As devoted moms and dads, we want our kids to thrive — and we’ll do anything in our parental power to see that our little people lead happy, healthy, and successful lives. Of course, sometimes all our extra efforts can backfire.
In our attempts to help our children, to guide them, and advocate for them, we can sometimes overstep our bounds and do too much. There’s a fine line, after all, between raising kids who know they can rely on us and rearing children who are overly dependent.
So what are the consequences of doing everything for your kids? Can it really be that bad? And if it is hurting you, harming them, and damaging your relationship — what can you do to stop the cycle? Here’s what you need to know.
Children are not born with personalized instruction manuals; every kid is different and a new mom or dad will need to find the parenting style that works for their unique family.
Your approach can and will evolve — and throughout the turbulent journey you’ll face lots of wins, many fails, and loads of lessons.
If you find yourself doing too much for your child, this behavior likely stems from a well-meaning place of love. Still, there are several motivations that lead to potential “over-parenting,” and it’s important to acknowledge the possible implications.
You want your kids to be happy
We would all love to see smiles and happiness every day as far as our kids are concerned. But there’s a downside. A parent’s need to keep their kids perpetually appeased may result in them doing things that their children can and should be doing for themselves.
Yes, wanting to make a child feel happy and content can create an overprotective parent that inadvertently does too much to prevent their kid from having negative experiences. It’s understandable: No one wants to see their kid suffer or miss out — and so a parent may act as a buffer, sheltering and spoiling them.
Furthermore, instead of delegating age-appropriate responsibilities to a child, a mom or dad who “over-parents” may take on all the chores, complete unfinished school projects, and hand-deliver forgotten homework.
Essentially, they wind up waiting on their child hand and foot in an effort to keep their kid feeling content, comfortable, and carefree.
You want to avoid conflict and get the job done
Another common reason a parent may do everything for their child? A last-ditch attempt to stave off further aggravation.
Most kids don’t want to make their beds, put away their things, and do their homework in a timely fashion. They need to be motivated, encouraged, and disciplined.
But a wearied parent, who has asked a child approximately 1 million times to put their laundry away may find it easier — and less exhausting — to throw in the towel and just get the job done.
Unfortunately, this behavior fuels the fire. If a kid knows Mom or Dad will eventually swoop in and do the dirty work for them, they’re less likely to take initiative.
You don’t want to see your kid struggle
A parent may also feel uncomfortable watching their child struggle in a situation, so they step in to solve a problem.
For example, it probably seems easier and quicker to bend down and zip up a toddler’s jacket, rather than watch as they fuss and fumble with this fine motor skill. As busy parents (according to a 2015 survey, 31 percent of parents always feel rushed) we’d rather get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Similarly, teaching a child to do something new may feel like a big job for a parent. It’s often simpler to just tie a kid’s shoelaces than set aside the time to help them master a monotonous, but difficult task.
You want to feel needed
Finally, as parents we like to feel needed. Our babies become toddlers and then big kids and then tweens and teens and then somehow turn into grown-ups. It all goes by too fast!
It’s nice to know they desire our help and need our love. But there’s a difference between a child wanting your guidance and a child needing you to solve their problems.
Doing everything for a child might sound harmless enough, but there are significant long-term consequences that need to be considered.
Kids learn through practice
They need to try new things, make mistakes, solve problems, encounter challenges, and grow from their experience.
By swooping in and saving the day for our kids — whether that means cleaning their rooms or doing their science project at the last minute — we deprive them of important learning moments, including those painful fails they’ll inevitably experience.
Kids won’t be able to function independently
Furthermore, when we hastily do simple things for our kids, we take away the opportunity for confidence-building wins. Allowing children to take on challenges is necessary for developing self-reliance.
Yes, opening a bag of chips might not be an earth-shattering accomplishment, but teaching a child to “pinch and pull” a pouch of Pirate Booty ensures they can do it on their own in the school cafeteria. These moments are small but empowering.
Self-reliance is even more important as kids get older. Parents won’t always be in the next room to help their children with all sorts of menial tasks and major challenges. We want to raise independent and confident kiddos — so that they grow into adjusted, autonomous adults.
You’ll always be ‘on call’ — for better or worse
Our kids are not the only ones suffering the consequences of our over-parenting. No parent wants to stay up till 2 a.m. finishing a book report or spend their weekend dejectedly completing a kid’s unfinished chores.
The reality is that, a reflexive, overcompensating parenting style, is partially to blame for perpetuating a child’s helplessness. Stopping the pattern now will prevent this from becoming a persistent problem. Plus, it’ll help you build a more respectful parent-child relationship.
As with all parenting pickles, one way to initiate change is through age-appropriate conversation. Talk to your kids about why you think it’s due time they step up to the plate, how you will be doing less for them, and why you are expecting more from them.
Easier said than done? It starts with playing a (slightly) more passive part. You can still be there for support and supervision, of course, but you want them to take the leading role in their lives.
Here are some initial steps you can take:
Allow your kids to fail
Let your kids experience the natural consequences of their decisions. If they don’t do a school assignment, they’ll have to talk to the teacher and face the music of a poor grade.
No parent relishes this. We want our kids to be successful in their pursuits, but if we cushion all the challenges along the way, they’ll never learn to be resilient — or they’ll keep making the same mistakes. Remember that failure is a
Build in time for them to do things on their own
If you feel like you have to do everything (brush your kids’ teeth, get them dressed, stuff their backpacks, etc.) in order to get out the door in time, build a little extra wiggle room into your schedule so they can manage these to-dos on their own.
It can be frustrating in the moment when you’re battling with a countdown clock, but, in the long run, this exercise will help your kids become more capable beings.
Stop expecting perfection
Lower your expectations — just a little. We can’t expect perfection from our children. We need to be proud when they try new things, and encouraging if and when they falter.
This applies to grades, activities, sports, chores, and more. We can be their greatest cheerleaders, but, sometimes, we have to let them call and make the shots — even if we think they’ll miss.
Let your kids try things
A parent who does everything for their child may have overprotective tendencies. They often take over and make important decisions on behalf of their kids — because, well, they think they know better.
This often results in parents imposing their own will upon their kids instead of letting them try new things — be it a new sport, academic pursuit, or extracurricular activity.
Your kids need to take responsibility for their living space. You are not their maid, short-order cook, or all-around assistant.
It’s important they understand this from an early age — so establish appropriate chores your kids must complete daily and weekly. This will help them learn to be active participants in your household and family.
Let go of guilt
Mom guilt. Dad guilt. All the guilt. As parents, we are pulled in so many different directions. We are balancing all the balls, and it’s okay if we can’t do it all or be it all for our kids. We are not their playmates. They need to self-entertain and learn to function without our constant attention.
Help them manage their own emotions
We often do things for our kids so they won’t feel rejection or emotional pain. But trying to shield them from the full gamut of life’s emotions could leave them unprepared for certain disappointments and challenges life may throw their way.
Be available to talk through the discomfort of your kids’ feelings with love and empathy, but give them the space to acknowledge and work through these emotions.
The road to helplessness is paved with good intentions. So before you call your kid’s teacher to make an excuse for a missed assignment, or vacuum up a big pile of kinetic sand left behind on the floor, or button up a child’s sweater in a hurry, think twice and evaluate the situation.
Can your kiddo do these things themself? Moreover, should they do these things without your interference? If so, take a deep breath and a step back — and see what happens. You might be surprised at the outcome.
Either way, remember that you are doing what you need to do to raise a thoughtful, independent, and confident young person. You’ve got this!