Overparenting suppresses growth and independence

On a recent Saturday, I glanced from my window to the slender body of my mother who had spent half the morning scrubbing the baseboards of my apartment. “Let’s go take a walk,” I said.

On a recent Saturday, I glanced from my window to the slender body of my mother who had spent half the morning scrubbing the baseboards of my apartment.

“Let’s go take a walk,” I said. She simply kept scrubbing, cigarette dangling from her mouth. Without lifting her head, she replied, “Do your homework while I clean, and we can go out later.” She handed me a copy of Psychology Today magazine. “Read this,” she insisted and continued to move along the kitchen baseboards with her rag.

I read an article, “A Nation of Wimps,” and stopped, mouth gaping at the pull-quote: “Overparenting can create lifelong vulnerability to anxiety and depression.”

As it turns out, parents really can love us until it hurts.

The article revealed that parents bubble wrap our generation, contributing to low self-confidence and detachment. Dr. Marilyn Heins said on the Web site parentkidsright.com, “A real downside to overparenting: Children can grow up to be scared adults who have never learned to master fears or uncommitted adults who have never learned how to make a decision.”

Overparenting our generation was helpful when it came to grade school science fair projects and book reports, but now we can’t think for ourselves. For example, a new Web site, whattorent.com, provides movie rental suggestions based on ambivalent personality and mood.

The Web site boasts, “Dry your tears and put down the bottle, we can help provide the answers for which you so desperately yearn.”

Too much parental interjection in decision making has made us apathetic, and parental consumption of our every choice has also made our generation impatient and demanding. It may be the reason we are so consumed by instant gratification.

Growing up, my mother was my personal Webster’s Dictionary; I never once had to look up the spelling of a word. Today the effects are rooted in my dependency on computer spell check and the shift-F7 key (computer shortcut for the thesaurus).

As a child, I can recall screaming across the house demanding something, and a parent would dutifully respond, “Yes, honey?” Now, states away, I have swapped my screeching lungs for the ever convenient cell phone.

“A Nation of Wimps” has labeled me as the “eternal umbilicus.” The article stated that students are “typically in contact with their parents several times a day.” Although doctors severed our umbilical cords at birth, we have reattached ourselves via cell phone towers.

Our parental monsters have our best interests in mind, but they are contributing to our emotional turmoil as well. According to college counseling center directors, anxiety has been the major concern for students since 1996. “A Nation of Wimps” said, “Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences.”

That is the principal problem with overparenting; we are not becoming self-sufficient adults. We have traded tangible comfort blankets with illusionary ones that are suffocating our chances to really grow.

“We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope,” child psychologist David Elkind said. Our consuming parents are taking the fun out of messing up. Perhaps we should remind them of the advice from the philosopher, Confucius. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

After another hour of reading and glaring at my mother, I decided it was time to get assertive. I would not let her overparent me any longer. I demanded, “We are going out. Put the cleaning rag down.” Shocked, she replied, “OK.” I thought I had her beat but she reminded me that change takes time, “It’s dark outside, honey, so let’s take the pepper-spray I bought you and bundle-up, it’s cold out there.”

Nicole D’Andrea can be reached at ndandrea@comcast.net.

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