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Parents Are Their Own Worst Enemies

Parents Are Their Own Worst Enemies

The pressure to be a good parent is real. All this pressure comes at us from internal and external sources that converge and make a perfect storm for parents to lose any confidence they had as parents. We, as parents have the power to overcome our own worst enemy, which is ourselves.

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As parents, we encounter messages on a daily basis that tell us how we need to do things in a different or better way. We hear messages that we need to expect more of our kids, we need to not be so hard on our kids, we should vaccinate, we shouldn’t vaccinate, we need to be involved with our kids, we shouldn’t be helicopter parents, we need to help our kids with their homework, we need to let our kids do their own homework, and a plethora of other mixed messages. All these messages turn into self talk one way or the other.

Everyone has a running conversation of self talk going on in their own head. As parents, our self talk can revolve around our abilities as parents. Are we doing things the best way for our kids? Are we doing thing that we think are good, but could in fact be harmful? We have so many messages coming at us in all directions that it becomes easy to question every decision we make as parents. Thus, it becomes far to easy to be hard on ourselves as parents.

Parents Are Their Own Worst Critics

Your own worst enemy in life is yourself. Typically there is nobody who will say more negative things to you than you will to yourself. It is the self talk that goes on in your head all day long that provides for the negative commentary to yourself. You need to stop the negative self talk today as it constantly breaking down your confidence as a parent. There are tips further in the article that will help empower you to overcome this negative self talk.

Are we good enough?

As parents, one thing we are constantly asking ourselves mentally is are we good enough and are we doing enough for our kids. Any good parents wonders this from time to time. Self analysis is helpful at time. However, if we are doing it too often, we begin to doubt ourselves and second guess our decisions as parents. Allowing negative self talk that undermines our skills as parents can hinder our confidence as parents. In turn, it makes it more difficult to parent when we are always questioning our capabilities as parents.

Are we doing things the best way possible?

We, as parents, need to let go of perfect. Perfect is unattainable. The pursuit of perfect leads to frustration and defeat. Instead of pursing perfection, we need to chose a good path for parenting that is best for our own family and let of trying to be the best and do the best. Let it go and instead just be present.

Are we comparing our kids and ourselves to others?

We live in a culture where it is extremely easy to compare ourselves to others. You only need a few minutes on social media to compare yourself and your life to hundreds if not thousands of others. The problem is that what is portrayed on social media is not the whole story. Our tendency to compare ourselves to others leads to discontentment. When you feed yourself messages of discontent on a regular basis, you will begin to feel like a defeated individual and parent, as you can never measure up when compared to others.

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If you feel like you or your children will never live up to the level of how others live, then you won’t. The real problem is that you are ignoring your individuality as a family. Each of you is unique, as is your family. Don’t compare yourself to others, because its like comparing apples and oranges.

Be a Confident Parent

The best way to overcome the greatest enemy in your life as a parent is to become a confident parent. Easier said than done of course. However, there are some things that you can do to become more confident in your parenting and the feedback in your head can become more positive and encouraging. Below are some ways that you can create more confidence in yourself regarding your parenting abilities.

1. Become your own encourager through positive self talk

To become more confident, you need to start shutting down that voice in your head that says that you are not good enough or you are doing enough for your child. For some moms, this is the “bad mom syndrome”. It is that voice in your own head that says you are a “bad mom”. It often comes from building a list of all your mommy failures so you feel an overwhelming source of guilt which leads to this “bad mom syndrome”.

Saying this to yourself will not make you a better mom. It will only make you feel like a failure and defeated. You are not defeated. Those discouraging messages are not helpful to you or your child. It is ok to have uncertainty from time to time. However, it is not ok to allow yourself to feel less than adequate for your child. If you truly feel inadequate get some professional help from a counselor. They can help empower you as a parent.

You need to make yourself aware of negative self talk and change the course of the message while it is happening. For example, you may scream and yell at your child for forgetting to turn in their homework. You then start beating yourself up about the yelling because you know you were wrong to react that way. Instead of internally beating yourself up, stop the negative self talk as soon as you know it has started. Look at it as an opportunity to recognize the triggers that led to the outburst, perhaps you had a bad day at work. Then tell yourself you will do better next time. You also take the time to think through how you need to approach your child and apologize for the yelling and then discuss calmly why they didn’t turn in their homework. This method of thinking of solutions and encouraging yourself that things can be worked through is growth as a parent. It is also a way of shutting down the negative self talk and replacing it with solutions and/or positive messages.

