Virtual Voices

Being TOO good a parent?

Family

Several experts interviewed by The Atlantic say, yes, it is possible to be too good of a parent. And this "too good" parenting is apparently driving 20- and 30-somethings to the therapist's couch in droves.

One of the author's clients, "Lizzie," was an enigma. Her family relationships were intact. She had good friends, a good education, good health, and a good apartment. Why, then, was she so indecisive? Why couldn't she trust her instincts? The article's writer wondered, "Why did she feel 'less amazing' than her parents had always told her she was?"

Lizzie and her unhappy counterparts have this in common: Attuned parents. Loving parents. Parents who found tutors for the struggling. Parents who bought musical instruments for the aspiring. Parents who had, in short, "done it all."

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Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA, blames parents who "will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment-anything less than pleasant." Child psychologist Dan Kindlon calls this our "discomfort with discomfort." We don't want our kids to hurt, fail, or lose, so we go to Herculean efforts to shield them from pain of any kind, an action that is creating college freshmen so fragile deans are calling them "teacups," says Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee. Jeff Blume, an L.A. psychologist says we hold tightly to our kids because we need them to fill some emotional hole in our own lives: "We're confusing our own needs with our kids' needs and calling it good parenting. . . . If a therapist is telling you to pay less attention to your kid's feelings, you know something has gotten way out of whack."

Mogul and Kindlon agree: "[W]hatever form it takes-whether the fixation is happiness or success-parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that's hurting our kids."

It seems our attempts to praise our kids out of poor self-esteem are doing nothing but creating just that. Jean Twenge, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, says, "Narcissists are happy when they're younger because they're the center of the universe. Their parents act like their servants, shuttling them to any activity they choose and catering to their every desire. Parents are constantly telling their children how special and talented they are. This gives them an inflated view of their specialness compared to other human beings. Instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else."

Competition, what naturally kicks the narcissism in kids down a notch or two, is now as outdated as the smallpox vaccine, with most kids' sports teams negating score keeping and instead giving out awards like the "Spirit" award for the most obnoxious player on the team. Mogul begs parents, "Please let them be devastated at age 6 and not have their first devastation be in college!" She goes on to say, "[P]arents who protect their kids from accurate feedback teach them that they deserve special treatment." Parental lies that "you can be all you want to be" aren't fooling anyone, not even the kids.

Turns out that parents who soft pedal around their child's weaknesses, cover his failures, and Band-Aid every kick in the teeth are raising what Mogul calls a "handicapped royalty." And these kids-given so many choices growing up, given so much say in their lives, given so much false rah-rahing, cushioned from every blow-cannot and do not build up any immunity against even the teensiest failure. So when, as adults, struggles come, as they inevitably will, they have no idea how to cope. Yet parents keep parenting this way despite studies showing that giving a child too much choice makes him feel "depressed and out of control."

Hmm. Depressed and out of control. Sounds like something that might make a person seek therapy.

Maybe we ought to do our kids a favor and be worse parents.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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