Are you one of those parents that runs to your child when they bump their toe? Do you follow your messy teen and pick up and clean up after him? Do you make breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, dessert, and do all the dishes…every single day? Do you work a full or part time job? Do you wash, dry, fold, and put away all laundry? Do you take on all cleaning responsibilities?
Do you give all your time to your family and job?
If you said yes to some or all of these, you may be an altruistic superparent! In fact, you are likely very hardworking, tolerant, capable, courageous, tough, sacrificing, wise, adaptable, forgiving, and loving.
This is good, right?
I’m going to be the bad guy and say …
Sure, it sounds like those qualities would be wonderful qualities of any parent. You may even feel altruistic and a bit like a martyr … but… each of these qualities has a dark side.
According to author of The Enabler and self-proclaimed enabler, Angelyn Miller, MA, each of these traits could in fact be the description of …
Enabling, even though it feels like you are helping them, can cause your child to be DEPENDENT, which can cause lifelong mental anguish, emotional instability, and harm.
We need to, as parents, allow children to become… RESPONSIBLE and INDEPENDENT, not to be dependent.
It is hard.
For me, I was a super enabler. The strongest I think! I was, and still am, tempted with every fiber of my being to fix EVERY problem my children have. I am a pleaser and I like all situations to be controlled and planned to a T. I like things just so. To make matters worse, I am also a neat freak and a constant busy body.
When my oldest child was young, I was a single parent going to university. I was trying very hard to get into a Neuroscience Master’s program, and then into Dental School. Needless to say, I had to study and write essays often.
In my mind, I thought my daughter would see my never ending work as heroic and that it would inspire her to have the same work ethic when she grew up. I was proud of myself for my accomplishments as a single parent and student and felt that I was doing the correct things in bringing her up.
What I did not consider at the time, was how much harm I was doing. Because of my tendencies towards perfection and neatness, I felt a sense of overwhelm when dishes were in the sink, a bed was not made with crisp corners, or toys were on the floor. Perhaps it was just simple procrastination, but I would clean our entire townhouse from top to bottom prior to my studying each night. This constant cleaning gave me the false sense that I was a good parent.
It took me years to realize, that I was enabling my daughter. If she left something on the floor, I was most certainly there to pick it up. I gave her chores and rewarded her for them, but certainly, I did the lions share in an effort to go quickly, and did not follow up with her when they were not done. I just usually did them and vowed to “get her to do it next time”. My patterns continued not surprisingly. Everything was about speed and efficiency. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and unfortunately parenting. And, by being busy, I was lazy. It was just easier to fix everything myself than to teach or accept a child’s mediocre results.
In addition, seeing me work tirelessly without having any fun was definitely not a good example. What is life? Just work and successes? Not the correct message to give as altruistic as it was.
During my enabling years, I even felt responsible for my daughter’s happiness. When she was upset, I was upset. I felt I knew best about what she should think, how she should resolve a situation, and ultimately, who she should become. She was my child. I was there to mold her into the perfect child and eventual perfect adult. I would be the greatest single parent.
Well, my superhero parenting had left this poor girl lost and without her own direction. I held her hand and made decisions for her FAR too long. Then, when it was time for her to be an adult, she had difficulty making life decisions. She had difficulty knowing her true self. Clearly, what was best for me was not necessarily best for her. I was honestly shocked. My best intentions failed her.
Now, with the subsequent six children, I have and continue to struggle to allow them to be themselves. I set expectations for them and reward them for good behaviour. I do not clean up after them anymore. They know that if they make a mess, they clean it. Simple. I can now look away. I now expect follow through. They help with cooking and dishes. They do their own laundry. And, to my surprise, I am less busy, have much more time for things that I actually like to do. And, low and behold, the children have pride in their accomplishments!
Who would have thought that chores and responsibility could give pride and happiness? It gives them a sense of self-worth. They feel needed and appreciated. They are contributing to the family unit. These help make for good brain chemistry and healthy emotional response systems.
I do not, however, give them too much trouble for “bad” behaviour because that may in fact disguise their true being, unless of course it is morally wrong or harms another. Children are born with a moral compass, and know deep down wrong from right. A gentle reminder is usually all that is needed. Angelyn Miller, in her book The Enabler, discusses why punishment may not always be the ideal way to foster good behaviour.
We must allow our children to fall and scrape their knees, so to speak. They must learn their own way to cope with situations. Their coping mechanism will be different than what you would instill upon them. This is a step you can not take away from them if you want optimal mental health.
We must accept and let them do things their way at times. This encourages individuality and thinking. My youngest child washes the dishes with a toothbrush. She insists that that is best. Okay. To date, she is the most creative of the children in doing things her own way.
We must show them that there is more to life than chores and work, yet encourage accomplishments. Their eyes light up when they are proud of themselves.
We must continue, however, to follow through on ensuring these chores are complete and done well.
We must also inspire individual opinion and thought without judgement. These are critical in making children that have high self-worth and high self-esteem. Do not underestimate these children! Their brains are amazing when given latitude and direction.
And finally, we must, for the sake of our children and the next generations, discern between HELP THAT IS NEEDED and HELP THAT IS ENABLING.
Stop getting in your child's way by being a superparent so that your child may be allowed to become self-confident, happy, proud, and …