Are parents enabling children to become dependent or independent?

Settling down for a relaxing evening, contemplating as to what to write about and publish, thinking about the busy schedule ahead and needing to get some tasks accomplished, I happened across a patch.com article by Kate Bassford Baker. The article sums up an appropriate perception that most parents have lost sight of when it comes to raising children. Granted, Baker lives in Alameda, CA, and the article is dated September 14, 2012, the content is quite relevant.  What are parents teaching children today? More appropriate question would be: Are we enabling our children to become dependent on society and others or to become independent and self-sufficient for society? It is a question all parents should settle down and ask.

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Baker’s insightful perspective comes from taking her daughters to a local park where she sat on a bench to watch them engage in active play. She opens up with:

Dear Other Parents at the park: 

Please do not lift up my daughters to the top of the ladder, especially after you’ve just heard me tell them I wasn’t going to do it for them and encourage them to try it themselves. 

As parents, we want to help out our children. As parents, we definitely want the best for them and not to have to lack anything. We are obligated by laws and social norms to ensure their safety, health and well-being, as well as their education. As parents, we cringe at the thought that our children must face some episodes of disappointments, where they fall, and face obstacles that may stand in their way to accomplish specific tasks. However, therein lies the dangers. We prevent our children from learning, to be motivated to discover for themselves, and weaken their mind and strength as well as their resilience to become victors and over-comers in life. In short, if we continually fight the battles of life for them, they will not grow strong, courageous, and have the resolve to face their obstacles because they will constantly be vigilante to much disappointment that others should be there to boost them and help them.

This is not to say that we all need a helping hand in our life’s battle, but just like we do not expect other people to “fight” the battles we face for us, how more important is it that we should not step in and fight life’s battles for our children. In addition to this, there are times that as parents we do have the dutiful right to stand and protect our children from obvious harm and mental anguish; however, it is the constant little things.

For instance, if we continually pick up and hold a child as an infant and do not allow them the means to learn how to exert their own strength to gain the necessary motor skills needed to become mobile, we are inhibiting their growth and development. If we give into our children’s constant want’s and desires without them having an opportunity to learn good solid work ethics, to save money, and financial responsibility as well as financial accountability, we are doing a grave disservice to our children. This is the reason why I enjoyed reading Baker’s article and this paragraph sums up the quintessential thought all parents should highlight:

I am not sitting here, 15 whole feet away from my kids, because I am too lazy to get up. I am sitting here because I didn’t bring them to the park so they could learn how to manipulate others into doing the hard work for them. I brought them here so they could learn to do it themselves. 

They’re not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can’t do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What’s more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it. 

She continues:

It is not my job – and it is certainly not yours – to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world and can be overcome or used to their advantage. 

If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve on their own way out of it. 

It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again. 

Our jobs as parents is to allow our children to experience discomfort. Our jobs as parents it so allow our children to fail and fall short of goals, to face those obstacles that they must face. It pains us to watch, it pains us as we cringe when they make their first steps. Cringes us when they climb, and we know that when they let go and fall, it will hurt. Yet, such discomfort and pain (as we have learned in our growing years) lasts for only a moment. Our intervention and preventing them to learn necessary life functioning skills last their entire lifetime and gives them a false sense of security. What then is our job as parents? Baker sums this up as well:

  • We want our children to believe in their own abilities and to gain confidence and determination through their actions.
  • We want our children to accept and understand their limitations until they are able to figure a way to overcome those limitations through their own significant empowerment.
  • We want them to feel capable of making their own decisions, developing their own skills, and taking their own risks as well as coping with their own feelings in the process.
  • We want them to climb without any help, however well-intention another person maybe.

Through this process, we are enabling our children to become independent and self-sufficient through their own accord so that they can better enable society for themselves. Yet, if we enable them to become dependent on others, to reach out and seek out help without any exertion of their own volition, then we have failed them and we have failed society. It is a process we have seen much evidence of in our recent time. Enabled children who are more dependent on a hand out than dependent upon themselves to give themselves a hand up.

Baker sums it up quite nicely at the end with this parental observation:

Because, as they grow up, the ladders will only get taller, and scarier, and much more difficult to climb. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather help them learn the skills they’ll need to navigate them now, while a misstep means a bumped head or a scraped knee that can be healed with a kiss, while the most difficult of hills and can be conquered by chanting, “I think I can, I think, I can”, and while those 15 whole feet between us still feels, to them, like I’m much too far away. 

Yes, it is painful to see our children suffer discomfort. Yes, it is scary to watch them and not be there to rescue them when they are stuck. It is scary to be a parent to children who are growing and learning, adapting to the nature of life and going through the battles of life. However, we can either enable them to become dependent on society to meet their needs or we can enable them to become self-sufficient and independent to be able to become productive citizens of society where they are making a difference and meeting the needs of society that they find themselves in. Children are far more resilient than we give them credit for. It is time that we, parents, step back and watch them learn life on their own terms.

See also the following articles

Forbes: 7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors that prevent children from growing into leaders.

IRA Pre-School Blog: Five ways to know you are over-parenting

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