PsychCentral made a great point about self talk and the power we have in ourselves to change these thoughts:[1]

You can test, challenge and change your self-talk. You can change some of the negative aspects of your thinking by challenging the irrational parts and replacing them with more reasonable thoughts.

2. Reduce stress and fatigue in your own life

Parents are better parents when they are less stressed out. When we feel stressed out as parents, we sometimes take it out on the ones who are closest in proximity. If you are at home in the evening with your kids and you have a mile long to-do list along with lots of other external stress going on, it becomes difficult to be kind, calm, and loving to our children. Our children are precious and impressionable. They don’t deserve unkind words or treatment because we are feeling utterly and completely stressed out and overworked.

Research by Your Modern Family looked at what children want most from their parents. The results from their research showed that the number one thing kids want from their parents is for “their parents to be less stressed and less tired”.[2] This is quite telling. It shows that we need to dial back things in life that cause extreme stress and exhaustion. It may be difficult to do this for some, as it can require a major overhaul in your life structure and activities.

For other parents, it can be more simple solutions, as suggested in the Modern Family article including: getting on a schedule, having kids help with chores, getting things ready the night before, waking up before your kids, doing meal plans that work for your family, getting organized, planning ahead, and laughing. Start finding ways to reduce stress in your life and you will see that your children are less stressed and happier as well.

We are all better parents when we are less stressed out. Do what it takes to reduce your stress as it does in fact affect your child’s mental well-being. Kids are smart, intuitive, and sensitive to the emotions of their parents. Don’t go through life pretending not to be stressed. Take action today to reduce stress in your life. Sometimes the solution is saying no and reducing activities. Do it for the sake of your children. It is the one thing children want most- less stress, less tired parents.

3. Simply be present for your kids and let go of perfection

Allowing yourself and your children to be something other than the best can be empowering. It allows you to be present with your children and embrace them for their own uniqueness. It also allows you to accept your circumstances for what they are, which is likely not the best or perfect.

One of the best thing you can do for your kids is simply be there for them. Kids yearn for time with their parents. They may not always say it or express it, but they want their parents. It is difficult to create family memories if you don’t spend time together. Make the time to be with your children. It doesn’t need to be a special occasion or a Disney experience either. Just sitting together to have dinners as family and talking to your kids is what they need for positive memories to be made.

Knowing that their parents are there to talk with them and to listen to them, is a wonderful gift to your children. In our era of busy lives and trying so hard to be the best parents we often overlook the most important factor in parenting, which is simply being present in our child’s life. Sometimes we need to dial back the schedule so that we are spending time together. Taking them from one activity to the next is not quality time together. Allowing for time to be home and interacting with one another, without distractions, is quality time. Be present to allow for open conversations to occur.

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Pscyhology Today discussed the topic of being a parent who is present and gave some specific tips. One of the top tips they provided was to stop multitasking.[3] This article stated,

“The first thing to recognize is that, try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time, so we ought to do that thing wholeheartedly”

When you want to be present with you children, then don’t text, do other tasks, or work on other projects. Devote your attention solely to you child.

When you allow yourself to be fully present with your child, it becomes easier to appreciate the small things in life. Your child will grow up fast, you hear it from other parents quite often how they grow up too fast. Take the time to appreciate the precious little things in life, such as watching your child become overjoyed because they won at a board game you were playing, or watching your child teach their new puppy how to sit, or watching your child successfully ride a bike for the first time. All of these small things in life end up being the big things in life. Be present with your child so that you can enjoy and appreciate the small things in life.

4. Don’t get pressured into taking bad advice

Everyone has an opinion these days. It doesn’t mean that you need to heed the advice of everyone. You have permission as a parent to disregard the advice of others, including from loved ones including your own parents. Their intentions are good. They want to help you and your child be successful and happy. The problem is that the methods your parents utilized 20 or 30 years ago may be outdated. They didn’t know better. Now we have research on virtually any parenting issue there is out there.

Do your own research, so you have peace of mind that your selected parenting methods are what is best for your child. It is also nice to have this research in your back pocket so when someone questions your methods you have research and data to prove your selected ways are best. It’s hard for someone to argue with science. They can try, but facts and data are truths at the end of the day.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

Don’t allow yourself get sucked into the comparison game. A lot of this has to do with the self talk in your head. You have the ability to stop the self talk and change its course to something that is more positive. When you start comparing yourself or your children to others, stop and replace that self talk with thoughts about how you are all unique, special, and gifted in different ways than any other family.

