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Please Get Off My Back! (The Perils of Overprotective Parenting)

Please Get Off My Back! (The Perils of Overprotective Parenting)

By Elizabeth Jayne Liu

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.

About the Author

Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she s...

Elizabeth started her blog, Flourish in Progress, on her thirtieth birthday to chronicle a yearlong shopping ban. Surprisingly, she survived, and now records a series of weekly challenges called Monday Dares. She fails a lot.

Elizabeth writes candidly about her former addictions, love of four-letter words, and her affinity for all things rap. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, whom she married after dating for just eighteen days, her 13-year-old daughter, and her complete collection of Yo! MTV Raps Trading Cards.

Connect with Elizabeth on The Huffington Post, Facebook, and Instagram (@flourishinprogress).

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  • Ally

    December 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Your definition of happiness seems so sad to me, the absence of discomfort and sadness and pain. My style of parenting is very different than what you described, but I am the first to say what works for one family doesn’t work for every family. I want to equip my children to be self-sufficient. I don’t fear pain or unhappiness for them. I would rather them feel some of that now while I am around and can help them through those feelings. I want them to make mistakes and decisions, and know I am here to help them. 

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      You’re much braver than I am. 

      The thought of my child being in pain or being unhappy makes me very fearful. 

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        December 10, 2013 at 12:36 am

        i think it’s completely normal to feel that way.

      • Elee

        December 14, 2013 at 12:53 am

        Ally, just wondering what your experiences are of having a child experience pain.  I would gladly take the pain my child goes through everyday from her medical issues so that she could live free from the fear of death.  I think you missed the point of the article.  I believe the author was saying that she hopes (against all realistic hope) that her child wouldn’t have to experience pain in life.  What parent wouldn’t hope that for his/her kid?  For example, I would hope my daughter doesn’t grow up to marry an abuser or experience the death of a child or feel like they don’t fit in, etc.  In fact, there’s not one situation of pain that I would gladly will upon my child.  But, like you said, to each his/her own. 

        • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

          December 18, 2013 at 1:22 am

          Elee, I’m so sorry to hear that your daughter is going through so much. It is hard as a parent to watch our children experience any kind of discomfort. We want to do anything and everything to take it away. 

          I hope you remember to be kind to yourself too. It’s easy to ignore our needs, but all mamas need to recharge once in a while. 

  • Gillian

    December 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    I think it’s a good sign your daughter is asking for some space to make her own decisions. It shows that she is very mature and ready to take on more responsibility. 

    I would say, when I was an undergraduate, it was the students whose parents had never let them be in charge who had the hardest time adapting. It’s the “off the leash” phenomenon. Giving your daughter room to make her own decisions now will ensure she can make good ones in the future. 

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:46 pm

      She’s already making much better decisions that I did as a near 14-year-old. Giving space to grow is hard, but so worth it. =)

  • Stephanie

    December 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Your daughter is 14?! You’re more overprotective than I am with my 4 year old. You can’t protect your daughter from every danger out there. Being cold means learning to remember your jacket the next time. I teach that to my 4 year old already. She’s 14. I walked to school and back by myself when I was younger than that. Be her advocate when it matters.

  • Mona

    December 4, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I get that there is a bit of self effacing exaggeration here. :). I love it… I find myself locked a bit in the same struggle here and there. My kids are younger (5 and 2), but I get it. I used to joke that my mom out the “mother in smother”- but she actually gave us a fair bit of freedom to roam. I’m not sure I can do the same all the time, but now admire her parenting even that much more. Like Cal, I have a great mom, and I’d do we’ll to be more like her!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      I definitely appreciate my mother so much more now that I’m facing the same anxieties. We’ve had more than a few conversations where I sheepishly admit that she did the absolute best she could in the situation she was in. 

  • leslie

    December 5, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Wow…it must be really difficult to live with so much fear/anxiety. Have you considered seeking some help with that? I say that in the most supportive/non-judgemental way. You are very anxious…about things you should not be anxious about. Especially with a 14-year old! It’s definitely one thing to be there for your child…it’s another thing to hover/smother so much that she never learns to function on her own. It sounds like you know that, but at 14 years, it’s high time she be let loose to stumble on her own. You’ll be there help her up when she does. But stumble she must, or she’s going to have a very harsh reality check when she goes off to college and then into the real world. And circling back to you – seriously…think about getting some help. Your anxiety is consuming you. Happiness as “the absence of discomfort and sadness and pain” is no way to live life. Happiness is joy. You deserve joy, mama!

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      No, I have never thought about seeking help before. 

      Thank you for your suggestion and for telling me that I deserve joy. I wasn’t sure until now. 

      • Elee

        December 14, 2013 at 12:59 am

        LOL.  Stop Elizabeth, You’re killing me.  Omg, does no one here get that there is some slight exaggeration going on?  This is getting bizarre. Why is everyone so freakin literal on this blog??

        • Elee

          December 14, 2013 at 1:07 am

          I loved the article!  I’m with you 100%.  I have become my Korean mother.  Wait, does being Korean have anything to do with all of this?  If so, these folk just don’t understand the Asian way.  Let’s pull the race card.  =)

          • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

            December 18, 2013 at 1:25 am

            As much as I deny it, I think my upbringing in an Asian American family colors the way I approach life now. 

