When Mothering Becomes Smothering
By Paula Statman, M.S.S.W.
Are you a strong influence in your children's lives? It's important that you are, but is it possible to have too much influence? If people tell you are over controlling or over protective, it's time to ask yourself, "Am I mothering or smothering my children?"
Good parents are invested in their children's lives. But, when parents become immersed and enmeshed with their children, it's a problem. Boundaries get blurred and children don't get the space they need to establish healthy, separate identities.
Consider this relationship between a mother and her 16-year-old daughter. Mom insists that Ashley keeps her bedroom door open at least three inches at all times. She frequently goes through Ashley's belongings looking for "evidence" even though her daughter steers clear of trouble. Ashley's friends may come over but are closely supervised when they do. Going to their homes is strongly discouraged. Ashley spends a lot of time at home thinking about how to get away from her mom. She is so desperate to see her friends that she sneaks out at night to meet them.
The more independence Ashley wants, the more her mother smothers it. The usually compliant and responsible Ashley resorts to risky behavior to see her friends because the normal incentives parents give teens to act responsibly and use good judgment are missing. When Ashley realizes her good behavior doesn't earn mom's trust or lead to more privileges, she stops trying.
It may surprise you to learn that the mom wasn't always like this. But, with every step Ashley took toward becoming her own person, mom felt threatened and exerted more control. Now her relationship with her daughter is nearly destroyed and Ashley is headed for trouble.
Now, think about your parenting style and how you would respond in the following situations. Let's say your kids complain that you don't let them do what their friends are doing. You respond with, "I don't care if your friends are allowed to do that. It's not OK." If you save that response for the times your kids make outrageous requests, that's fine. Sometimes no is absolutely the right thing to say.
But, sometimes you can and should say yes. For example, when your teenager wants to go to a Saturday night movie with her friends. If she has a track record of reliable and responsible behavior, say yes. Remember, your job during her last years at home is not to keep her at your side. Your job is to give her countless opportunities to develop good judgment and critical thinking skills. She can't do that if you are doing the thinking for her. Don't prevent her from learning from her failures or experiencing the joy of her own success.
Do you and your partner argue about how much freedom to give your children? Which side of the argument do you usually take? If you always or nearly always argue for giving your children less freedom, you are over protective. Rather than worry about what might happen if you are not there every minute, give your children the tools to handle challenging or potentially dangerous situations. Those tools include how to set boundaries with others and what to do if someone invades those boundaries. You may feel fearful about allowing your children more freedom. If that happens, share your fears with another adult, not your kids. You want to prepare them, not scare them.
Also, rules get outdated as your children get older. If you have pre-teens or teens, some rules should be negotiable. Review and rewrite the rules together. Start by having a family meeting to discuss how the rules are working.
Smothering your kids is costly. You will lose out on a close, loving relationship with your children. They will become young adults who rely too heavily on others because they don't have enough experience thinking for themselves. That alone is a recipe for disaster.
Do you want to be a "helicopter parent," constantly circling and hovering over your child's life? It's not healthy to obsess over your children every minute of the day and it's a poor substitute for having a life of your own. So, land the helicopter and turn in your pilot's license. Then step by encouraging step, prepare your children for a healthy and independent future. That's parenting at its best.
About the author:
Paula Statman offers advice for Raising Uncommonly Wise Kids with Common Sense Wisdom. An award-winning author, speaker and media guest expert, Paula provides practical tips and hope to parents and professionals who work with children. For more articles and information about her books and speaking topics, visit www.kidwisecorner.com.
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