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Along with comparing your children includes the topic of managing your expectations. If your child is an average student, then don’t expect them to get into the gifted program at school. Be realistic with your child’s abilities. When you have unrealistic expectations it puts pressure on both you and the child. This pressure is not needed in life, as it will only bring disappointment when the expectations are too high and can never be met. Keep it real, and allow yourself to see that your child may not be the best or the brightest. They are unique and special in their own way, but it doesn’t mean that they are going to be the very best at everything or anything at all. Let them know that its ok because they are loved for exactly who they are and special because of their uniqueness.

If you have friends who like to play the comparison game, then don’t hang out with them. They will not help bring you up as a parent. Their goal is to make comparisons so they can feel better about themselves, their life, and their abilities as a parent. Their goal in no way involves helping you feel better or lifting you up and encouraging you as a parent. Cut the negative thoughts out, especially if they are coming from another person. You are doing yourself and your child a disservice by spending your precious and limited time with someone who is using comparison to bring you down in order to bring themselves up. Life is too short, find someone who wants to be a true friend.

Parenting Is Hard Work, Take Time for Yourself

Parents need a break from time to time. Don’t forget about taking care of yourself while in the midst of your parenting experience. Take time to do things that you enjoyed doing before you had kids. Keep up with hobbies and things that you enjoy doing. Allowing time for your hobbies and taking care of yourself allows you to be more relaxed, less stressed out, and happier in the long run.

Of course, there is moderation for everything. I am not saying leave your family every night to work out at the gym for three hours. Your family takes priority over your hobbies. However, in order to be a well balanced and happy individual you need to schedule time each week for your hobby, whatever that may be. Which is exactly why my kids are at home with a sitter every Friday afternoon and I am sitting at Starbucks right now, sipping my favorite Chai Latte, listening to music on earbuds, and typing this article.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on July 23, 2020

11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

11 Signs You’re an Overprotective Parent (And What to Do About It)

Have you ever followed your child around the playground? They may have been a toddler and you were worried they would take the wrong step and fall off the jungle gym. Therefore, you followed your toddler around, keeping them within arm’s reach so that you could prevent them from falling or having an accident.

I have been that parent at the playground in the past. With twin boys who had no fear as toddlers, I would follow them onto playground equipment because I was concerned for their safety.

After a few months of doing this, I stopped. I came to realize that children need to learn through their own experiences. They will fall, but they will also learn how to avoid danger and make calculated judgments about risks through their experiences. If I was always there to stop them from falling, they wouldn’t learn to stop themselves.

They had to learn things on their own. Of course, as a parent, it is still my responsibility to not place them in situations where they could be terribly injured.

For example, we started at playgrounds that were intended for children under the age of five. We didn’t move up to the big playgrounds until they were old enough and aware of their behaviors and the risks involved in playground play activities.

Why Parents Become Overprotective

The intention of overprotective parenting is well-meaning. These types of parents are highly concerned about their children’s safety and decision making. Their ultimate goal is to protect their child from harm. Parents should be concerned about the safety and well-being of their children.

However, on the flip side, parents should also be teaching their children about risk and responsibility. Those lessons are best taught through life experience. If we are always following behind our children, ready to catch them at a moment’s notice, then we aren’t allowing them to learn about risk and responsibility.

Unger, a researcher on overprotective parenting, suggests that parents should allow children to participate in activities on their own that are considered low-risk.[1] This means allowing children to engage in activities on their own that provide “manageable amounts of risk and responsibility.”

Unger cited that parents have become increasingly more protective of their children and are much more watchful of their children’s activities than previous generations.

The problem with being an overprotective parent is that the child misses out on the opportunity to build responsible behavior skills, build autonomy, and develop self-esteem. Their confidence can be undermined when mom or dad are always watching and guiding their behavior.

They can develop a sense that they are unable to make their own good decisions because they are never allowed to do so in life. Their confidence and self-esteem are hindered when they aren’t allowed to do things on their own without their parents hovering or watching over them.

What Are the Signs of an Overprotective Parent?

Parents with overly protective tendencies think that they are helping their child. Their goal is to protect their child, but it goes to the extreme. Below are some ways that a parent can be overly protective.

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This type of behavior can end up harming their child’s development when one or more of these behaviors is present. There are likely other ways that a parent can be overprotective of their child, as this list is not comprehensive.

These are examples so you can assess your behavior to determine if you need to loosen up overly protective parenting habits.

