Reform advice for the over functioning parent

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

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Debbie Pincus, MS, LMHC
Calm Parent
Empowering Parents

Psychotherapist Debbie Pincus, MS, LMHC, works with families and children who struggle with the modern day collision courses of the parent-child relationship. She observes that today’s generation of parents is closer to their children and so it is harder to separate lives.

This blurring of the line between the life of the child and parent has been called “helicopter parenting” and “over parenting”. It is a dysfunction that is a product of our time: single parenthood, two-income-earning families, and performance driven parenting. When we see our parenting role as a task, “service provider,” or an achievement, and less as the educator behind the scenes, we can fall into traps of doing things that the kids need to do themselves and taking on too much responsibility for the child’s life well into adulthood.

In this regard, a January Forbes article reported the court case of a University of Cincinnati student, who secured a restraining order against her parents because they were monitoring all her communications and decisions while she was away at college. This article also gave examples of adult children living with parents, and suggested that millennials and their baby-boomer parents simply cannot live apart.

And in a recent Star Tribune article, a single parent realizes that he is doing too much for his young son who gets good grades, but cannot tie his shoes properly – largely because it is more efficient to do it for him. “I know I’ve just gotten into the pattern of doing things for [my son] since it’s easier for me,” the parent was reported to say.

Setting boundaries as love language

Pincus cautions us that over functioning parents can wind up disabling children. The message you are sending the child when you help too much is that you do not have confidence in her. “It sends the message that the parent is capable and the child is not,” Pincus said. “Children want help to ‘grow up’, so most of this is really about the parent.”

She encourages parents to think of setting boundaries as a love language. If a child is fighting and explosive, they are asking us to set limits, to be the leaders. It is the loving thing to do.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 ESV

“Our offspring really do want to be functioning separately,” Pincus said. “Over functioning parents are misguided in that it is providing assistance that prevents children from doing things they can do for themselves.”

Pincus also cautions that because parents can afford to do something, they assume that it is their obligation or there is no reason not to provide it. And when you do hold back, or deny your child something they want but you believe is not appropriate to provide, be careful about your reaction to your child’s “reacting.” Is fear-based and it hurts the child to give it play. Ask yourself what you and the child both need.  Often parents are keeping their children close and dependent so they do not have to focus on themselves.

Honoring the parent boundary for your adult child’s life

“It isn’t necessarily a bad thing if a young adult is living with a parent in order to meet the need of the parent,” Pincus said. “There is not a one size fits all solution for addressing the challenges of our time.”

By the same token, the over functioning parent who does too much, is not helping their child; rather they are fulfilling their own need and preventing the child from gaining the experience of becoming self-sufficient. Pincus acknowledges that it is difficult to have confidence when your child is choosing a different path. But consider what is right for you is not right for everyone.

She advises parents to take a dose of humility in this regard.

Also, remember that failing and falling and “picking oneself up” is part of the process of growing up. Don’t get in the way of your child’s ultimate motivation. You can state your point of view, based upon your own perspective, but do not expect your child to embrace it as her own. Foster communication that is characterized by openness and respect.

Ask your child if they want your point of view, and be prepared to listen to his perspective and opinions without trying to correct them. Give your child credit for being able to think things through considering your input, but not as an extension of you.

Your adult child wants to move back home. Now what?

If your adult child seeks to return home, Pincus recommends the following tips:

  • Have a clear idea of the intention or objective for having an adult child move back home. Is it a safety net, or a way of life?
  • Set some ground rules, that includes deadlines (how long), expectations (duties), contributions, employment, etc. so you can help the child get out on her own
  • Take care of yourself
  • Stop doing things for him that he can do for himself

You can find Debbie Pincus at: Calm Parent and Empowering Parents.

(BMB-0036-9)

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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.

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