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Are you overparenting your kids?

Photo credit: Flickr/Sylvar

I got a fascinating note from Susanna, the Publishing Assistant at Bibliomotion (kick-ass publisher of Minimalist Parenting, which I’m in the process of co-writing as we speak). Susanna had recently heard a talk by John Wolfson, Editor of Boston Magazine, in which he mentioned an article they had published about “overparenting.”

This article, Welcome to the Age of Overparenting by Katherine Ozment, has received the most hits of any Boston Magazine article ever.

That’s a whole lotta resonating going on.

It’s no surprise. We’re all wondering when and where the parenting pendulum will finally come to rest. Helicopter parents, Tiger moms, Free Range kids…where does an intelligent parent find equilibrium?

Katherine’s article is poignantly on target. She describes her tendency toward loving-but-intensive engagement with her children. Her honest (I think brave) conclusion is that perhaps it’s just too much. Too much attention. Too much intervention. Too much tension.

Her goal was to give her kids the feeling of security she lacked growing up, but the result was stunted creativity and problem-solving ability, and increased anxiety.

In a followup conversation with Vicki Hoefle of Parenting On Track, Katherine talks about her solution: gradual steps taken away from her kids. Initially, disengagement felt uncomfortable, even painful. But she has come to see her kids reveling — and thriving — in the open space. And she’s learning to breathe a bit easier as well.

It’s a moving conversation, and gratifying to hear. While my temperament is more Type B than Katherine’s (I tend to dismiss potential danger when perhaps I should pay closer attention), I used to be in that parenting mode of constant narration. I probably sounded like an annoying DVD extra when my son was a toddler. While he was busy interpreting the slapstick movie that was his life, I was providing the voiceover director’s commentary. Only when he was much older did he push the mute button. We were on a walk together one warm evening, and I was feeling chatty. He looked at me said, “Mom, I love you, but you talk too much.”

I, like Katherine, was also on “mood fluctuation patrol” when my kids were little. A whiff of a dip and I swooped in, suggesting alternatives. Granted, my kid had some serious mood issues at the time. But it’s worth asking why I’m surprised that, until recently, he expected me to provide the answer to his frequent cries of “I’m bored”?

With a second kid and few roller-coaster years under my belt, my parenting pendulum doesn’t swing so wildly anymore. I’ve had to learn to trust myself, and to widen my perspective about the many “right” ways to parent. One thing’s for sure: our kids need us, but they also need their space. This is good news, because we need our space as well.

Based on Homa’s comment here, I wrote this follow-up: When your “balance” looks different


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More on The Accidental Expert:
♦ Are you seeing how much your kids have changed?
♦ Stumbling toward “knowing best”

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