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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.

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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
Guest
Ally

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. 

Gillian
Guest
Gillian

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. 

Stephanie
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Stephanie

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
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Mona

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!

leslie
Guest
leslie

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… Read more »

Misty
Guest

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.… Read more »

Hi, I'm Natalie.
Guest
Hi, I'm Natalie.

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.

lauren
Guest
lauren

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 🙂

Mel
Guest

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… Read more »

Annie
Guest

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… Read more »

Over-anxious mom
Guest
Over-anxious mom

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

Doris
Guest
Doris

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… Read more »