Unfortunately for all (especially the kids), overparenting is far from being over.
In November 2009, TIME published an article called “The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting.” In a fascinating examination of all the bizarre lengths to which modern parents will go in order to prepare their precious little ones for the world, writer Nancy Gibbs suggested that increasing numbers of parents are pulling back, getting less involved, and releasing their children from unfair expectations of perfection.
That was nearly seven years ago, coinciding with my introduction to the world of parenting; sadly, I don’t think things are any better than they were in 2009. In fact, I’d say they are getting worse. Social media has upped the ante and parents are desperate to make their kids look as successful and brilliant as possible in the eyes of online viewers. Parenting feels like a race to acquire the greatest number of awards, experiences, and extracurricular activities on behalf of one’s child in the shortest amount of time – and posting photos about it on Facebook.
Even the general term ‘overparenting’ has given way to the more specific label of ‘helicopter parent,’ used to refer to parents who hover around their children, orchestrating their lives, preventing errors and pain, and talking far too much. Helicopter parents raise children who, according to Parent Further, are “overly dependent, neurotic, and less open.”
If you thought helicopter parents were too much, wait till you learn about ‘lawnmower parents.’ These are the next generation of helicopter parents, who take overparenting to the next level. Rather than hovering, these parents actively prepare the way for their children to succeed (in a warped interpretation of the word, of course), cushioning every bump along the way.
Says Parent Further, lawnmower parents
“mow down all obstacles they see in their child’s path; [they] smooth over any problem their child has; [they] make sure their kids always look perfect (and if they aren’t, they’ll intervene and make it better right away).”
Their goal is to create a soft, even surface onto which their child will proceed, free from harm and anxiety. They intervene before issues reach their child, sometimes even going to unethical lengths, such as writing college papers on behalf of a child who’s running out of time.
One teacher told The Irish Times:
“These days you would often hear from a mother or father insisting their child be put in the top maths class, for example. Self-esteem is the buzzword. They feel it would harm their child’s confidence. The irony is their self-esteem would be damaged far more by sending them into a class where they can’t handle the pace.”
It’s not children who are out of control, it’s parents. There will inevitably come a point when these children won’t have parents on which to rely, and then how are they going to function? It’s frightening, too, to imagine these coddled children becoming adults and attempting to raise families of their own. They would hardly be capable of teaching independence, confidence, work ethic, and discipline to their own children if they’ve never learned it themselves.
At the end of her TIME article, Gibbs shared a wonderful quote from writer D.H. Lawrence, written in 1918: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”
I wish Gibbs had been right, back in 2009, but sadly I think we've got a long ways to go before North American parents are willing to let their children be and to embrace their own lives as adults, not always operating in relation to their kids. We'd be so much better off for it in the long run, but it's going to be a long haul yet.