Support, but don’t smother

Academics, sports, clubs, work responsibilities – there are inexhaustible opportunities to involve – or over-involve yourself –  in your kids’ lives. How do you find the right amount of involvement, that perfect balance between supporting your kids and smothering them?

According to Bella English with the Boston Globe, parents who used to at least back off when their kids hit college now call advisers, professors, and even cafeteria ladies to advocate for their adult children. Check out the complete story at Snowplow Parents, where this new phrase is used to describe moms and dads who plow their way through college personnel to create a smooth path for their kids. It’s truly scary how little we prepare our kids for the real world and how long we hang on, hoping to spare them from having to take care of themselves.

So what can you do to avoid becoming a Snowplow Parent? Start now by setting a tone of independence and responsibility and by allowing your kids to speak up for themselves. Specifically:

  • Cheer rather than criticize. Go to your kids’ sporting events and cheer from the stands. But don’t tell the coach how to coach, and don’t show up for the athletes’ pre-game dinner, unless you’ve volunteered to serve it. Let your kids have their space and let their coaches do their jobs.
  • Facilitate rather than control. When your kids complain about an assignment, a teacher, or a grade, talk them through how to handle it and then send them back to school to remedy the situation. Do not involve yourself unless your child has already legitimately tried to get answers and has come back unsuccessful.
  • Converse rather than accuse. When you do get involved, do it with a sense of camaraderie and support, versus an attack on someone who has wronged your child. Approach coaches and teachers with an open mind and a cooperative spirit, and you will get much, much further with everyone involved. BONUS: You’ll also model to your kids the most effective way to resolve issues and conflicts.
  • Ask rather than guess. Ask your kids when they would like you to attend and when they would prefer you stay home. If you ask them with no personal agenda and a willingness to accept their answer, guilt-free, they will be honest with you. If you wouldn’t dream of missing one of their events, be there and enjoy it, but don’t expect your kids to hang out with you or even acknowledge you. Let them immerse themselves in their experiences without worrying about what you’re doing on the sidelines.

Know your own child. Some would be heartbroken if you missed a single play; others would prefer you to stay away. Try not to take any of it personally, as this is more a reflection of them and where they are in their maturity, self-confidence, and peer group, than it is of you. Anyone who has more than one child knows that each kid is unique. Listen to your son or daughter and let them guide you in your level of involvement.

smothering parentsYou can’t protect your kids forever, nor should you try to. Put away the bubble wrap and step out of your kids’ way. Let them try, fail, get back up again, and learn from it all. It truly is the most loving thing you can do for your kids.

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