Please Get Off My Back! (The Perils of Overprotective Parenting)
My daughter collects rocks or anything that bears a strong resemblance to a rock. Polished agate, rough quartz, chunks of concrete, “rocks” that once left someone’s mouth as a chewed wad of gum and hardened over time-every small and dense object has a special place in Cal’s heart. Sometimes when she is at school, I will root through her rock collection and wipe the ones that look especially dirty with a disinfecting wipe as I silently pray that Cal uses her hand sanitizer before lunch.
I wish this was my only overprotective and neurotic parenting quirk, but it’s not. I don’t allow Cal to check the mailbox after sunset. Multiple times a week, I ask if school is too stressful. It’s always in a gentle manner because I don’t want to stress her out about being stressed out. When she brings home Halloween candy, I check each piece to make sure it’s “safe to eat” after I take my 90% cut as payment for her long and difficult delivery fourteen years ago. I worry a lot that she isn’t drinking enough fluids. Dehydration causes a myriad of side effects. Like death.
Since my own mother was overprotective, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of zealous parenting. It became a source of friction and embarrassment as a teen, and I promised myself that I would be different. Better. Calm. Easygoing. A friend-like companion. Showing restraint would be easy because I would love my daughter much more than my mother ever loved me.
My mother now looks like an absentee parent in comparison. I no longer care about being my daughter’s buddy or being the cool mom that all the other girls envy. Nope. I’m too busy texting her to make sure she has a light sweater in her backpack in case the temperature drops below 70 degrees. Actually, I just prefer she has a sweater at all times. Classrooms can get chilly. Hands that are rubbing together for warmth are not taking notes. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking this through.
I don’t define happiness in terms of money or medals or moments. To me, it’s the absence of discomfort and sadness and pain. I don’t want Cal to understand sadness the way I do. If I’m really honest with myself, I can admit that I don’t want my daughter to know sadness or pain at all.
My hopes are unrealistic, but I can’t help hoping anyway. There are so many factors out of my control. Knowing this makes me extremely unreasonable. I may be the most uptight person I know. And I know a lot of uptight people.
It’s most important to me that Cal never feels like she is fending for herself, which is a feeling I carried for most of my childhood. Even though my mother placed tight boundaries for daily details that didn’t matter, when it came to crisis, she believed in silence and non-action. No child should have to be their own advocate. It’s a mother’s job to voice concern when a problem exists because, really, kids are inexperienced and dumb. I’m guilty of over-voicing, if there is such a thing.
I want my daughter to know that I have her back. My daughter mostly just wants me to get off her back.
Cal recently asked for more decision-making power. She promised to be responsible and asked for my trust. I realized then that the consequence of my overparenting was Cal believing that I didn’t trust her and that she wasn’t capable of making the best choices for herself. This isn’t the truth at all. My daughter is more mature as a teen than I am sometimes, even now. Of course I trust her. Of course I believe in her. I just don’t trust other people.
But I can’t keep her boxed in forever. It’s been difficult to keep my lips sealed as she leaves the house without a sweater. I try not to interject during carpool if a conversation becomes heated. I am my daughter’s advocate, but she’ll be leaving for college in less than four years, and I want her to understand that her voice is important too. Part of growing up is having the freedom to fall down and pick yourself back up. I just want to be there with a first-aid kit.