Being someone who’s grown-up with an overprotective parent, I know how difficult it is to feel confident, and competent, in one’s ability to manage the stresses of adulthood. In a previous article on the subject, I discussed existential dread: the fear of knowing that we have to be our own mothers and fathers, creating our lives, and their meanings, out of nothing, as there’s no objective blueprint to guide us; in this post, I wanted to shift the focus more toward the affects of overprotective, helicopter, parenting.
Although existential terror is ubiquitous, because all of us experience an intense level of anxiety when we realize that we’ve become adults and have to now manage our lives on our own, those individuals who are allowed to experience, and attempt to overcome, their difficulties as children are better equipped to manage their dread, having with them the plethora of experience which they’ve accumulated throughout their short-lived lives. When parents are willing to take a step back and allow their children to experience the world, those kids, when they become adults, are then able to access their past moments of sheer terror in the face of present dread, reminding themselves of their abilities to handle distress and resolve life’s most daunting challenges. While all of us experience existential fear, only some of us are able to manage it.
The kids who are overprotected while they’re young, the ones who aren’t allowed to go outside and socialize or to try to resolve their own problems, are the ones who aren’t able to deal with life’s difficulties, living in perpetual terror, with no tools to mitigate it. Anxiety, the disease of self-doubt, plagues them, fueling subsequent avoidant behaviors, which eventually become clinically significant. People, like any of the other aspects of nature, need to grow; but, they can only do so by building on their beliefs in their abilities through the use of their past experiences, by gradually being exposed to, and resolving, challenges which increasing levels of difficulty. When there are limited opportunities for problem-solving, there are minimal opportunities for growth.
Being a parent is, or should be, one’s most selfless endeavor. To bring a child into the world, and to raise them, requires a humility that few individuals have; you have to accept that it isn’t about you, and never will be. What’s best for a child is the provision of an environment which acts as a sort of incubator, one in which they’re provided with the warmth, the care, and the necessities of life, and one which affords her or him the chance to experience her or himself as a tiny problem-solver. Referring back to the notion of existential dread, and the lack of an objective life-manual, parents, sometimes, fear that they don’t know what the hell they’re doing, so they end up doing too much.
Protecting children from significant physical harm is a necessity; protecting them from emotional harm is often an impossibility, at least in the way we’ve been attempting it. The world is full of haters, and its full of hurtful comments; but, rather than trying to eliminate them out there, which as wonderful of an ideal as it is isn’t going to happen, I help my clients, especially children, deal with, and respond to, them internally. When children learn that they don’t have to accept the spiteful insults of others, that they can feel good about themselves despite what someone else may say, or even think, of them, they begin to develop the morale needed to deal with the inevitable rejections and failures which accompany adulthood. If we were to make sure that their environments were completely harmless, we’d prevent them from developing the requisite emotional core which fosters resilience, that part of oneself that says, “I believe in you, so don’t give up!”
There are many more examples of overprotecting parenting, which I won’t mention for brevity’s sake; but, I do want to remind parents that it’s okay to scale it back sometimes, and it’s okay to let your child cry and be sad, as these are normal, and inevitable emotions. Children overreact to stress because they’re children, but with time, and opportunity, they can learn to manage it; however, they can only do so if they believe that they can, if we allow experience to teach them so.