Hello My Name is Dan and I am an OVERPARENTER
I remember the feelings vividly — my daughter was six years old at the time and she was in a warm, nurturing independent school environment. The student-teacher ratio was small, my wife and I regularly volunteered in the classroom and my daughter had been with many of her classmates for years. One day, I chose to linger in the doorway and watch the class begin their day. The teachers gathered the kids in a circle and began their routines when I saw it – my daughter was tussling with another child and, while I couldn’t make out the words, the expressions on their faces didn’t look happy.
Well, instantly, I was transformed into Papa Wolf (the male equivalent of Mama Bear). It took all of the energy I could muster to not storm into the room, lift my daughter out of that circle and give that other little girl a stern talking to. But, somehow, I didn’t – I waited a few minutes, observed the girls settle down and quietly left the room. Of course, my first call was to my wife. She answered the phone to my immediate declaration, “We need to start looking at other schools!” Much to my amazement, her reaction was concerned, but calm, and we, eventually, agreed to assess the situation that evening, after speaking to our daughter.
On my drive home that evening, I was imagining how the conversation with my daughter would go – I knew with all my heart that the incident from circle time would be the first thing out of her mouth and that she would be telling me how mean that other girl had been. I felt myself getting worked up about what had happened and was crafting my e-mails to the teacher and head of school. Well, I stepped inside the house and there was my daughter – playing a game with her little sister – smiling and laughing. She wasn’t devastated and when I asked about her day, she told me about the book they read and showed me a picture she had painted. I was prepared for her teary rendition of what had happened earlier that morning but it never came. Even with some gentle coaxing and pointed questions, nothing was mentioned of that and, eventually, I had to reconcile myself to a very true fact – what I had observed was more hurtful to me than to her and she, in fact, was (and is) a strong, capable person.
As parents, we strive to provide a loving, nurturing environment where our children can grow and prosper. We want our children to develop into caring, thoughtful people, but we also want them to achieve success in their endeavors. Finally, we want our children to become autonomous and independent individuals. We must, therefore, allow our children to fail sometimes and to even, endure difficulty and pain. I fell into the trap of believing that I could protect my child from getting hurt – so much so that I magnified a fairly ordinary situation and created a drama that didn’t exist. Why? Because I had good intentions – I wanted to protect her.
What I learned from that day is that I need to trust my daughter and that she is developing the skills to take care of herself. She isn’t doing this all by herself. The adults that care for her are playing a vital role. We are allowing her to make mistakes, fall down once in a while and even fail occasionally. Yes, it is difficult and I still find myself fighting the urge to protect and defend to a degree that is excessive. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not out there hunting and gathering to survive and we do provide shelter and clothing (plus a little more), but we are also encouraging her to take risks and continue on her journey of self-reliance.
I urge other parents to join me in the difficult work of allowing our children to be children. Even though this may mean that we feel less powerful and, dare I say, vulnerable, our children need to have the experience of negotiating their own challenges. So many of us have fond memories of riding our bikes to the store or going on adventures that felt a million miles away (even though we were really just five minutes from home). The distance isn’t what mattered – what mattered was that we were fully engaged in some grand escapade and we were on our own. And when we got home, we regaled whoever would listen to the exaggerated tales of our accomplishments. Why? Because it felt so good to be able to assert ourselves on our environment.
More than ever, children need to assert themselves, and we, as caring, loving adults, have to afford them that opportunity. So take a deep breath, step back and join me in taking off that name-tag that says “OVERPARENTER.”