  1. You choose your child’s friends or direct them toward friendships with particular children.
  2. You don’t allow them to do activities on their own. For example, not allowing them to walk the dog in front of your home even though you live in a safe neighborhood and could even watch them from the front window.
  3. You are constantly monitoring your child. For example, you show up at their sports practices often to check in and see how they are doing or you go online to check their grades every week to ensure that they don’t have any missing work in any classes. If they do have missing work, you make sure that they get it completed and turned in before their final grade can be affected.
  4. You prevent them from making mistakes when you can see that they are going to make a low-risk mistake. For example, not allowing your five-year-old to put ketchup on their pancakes because you know they are going to dislike it and ruin their breakfast. You won’t allow them to chose to make such a mistake because you know that they will cry and get upset and you want to prevent them from becoming emotionally upset.
  5. You don’t allow them to go to friend’s homes without you.
  6. Sleepovers at other homes or camps are never allowed during their childhood.
  7. You drill them with questions about their life when they are out of your sight, such as wanting to know about all the details of their school day every day when you pick them up from school.
  8. You guide them to the extent that they are prevented from failing. For example, not allowing your teen to try out for the basketball team because you know that they will not make the cut.
  9. You make their decisions for them. For example, you don’t allow them to choose whether they can walk to school or ride the bus. You drive them and do not allow for any decision outside of this because you want to keep them safe.
  10. You are always volunteering to serve in their school classroom or chaperone the school trips because you want to “keep an eye on what is going on in your child’s class”.
  11. You do not allow them to have secrets or privacy. For example, they are not allowed to have a locked diary that you do not read or you don’t allow them to lock their bedroom door ever.

Why Being Overprotective Is Not a Good Idea

Kids learn from natural consequences. If they are not allowed to have natural consequences because their parent is continually protecting them from failure and harm, their development is being hindered.

For example, let’s look at a child named Sally who is 13. She is a child who is overly managed by her parents and is not allowed to go to sleepovers or even go to another friend’s home. Her parents are worried about stranger danger and what can happen if they are not with their child.

Sally is allowed to have friends at her home, but her parents are always watching the kids. Whenever Sally and her friends begin to disagree, the argument is squelched before the children can even begin to work things out between themselves because Sally’s parents will intervene and solve the problem.

Sally is never alone with friends outside of school because her parents are always present. The presence of her parents in her socialization is hindering her development.

She doesn’t know how to work out disagreements between her peers because she has never been allowed the opportunity to even try. Her social skills are lacking because parents intervene to direct her behavior while she is with her friends.

Kids Need Space and Time

Kids need space and time to be independent while they are children. If Sally were to be left alone with her friends, her friends would eventually push back at her bossy behavior when her parents are not present.

However, because Sally’s parents are always present she gets away with being overly-bossy to her friends. She is not learning about the natural consequences of her bossiness but someday will when it may be difficult to change her behaviors as she is older in more set in her ways.

It is easier to learn through natural consequences at a young age. Sally will likely end up going to therapy as an adult because she can’t keep friendships intact. Her bossy behaviors and lack of awareness have led to her having severed friendships repeatedly as a young adult.

She will have to work with a therapist to uncover the reason why she is losing friends and then work to change her behavior to learn better ways to act towards her friends in the future.

Effects of Overprotection

There are a variety of effects of overprotective parenting. It is often dependent on the methods the parent utilizes and the extent of the overprotective behavior.

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For example, let’s look at Tina who is a girl age 10. She wants to run and participate in her school’s after-school competitive track program. However, she is not allowed to participate in after school activities because her parents are worried that she will be exposed to boys and may start having relationships with the opposite sex too young.

Another concern is that a boy may “take advantage” of their daughter, so they want to protect her from being exposed to boys outside of school and their supervision.

The problem with this is that Tina is missing out on participating in a sports activity that could help her develop friendships. She is also missing out on the opportunities associated with being a part of a team, working hard physically to compete, and developing sportsmanship skills.

Her parents are well-meaning, but their over-protection is preventing her from participating in a sports activity that she deeply desires to engage in.

There are other effects of overprotective parenting. Below are some examples.

Examples of Overprotective Parenting

This list is not comprehensive, as every parenting situation and family is unique. However, this list can help provide some insight into the detrimental effects that overprotective parenting can cause.

1. Lack of Self-Esteem Development

If children are not allowed to try things on their own, they cannot build self-confidence and self-esteem.

2. Lack of Autonomy

If a child is always accustomed to having a parent around and supervising their behavior, they can become dependent on the decision making of their parents because they are never allowed to be alone or do things alone.

