Maybe it's because almost every other day, a Facebook friend/Twitter follower/LinkedIn peer posts yet another article about how we're failing our children: we're too overprotective, we're too permissive, we over-schedule, we aren't strict enough, we hover too much; we're "helicopter parents" and "tiger moms" and "snowplow parents;" our children are overly attached and unable to function without our constant intercession; we're raising a generation of self-centered whiners who will never be able to independently function.
Like I don't beat myself up enough. Now I've got every writer, blogger, and Tweeter doing it for me.
So when this article by Hanna Rosin was brought to my attention the other day, my self-esteem took a nose dive simply by reading the title: "The Overprotected Kid." But it's precisely because I'm an overprotective parent that I knew I had to continue reading. Ironically, I'd be doing my overprotected kids a disservice if I didn't discover how I was providing them such a disservice, right?
Indeed, parents today are exceedingly overprotective, as the article goes on to explore in great detail. As Rosin keenly notes, "even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to." We arrange playdates, spend our weekends chauffeuring our kids to basketball and art class and ballet, volunteer as den mothers, and chaperone the class field trips. Our parents were never that involved in our lives. Why are we?
Rosin attempts to explain the root of our child-centric obsession and posits that the motivation behind this behavior is fear-based: we've either come to believe or have been shaped to believe that if we don't overprotect, something bad will happen. She offers this gentle and (thankfully) non-condemning explanation for our behavior: "For a variety of reasons—divorce, more single-parent families, more mothers working—both families and neighborhoods have lost some of their cohesion. It is perhaps natural that trust in general has eroded, and that parents have sought to control more closely what they can—most of all, their children."
I recognize myself in that remark. I'm a divorced, working, single mom who most definitely has pursued a focused and single-minded path of controlling what I can, especially when it comes to my two sons. And yes, I certainly recognize my own "helicopter," "tiger," and "snowplow" behaviors. (But let's not get into those just now.) There's a thin line between being overly protective and being overly controlling, and I seem to walk that unctuous tightrope more often than I'd care to admit.
I will admit this, however: as a teacher, I abhor helicopter parents.
Yes, you read that correctly. I'm a hypocrite. Or maybe I'm in a unique position to judge. By coming into contact with overprotective parents, it's forced me to confront my own parental overprotective behaviors.
As a teacher, I've been begged to change grades after report cards have been issued. I've been bullied to extend offers of extra credit a week before the quarter ends. I've been grilled about assignments and projects. I've been accused of being wrong, boring, mean, unprofessional, and unfair.
And all of these behaviors come from parents.
A generation ago, this type of behavior was unheard of. I was raised, as were the majority of my friends, by parents who lived according to the following credo: your teacher is right, and you're wrong. Or if you're not wrong, you're probably at fault somehow. My mother would never dream of signing a detention slip with the following postscript: "This is completely unreasonable. My daughter is a good kid and I protest this discipline notice." (A parent actually wrote that to me. And to further drive home her point, she even refused to sign the detention slip.)
So how did a generation of children raised to be independent and accountable for their own behaviors in turn become ferociously overprotective to the point of attacking and accusing the people our parents once demanded we respect?
Being horrified and made weary by this behavior has benefitted me, though. It's forced me to back off my own kids--at least a little bit. And even though it sometimes makes me queasy when they fail to hand in a homework assignment or don't study enough for a test and subsequently receive a less-than-desired score, I have to let them fail. As much as I want to swoop in and save them and email their teachers and ask for a reprieve, I have to keep the tiger mom in her cage.
Because the last thing I want to become is the parent about whom I complain.
Near the conclusion of Hanna Rosin's article, she gently suggests to parents that "the real cultural shift has to come from parents. There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises."
So when the panic rises, as it frequently does for this overprotective mom, I'll try to swallow it and allow my sons to experience less than perfect situations.
After all, experience is the best teacher. For my children, for my students, and for myself.
Image by Peace In Your Home