Unparenting the Children, Parenting Yourself

Why do some parents become over-involved with their children’s lives? And what can they do about it? Maybe the first step toward letting go of a vice-like emotional grip on children is to work out what your own needs are.

I found some ‘Unparenting Advice’ in Psychology Today which I found quite heartening and useful. The main drift of the advice is to avoid ‘over parenting’ by allowing children and adolescents a certain healthy space from their parents’ own worry about them.

Certainly allowing free play, being reasonable about a certain degree of risk, not overreacting to bad marks at school or negative encounters with others, modifying and individualising expectations to fit the child, not pathologising them at the drop of a hat and keeping in mind that the final goal is independence, all seem like sound ideas for bringing up children in the Western world.

Many parents of course will disagree, and many of those who do agree theoretically may not find it easy to implement the necessary respectful distance in order for their children to learn to deal with situations cognitively and emotionally, and feel secure in themselves.

The “list of tips” format does not touch on the reasons why parents may become over-involved with their child’s life, and so it is unlikely to be helpful to parents who have already fallen into that pattern of behaviour. Parents act the way they do because of their own experiences and needs.

So maybe the first step toward letting go of a vice-like emotional grip on children is to work out what your own needs are, not only as a parent, but as a person. Once we are making a reasonable attempt to recognise our needs and go some way toward getting them met, we are less likely to feel that the world will end when our children suffer a failure or disappointment, or do not want to follow the career path we would like for them; we will be less likely to be consumed with fear that something will happen to them, or that we will not be needed anymore. While all these worries and fears are inevitable and normal to some degree they will not be overriding.

In the end, I would say, the task for parents who find their emotional stability is dependent on their children’s safety, behaviour, etc, is not to judge themselves for this, but to work out step by step how to be good, safe, empowering parents to themselves.

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