3. Anxiety

A child who is never allowed to try to do things on their own can become anxious when they are finally allowed to try things out on their own. They worry about making mistakes or failing because they have continually had a parent to help them avoid mistakes and failure.

4. Lack of Responsibility

When parents are always helping and guiding their children to an extreme, children will fail to develop their own responsibility skills. If they are never held responsible for anything, how can they develop a sense of responsibility?

5. People-Pleasing Tendencies

Youniverse explained that children who have overprotective parents who constantly direct their children’s behavior end up seeking the approval of those in their life.[2] These children will grow up accustomed to someone always telling them what the “right behavior” looks like.

If they don’t have that praise or comfort of someone saying they did things right, they can become anxious or depressed. They become people-pleasers who seek the appraisal of others.

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6. Risky Behavior

When children are raised in an overly protective home, they often engage in risky behavior when the reigns are lifted. They haven’t experienced the failures associated with low-risk situations at a younger age because of their overly protective parents.

Therefore, when they get older, access to high-risk situations becomes more easily accessible, and without understanding high risk versus low-risk situations, they engage without the wisdom of previous experiences.

Because of their inexperience with risks in general, they may engage in high risk because they are unaware of consequences.

7. Diminished Development Regarding Fear, Social Skills, and Coping Skills

Psychology Today explains that children with overprotective parents have developmental issues, such as not being able to deal with stress and poor social skills.[3]

For example, a child who isn’t allowed to play on a playground because the parent wants to protect their child from injury is prevented from learning about risk-taking on the playground and the bumps and bruises from consequences.

Such a child may grow up to either having too much fear because it was instilled by their parents or have no fear because they have no concept of high-risk versus low-risk behavior.

8. Lack of Immunity

The Psychology Today article also explained that children who have overly protective parents that do not allow exposure to germs can become children who have a compromised immune system. Exposure to germs as children is needed for them to develop a healthy immune system naturally.

When parents are disinfecting everything the child encounters and not allowing exposure to germs (e.g., not allowing them to go to a petting zoo or to play in the sandbox because of the germs in those places), they can be stunting their child’s ability to develop their immune system.

9. Control Freaks

Children who have been parented by control freaks learn this behavior from their parents. Parents are the primary role model of behavior for their children. If children see their parents acting as though they must have control over others and every situation at all times, then they too will learn to behave in this same manner.

What to Do If You Are an Overprotective Parent

If after reading this content you feel that you may be an overprotective parent, there is hope. You can change.

It begins with loosening the reigns of control over your child in a calculated and reasonable manner. Allowing for low-risk behaviors and the consequences involved can help your child become more independent.

There is definitely a balance to protective versus overprotective parenting. Allowing for activities and exposure to experiences that are low-risk is a good way to start.

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For example, allowing your child to play on age-appropriate playground equipment (without following them) is a good first step. They will experience some bumps and bruises, but this is a part of normal development and learning about consequences.

You will want to research authoritative parenting methods if you feel you are an overprotective parent. Overprotective parents tend to be authoritarian parents.

Here is a LifeHack article I previously wrote about authoritarian parenting, so you can understand the drawbacks to this parenting method: Authoritarian Parenting.

Authoritative parenting is not control-based parenting. It involves teaching consequences naturally, allowing age-appropriate decision-making, and having conversations with children rather than dictating for ultimate control and compliance.

MSU Extension provides some great guidelines for authoritative parenting.[4] Below are some of the behaviors they described with authoritative parenting methods:

  • Provide reasonable, age-appropriate expectations for children.
  • Stress and anxiety for children can have positive outcomes, as they are allowed to experience these feelings in small doses as children. They can then build their coping skills and ability to deal with stress and anxiety through experience.
  • Encourage independence, as it helps children build their confidence and self-esteem.
  • Allowing for failures when they are young helps them learn how to pick themselves back up and try again. Developing this ability at a young age regularly will help prepare them for bigger failures when they are older, such as breakups, failed classes, or losing a job.

Final Thoughts

It is never too late to work on our parenting skills. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, therefore, we can always be working on improving our parenting methods.

We all want our children to be successful, happy, and competent as adults. It does not happen overnight. Parenting is a continual process of trying daily to help our children live and learn through their own life experiences.

If we try to protect them every step of the way, then they are not being allowed to truly experience life.

Allow for age-appropriate experiences and allow for failures so that they can learn how to pick themselves back up and try again.

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Featured photo credit: Sue Zeng via unsplash.com

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