What’s Your Parenting Style?

“The dark side of parental devotion.” That’s what psychologist and author Wendy Mogel called it during her keynote address for camp professionals, where I was in attendance last week. Others have referred to the phenomenon of being involved in every facet of a child’s life as hyperparenting, overparenting, and invasive parenting. Helicopter parenting has escalated to snowplow parenting, which is identified by removing all obstacles from the road, and even hothouse parenting, wherein children’s lives are engineered to perfection.

“Parents need to “learn how to say ‘no,’” the expert suggests. Ah, easier said than done, teaching your child to fly from the nest and then being happy when they do!

It occurred to me that by understanding the roots of parental separation anxiety, we might break free of the counter-cultural behavior that keeps our children tethered to the nest. So here goes.

“Enmeshed families” emerge from a place of love, the author of “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee” explains. We don’t want our kids to be cold or wet or hungry for even a minute. She opined that we are “worshipping at the altar of our children’s attitudes,” inadvertently taking them down the path of perfection. That’s because we don’t understand our job: “we are not sherpas, concierges, talent agents, stealth tutors, or secret police,” Wendy asserts! Our job is to raise them to be resilient, to let them get dirty, make mistakes, solve their own problems….

So how do we do it? Besides embracing opportunities that encourage independent thinking, decision-making, and first-hand exploration – like camp or even a sleepover date without a rescue offer – we need to eschew the electronic ties – like texting. And we need to drop the rhetorical questions (“Don’t you think…?”) in favor of some directed language: “Nevertheless” or “I made my ruling” are two examples of authoritative parenting (the preferred style among the trio which also include authoritarian and doormat!).

While some choices are perfectly fine for children to make (Do you prefer vanilla ice cream or chocolate?) and in fact support the development of their ability to rely upon themselves, others are appropriate for parents only to make the decision (Do you want to go to school today?)

“Let’s leave some potential for adulthood,” Wendy cries! That’s what I love about “Leo the Late Bloomer,” by Robert Kraus. In a society where children are overprotected because of world concerns and technological advancements, we can step back in time and celebrate Leo’s classic and timeless message: we don’t have to be perfect to be successful and happy. While the little tiger is a proverbial late bloomer, he eventually blossoms with a newfound love for life. His mom patiently and confidently waits for him to grow into his stripes.

Parenthood should be “enviable,” says Wendy, not onerous. “Get off the cell phone when you pick up your child at school, tell him something positive about your day, talk to her about life aside from being a parent… You don’t need to be locked together in nervous embrace.”

I think it’s great advice. We need to relax. Unwrap the bubble paper that we swaddle our children in, and let them – and yourself – breathe. Here’s a perfect place to start, with a laughing baby tearing paper. No worries about APGAR scores, pre-school placement, after-school enrichment, or SATs; no spinning plates — just the pure unequalled joy of being a child – and of being that child’s parent.

Tuck-in Tips

  • Why was Leo sad? Have you ever felt that way?
  • Describe a time when you didn’t feel like everyone else.
  • How many nicknames have you been given? Which is your favorite?