My kids come to me far to quickly to help solve their problems. Because they are 5 and 9, their problems aren't too terribly bad. They run the gamut from "I pushed the wrong button on the SpongeBob Typing computer game and now I can't move," to "I can't get Barbie's gown on!"
For the most part, the solutions to my kids problems are simple. And for the most part, they could have solved their own problems by taking a little time to explore different solutions. Instead, they come running to me (or more likely - hollering for me) to help them.
Until a month ago, I didn't think this was much of an issue. I thought it was just a remnant of SAHM (Stay At Home Mom) syndrome. That is, why solve something yourself when it's quicker and easier to have mom do it.
I'm usually happy to help and in fact, as a SAHM mom, felt it was "part of the job."
But a woman named Madeline Levine has significantly changed my view regarding my parenting style. In a June SF Chronicle Sunday Magazine feature called "What Price, Privilege?" Levine posits that overparenting has created a generation of kids with an impaired sense of self.
Levine is a Marin County child psychologist, who, over the past several years, has seen dozens of teen patients who come from good homes with caring parents. They get good, even great grades, and are usually considered high achievers. But, as Levine writes, "in spite of parental concern and economic advantage, many of my adolescent patients suffer from readily apparent emotional disorders: addictions, anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and assorted self-destructive behaviors."
"They complain bitterly of being too pressured, misunderstood, anxious, angry, sad and empty," Levine writes. "While at first they may not appear to meet strict criteria for a clinical diagnosis, they are certainly unhappy...they lack the enthusiasm typically seen in young people."
Levine then had what she calls her "AHAAA" moment. An epiphany of sorts, to discovering the root cause of these kids' problems. In a word, overparenting.
"Many of my patients have teachers, coaches and,
most of all, parents who have actively poured enormous amounts of attention and
resources into these children. Paradoxically, the more they pour, the less full
many of my patients seem to be," Levine claims.
"Parents who persistently fall on the side of intervening for their child, as opposed to supporting their child's attempts to problem solve, interfere with the most important task of childhood and adolescence: the development of a sense of self," Levine continues. "Autonomy, what we commonly call independence, along with competence and interpersonal relationships, are considered to be inborn human needs. Their development is central to psychological health. In a supportive and respectful family, children go about the business of forging a "sense of self" by being exposed to, and learning to manage, increasingly complex personal and interpersonal challenges."
Reading this, I had my own AHAAA moment. For every computer problem I solved, every Barbie I dressed, every sibling dispute I stepped into...I was hurting my kids - not helping them. I wasn't allowing them to solve their own problems...preventing them from developing that much needed autonomy Levine was talking about.
I'm far from the only parent to have been impacted by Levine's theory. Her new book, "The Price of Privilege," is a best seller in the Bay Area, and it's the talk of the playgrounds and the pools this summer. I've had numerous discussions with friends over our parenting styles. "If we butt out now, is it still too late?" we ask one another. Levine says no.
But I've found it's not easy to go from "problem solver" to "problem observer." The kids are frustrated they aren't getting as much help from me, and "it's for your own good" just doesn't fly with a 5 year old (the 9 year old actually, somewhat "gets" it).
Still, I worry. I have always jokingly said I should be saving for college and therapy, but in NO WAY do I wish a life of sadness, anxiety and unhappiness for my children.
You can read more about Levine in today's WaPost article called "Sick of Expectations." The WaPost is also having a live, online chat with Levine at 9am PST this morning. If you miss it, you can read the text at this link.
And I forget just what it takes
And yet I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it's hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind.
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mullato, an albino
A mosquito, my libido