9 Lives for Women Blog

Overparenting May Be Hazardous to Happiness | April 4th, 2012

One of my daughter’s teachers once told me that students would no longer be doing their big science projects at home.  With a hint of sarcasm in her voice she said, “in the past parents built some very impressive machines.”

We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parents”, and I would be lying if I said I’ve never hovered—or tried to control—my children’s lives.  Perhaps not often enough internal alarm signals go off when I start circling, and I actively try to back off.

For years I’ve watched many stay-at-home Moms completely assume their children’s lives. They’ve told me how involved they are as a point of pride, noting that they would never have such targeted time if they worked. While I totally know the lifetime value of visible parental support, I’ve often wondered how much is too much?

I’ve raised eyebrows when parents wrote a child’s college entrance essays or term papers, when a woman told me, “Now we’re in the 4th grade”, and when a family marshaled “Operation Exam Week”–putting their entire family in lockdown and channeling both parents’ full energies into their child’s comprehensive test prep.

We all want our children to do well, but I try to remind myself often that there’s a difference between loving and guiding—and trying to machinate your own preferred outcomes.   This reminder synchs with an article I read in the April 2012 issue of Real Simple“Do We Spend Too Much Time with Our Kids?”

If you’re thinking that a return to work could reduce the amount of quality time that you spend with your children, consider if working could ground your helicopter.  The Real Simple article reports that today’s mothers—both working and non-working—spend more time with their children than mothers did in the 1960s.   That’s an eye-opener and I know it’s true in my case.  My mother certainly wanted me to be successful, but she did not check and re-check my homework, play educational games with me every day or figure out 15 after-school activities that would guarantee my admission to Harvard.

That leads me to one haunting point in the article.  The author of a soon-to-be released book on parenting, The Conflict, says that letting your children consume your life is not healthy for parent or child.  “After all, if our ultimate goal is to have our kids find personal fulfillment, perhaps we should lead by example”.

Many times in my life I’ve been told, “You are responsible for your own happiness”.  Helicopter parents—and women who feel they can’t work because they have to be present for and control every minute of their children’s lives—could be setting their children up for big disappointment in later life.  We all know that after kids leave the nest, no one else will ever devote 100% of their time in an ardent campaign for their personal happiness and success.


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