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The causes and effects of 'overparenting'


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My first year of university is over and I am both happy and sad to be spending my summer at home with my parents. Above all, I came home to a pair of very loving parents, who’ve believed in every single one of my projects since it involved legos and would definitely ultimately kill for me.

However, for reasons still quite unknown, this pair of very dedicated parents seems also deeply concerned about my physical and psychological well-being after spending one year away from their cuddles.

Maybe I have really slipped away; I’m not their baby anymore (not that I pride myself in ever having been their ‘baby’ to be honest). Bummer – but my parents aren’t the only ones. This is just their very extreme reaction to seeing me grow up. It disgusts me that they don’t think I’m old enough to take care of myself, but it’s not their fault. It’s so much more about them being good parents rather than me being a bad child. They want to know they’ve done everything for me.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a 48-year-old American writer and former dean of the prestigious Stanford University in California, would classify this as an example of ‘over-parenting’: parents have become reluctant to allow their grown children to stand on their own two feet when they can stand in for them.

“Let’s return to a sense of common-sense instincts,” she explains in her book How To Raise An Adult: Break Free Of The Overparenting Trap And Prepare Your Kid For Success; “because our job as parents is to ultimately put ourselves out of a job and set them free. We don’t have to cultivate every moment for them.”

“It was the 1980s, and we were constantly being warned of ‘stranger danger’, that everyone was out to kidnap our kids. So what did we do? We no longer allowed them to play outside; we monitored the play they indulged in inside. They were always with us, with no concept of independence.” Whilst children used to be allowed to drink from the hose, now all we know is filtered water, for example.

The anecdotes go on and on and on. A book by Lythcott-Haims is currently taking America by storm and cites the example of a well established 24-year-old Wall Street investment banker, who lost his job after his mother called the boss to complain about his long working hours. “The next day he was fired, and handed his personal belongings along with a post-it note that read: ASK YOUR MOTHER.”

In fact, as Telegraph journalist Tanith Carey cares to underline, “the generation attending university now are the babies who, almost from birth, were ferried between Mini Mozart and Mandarin classes.”

Psychologically, over involved parenting is leading to higher rates of anxiety and depression in both parents and children alike. “The parents are always worried, and it interrupts the child’s development of the self, which means that they remain helpless as adults, even as they are starting to have families of their own. They’ve grown up, they’ve left home, but can’t function,” explains the former Stanford dean.

Similarly, as underlined by Zoe Reyes, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, it’s important to recognise how our own anxiety can affect the children that we raise. By making sure your child is safe from being harmed by a dog, are you also preventing him or her from knowing the joys and benefits of having a pet? Will your child begin to avoid places that have dogs? Our own personal anxieties can teach children that the world is a fearful place and that challenging themselves to experience new things is a bad thing.

It’s true adulthood was not magically conferred upon me the day I turned 18 – unfortunately that isn’t the case for anybody. It’s stupid for me to pretentiously think I’m an adult now, even though I tell myself I should feel like one because I pay taxes, live on my own and have learned how to iron most types of fabrics. I don’t know when I’ll be an adult and I have no idea how that works; I still eat on a bench on my own during days in the office and muse at fifty something ladies passing by with what seems like all the poise in the world and ask myself how the hell they do that. I still wonder how adults get up for work every single morning even when they’re sad, without flinching, how they seem to never be late, or bored, or tired, or pissed off. I ask myself if they’re just children playing pretend or if they actually feel like adults. I don’t know. I’m scared I’ll never know.

What I do know is that coming home to my parents telling me I haven’t been eating properly and putting me on a diet is not what will help me. What I know is that unless they start to trust me, I will not be able to trust myself. Unless they let me be, I will be one of those posting #adulting twitter posts when I make my first long trip in a car across the country; being an adult and having to behave like an adult, but not being in my natural state.

Unless they let me make my own stupid mistakes, I will fuck up far more significantly when I’m 50 – and that will be no fun at all, I can assure you.

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