            That was my classy way of saying I’ve totally become my mother too. 

  • Misty

    December 5, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Parenting is an inexact science. There is a fine line between overprotective and just protective enough, whilst allowing your child to have her own identity. And it’s a line that we all traipse over many times. Nobody is perfect or always makes the correct decisions. The most we can do is love our children and try to protect them from the evils of the world, while also letting them spread their wings. It is the hardest job in the world. You are doing the absolute best you can. Keep doing exactly what you are doing. And don’t mind the haters. You are an excellent mother, and Cal is an amazing kid, so you must be doing something right, my dear.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      I’m guilty of crossing that line so many times. By “so many times,” I think I might mean “every day.” Yikes. 

      Cal has grown up to be a solid human being. In spite of my parenting. =)

  • Hi, I'm Natalie.

    December 5, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    You know that discomfort and sadness and pain are GOOD to experience, right? That they teach us compassion and an appreciation for the highs of life?

    This was an honest post… parenting is tough… Best wishes.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Having experienced large amounts of discomfort, sadness, and pain, I would have to agree with you that those trials have taught me to be compassionate toward others, even when I feel that other person is being callous and judgmental. 

  • lauren

    December 9, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    This is beautiful, & i feel very much the same about my daughter. Having children is very much like having your heart walk around for other dumba** to corrupt high five mama i feel your pain 🙂

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 10:57 pm

      My mother always told me that I would not understand the length and breadth of deep love until I had a child. She was absolutely right. i think we all want only the best for the ones we love. 

  • Mel

    December 9, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    The trust thing is definitely something that I have been through with my own mom. When I was about 12 or 13, my mom was leaving for work and giving me a list of chores which included cutting up some vegetables to be cooked later.

    She walked out of the door. And then she came back in to start cutting up the vegetables herself. I remember feeling so angry because she couldn’t trust me with something that simple.

    From what you wrote here, it seems that while you may be overprotective, you’re not overbearing. 

    So you just keep doing what you’re doing. Someday, it will be 65F out, and she’ll be glad that she took that sweater at your insistence.

    Haters gon’ hate.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 11:04 pm

      It’s such a struggle…I totally don’t want Cal handling “dangerous” objects like knives or power tools or liquid eyeliner, but the less exposure she has to things she will come into regular contact with in the future (unsure about the power tools), the greater her chances of not knowing how to handle herself. 

      I don’t think I should have more kids till I get the hang of having one. Can people have babies when they’re 80? 

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        December 10, 2013 at 12:34 am

        I think you’re amazing. I think we can all learn from you.

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        December 10, 2013 at 12:37 am

        dude, liquid eyeliner is scary.

  • Annie

    December 9, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    I don’t know what your day-to-day looks like, but I’ve seen photos of Cal and she appears happy and confident. I know she has achieved amazing things already. (Like, seriously impressive things.) I also can tell that the two of you have a strong relationship. All of these factors mean you are not just doing something right, but lots of things right. And the fact that you are being analytical and self-aware of yourself and your parenting choices before your child has left the nest is more than many parents can claim.
    Also, all of us parent our kids based on our parents and childhoods, whether we find ourselves doing what we subconsciously saw worked…or very consciously do as much opposite as possible. Knowing a tiny bit about your childhood, you are clearly just trying out some strategies that you wish you had had when you were young.
    How can there be so much judgement about all of that? If there are parents out there with secret knowledge about how to be the perfect parent then why don’t you share that with…oh wait, that would make you a smug and probably pretty crappy parent. Humility in huge doses is maybe the single most important part of being a parent. Humility, grace, support, and LOVE. For all human beings. Not just your own.

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 9, 2013 at 11:11 pm


      (Feel guilty about my one-word response, but you just summed up all of my thoughts, so I have nothing to add. Actually, that is a lie because your thoughts are much better than any I could have come up with on my own, but let’s just overlook that part.)

  • Over-anxious mom

    December 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I totally understand and I am the exact same way. I worry relentlessly about my kids. They’re all I have! Who would I be without them?? I try to give them space and we have an amazing relationship so maybe somewhere along the way I did something right, but I do worry non-stop. I’ll go with you to therapy. Over worriers anonymous anyone?? lol

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 18, 2013 at 1:28 am

      Sometimes, I worry about worrying too much. If I stopped worrying about my daughter, it would free up so many hours of my day that I would need to get two or three new hobbies to fill the time. 

  • Doris

    December 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Growing up my mom treated me like a friend but she was also my mother, she was over bearing and anxious, like yourself most of the time. I was 18 years old and my curfew was still 9:30pm. Although i felt this way then, she always wanted what was best for me and she did the best she could with the knowledge she had then. Like yourself she did not want me to fall or stumble and tried her best to protect me from those things. Sometimes however, as a teen you just need to stumble to learn not to do that again, and sometimes you have to stumble more than once, but i promise that as long as you are there for her as her friend AND her mother (depending on which she needs at the moment) she will be fine, more than fine. She will also appreciate everything you did for her. Trust yourself and follow your gut. 

    • Elizabeth Jayne Liu

      December 18, 2013 at 1:33 am

      My hope is that I can marry the two roles into some kind of hybrid cool but conscientious mom. It hasn’t gone too well, but I still have 3.5 years to get this right before she leaves for college. 

      Also, your mom sounds pretty awesome.