You know that feeling you get when someone says something unflattering about your child? When suddenly all you can see is Red? We’ve all been there and we don’t always act rationally when it comes to our children. Okay. So maybe you haven’t landed in jail for threatening to throw a weight-room kettlebell at your son’s college football strength coach like P. Diddy allegedly did at UCLA after his son was pulled from a workout. But do you realize your parenting might not be all that different from Diddy’s if you are constantly doing little things to bail your kid out?
- Bring a backpack to school when it’s been left behind at home?
- Make excuses for your child when they are late?
- Mediate rifts in your child’s friendships?
- Switch classes when your child doesn’t like the teacher?
- Find a new coach when your kid isn’t doing well on a team?
- Cut off friendships with kids because they’ve hurt your child’s feelings?
- Lobby for your child to play a position on sports teams because they don’t like the one they’ve been assigned?
I’m guessing you’ve answered yes to at least a few of those questions; I’m guilty of most. Here’s the thing. It might feel like you are standing up for your kid and sparing them emotional harm by constantly protecting them from the pain of rejection, conflict and disappointment, but you need to know this… what you are really doing, in the long run, is robbing your kids of an opportunity to learn essential life skills.
My 11-year-old’s school principal gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice I’ve received as a parent. One day, she suggested I intentionally make my daughter late for school or leave her lunch at home on purpose. It sounded like Blasphemy! For years I had been trying to be the perfect mom. I thought my job was to make all boo boos feel better, fix it when my kid wasn’t invited to a birthday party, intervene when they had a conflict. Basically never let them feel sad, hungry, hurt, tired, bored, worried, scared, embarrassed, guilty, or disappointed.
“Let her figure it out”, my principal said. “How will she learn how to fix things if you are always doing it for her?” She won’t, was the point. And If I kept it up, I’d surely be like Diddy fighting her battles for her when she was 20-years-old and in college.
“Quite often, successful people want to prevent their children from having to “struggle” like they did”, says Learning research specialist Michael McArdle. “In doing so, they completely remove the very attribute that makes success possible: Overcoming difficulties. They help with homework, help study for tests, mediate all conflict with peers and often with teachers and other adults. They are deeply confused about understanding their purpose in the child’s life. The deeper the involvement of a parent on a daily basis, the deeper they will personalize everything that happens to their kids and this leads to a defensive reaction to all perceived negative treatment.”
Well guess what happens when we parent like that? It blows up in our face and we end up with a child who has the very problems we are trying to prevent our kids from experiencing!
“It’s no surprise we create a kid who has little idea how to avoid, let alone solve, problems involving conflict,” Says McArdle. “P Diddy HAD to get involved — he is incapable of turning off the ‘over-parenting’ machine he built.”
What are you building for your children? Are you teaching them to quit their job as an adult when they feel frustrated with their boss? Will they feel despair and rejection and be unable to cope with the break-up of a relationship? Are you teaching them that you’ll kick the butt of any coach who tries to holds them accountable?
Do this with me. The next time you feel provoked by someone else’s behavior toward your child or feel the need to swoop in and make everything better, take a deep breath and remember this.
Our job, as parents, is not to protect our children from disappointment or disapproval, from failing or feeling lonely or jealous or left out. Our job is to stand behind them, to be there for them, to guide them and help them navigate through life. The whole point isn’t to keep adversity away, but to teach them how to cope with it, how to recover and rebound from it. Struggles are an inevitable part of life. The only way they can learn how to overcome them is if we allow them and teach them how to fight their own battles.