in the dark, but it's not until they're allowed to brave the elements that they truly grow.

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Then again, when a word like 'overparenting' becomes a buzzword, it's hard not to feel a load of people have just found another big stick to whack parents with.

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A quick Google search brought up a blog post by an American therapist, Dr Lisa Firestone. It's entitled The Abuse of Overparenting and, boy, she really goes to town: "The empty acts we mistake for nurturance are at best substitutes for real love and at worst forms of actual abuse."

Crumbs, I'd say that's a bit strong.

Minimalist Parenting takes a much more rounded approach. It's not only about avoiding the tiger, lawnmower and helicopter pitfalls, it's about achieving a quality of life that affords us focus, energy and – I think very importantly – time.

For parents, time is the most valuable of all commodities – time with our children, time with our partners, time alone, and time to think, to consider and to make informed, rather than chaotic, choices.

Do we need another prescriptive parenting book? Some of the ideas seem so very simple and obvious and I for one don't really 'get on board' (pardon the pun) with being told to embrace my "inner bus driver" (it's a phrase the authors use to describe your gut feeling or instinct).

Yet if it's all so simple and obvious, why is there so much of it I'm not doing? The book covers, among many other things, time and financial management, decluttering, not buying stuff in excess, sharing responsibility, creating support networks, reconsidering what education really is (or should be), not over scheduling and even meal planning.

And it all hinges on the ability to concentrate on your own unique family – your family's true needs and true values – while zoning out society's noise.

So perhaps we do need a book like this, perhaps a book of simple ideas (and it's punctuated with anecdotes that are sometimes all too familiar) can steer us off the parenting super highway and back to basics, and we really can can do less while achieving more.

But of course, if we are all doing too much all of the time, how will we ever find a moment to read a parenting book that tells us how to stop doing it?!

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