Mothering Vs. Smothering: Part 1 of 3
Over protective parents can reek havoc with their children’s confidence, instilling fear and insecurity, which prevents their children from developing into emotionally healthy adults. Unfortunately, parents do not stop being overprotective; they keep smothering their children well into their adult lives.
How Parents Fall into the Overprotective “Trap”
In truth, the motivation is partly selfish—because the parent cannot stand to see his child in pain. Of course, no parent ever wants to see his child hurt, but the child does need to grow. (As the saying goes, “Ships in the harbor are safe, but that’s not what ships were built for.”) Growth can only come through learning how to navigate life’s challenges; and it is a skill that is best and easiest learned in childhood.
These types of parents with little children can become consumed that their child should not fall down and skin his knees. Indeed, overprotective parents won’t allow their older children to get into situations where they can fall at all. In essence, the children are not allowed to figure out how to fix their own problems, ever. The wisest man who ever lived, Shlomo Hamelech writes, “A tzadik falls seven times and he gets up” (Mishlei 24:16). Greatness, let alone emotional solvency, requires a sense of independence; the ability to dust ourselves off, and to get back up. This is something that we learn through experience.
Overprotective parents don’t want their children to experience any type of rejection or failure. It does sound somewhat commendable, but they are not only missing out on many every day childhood experiences, their emotional growth is being stunted. As the child strives to be independent, the parents continue hold on tighter. They never let go.
As children grow, they may try to escape, but the fear that the parents have instilled in them keeps them from taking on new challenges. These children do not learn how to be responsible, and to take risks of any sort.
Fear Keeps Children Locked Up Inside
This is a far cry from how children twenty years ago were raised. Many middle-aged adults can remember playing outside all day until sunset. The only time their mothers communicated with them was to call their name out into the evening air when supper was ready.
These days, some parents are afraid to allow their children to go outside and run with the neighborhood kids, ride a bike a couple of blocks, or check out a bird nest in the neighbor’s tree.
Anushka Asthana reported in The Observer that a major study by Play England, part of the National Children’s Bureau, found that “half of all children have been stopped from climbing trees, and 17 percent have been told they cannot take part in games of tag or chase.” The research also found that only 29 percent of children today listed their best childhood adventures in outdoor spaces among trees, rivers and woods compared to 70 percent of adults who responded. The point here is not to advocate for the Great Outdoors; rather, to help us to understand that a child needs to be a child in order that he grows into an adult who is an adult.
Saying “no” to every activity that is not controlled by the parent starts at birth. Most parents begin to let their children have a little independence and play at the neighbor’s house or in the woods close to the house as they grow. However, some are so afraid of the consequences of childhood independence that they start to inhibit the child and organize every moment.
Shlomo Hamelech further teaches us that we should, “Educate the child according to his way, then when he ages he will not turn from it.” (Mishlei 22:6.) We learn from this verse that each child has a “way,” and that we must understand it, in order to best guide him. This is simply not possible if we direct, control, and define the child’s natural and unique desire to express his individuality and independence.
To be continued . . . Copyright © 2010 by D. Lieberman