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On Parenting
Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 06/30/2011

Over-parenting: Is it something only other parents do?

Last week, I wrote about Lori Gottlieb’s much discussed piece in the most recent issue of The Atlantic magazine, “How to land your kid in therapy,” and many readers responded with their own take on modern parenting.

The notion that Gottlieb articulates may be an idea that has found its time. Her article became the topic of news shows, dozens of articles and countless conversations. One interesting aspect of some of the back-and-forth I read and heard was that many parents were ready to recognize and condemn over-parenting in others, but few saw it in themselves.

After my post ran, Gottlieb and I struck up a conversation about what her article wrought and just what over-parenting is.

Here’s more from Gottlieb:

Q. What’s been your reaction to the overwhelming response to your piece?

A. I’m glad it’s being discussed so widely, because from the feedback I’m getting, it seems that I’m writing about something many parents think about but don’t openly share with one another. I hope that the piece creates a forum for parents to consider these ideas and think about what might work best for them and their kids if they were to continue to be just as loving and attentive, but were able to let go of the intense pressure that stems from the cult of modern over-parenting.

Q. How would you describe “good enough” parenting?

A. I’m actually writing about “good” parenting and how we might better achieve that. We all want to be good parents, but in the piece, I’m suggesting that our definition of “good” parenting has morphed into this obsession with over-protecting and micro-managing our kids’ lives in ways that may not be so “good” for kids, especially as they enter adulthood. I do think there’s something to be said for the concept of enough-ness, which is very different from laid-back parenting or slacker parenting. It’s balanced parenting — being loving and present and supportive, but not intrusive or overly protective.

Q. Where is the line between “over-parenting” and “good enough” parenting?

A. One of the main points of the article is that there’s no one recipe for raising kids. Every kid is different and even in the same family, one kid may need more of X and another less of it. On top of that, we really have far less control than we often believe over how what we do or don’t do will affect our kids. I’m not saying there’s any “right” way to raise kids; I’m simply asking if what’s considered “good parenting” nowadays is really “good” for our kids in terms of fostering genuine self-esteem and inner happiness. Are we going so far overboard that kids develop an externalized sense of self instead of a more authentic one?

Q. In my earlier post on your article, I suggested this approach may include overlooking playground bullying. You took issue with this. Why?

A. I took issue with it because no parent should overlook bullying of any kind. Bullying needs to be addressed by parents and teachers alike. I don’t discuss bullying in my Atlantic article. That said, the experts I spoke to report that many parents intervene in social situations where the child might benefit from figuring out a solution instead of having the parent call the school to “fix it.” There’s a huge benefit in learning how to negotiate routine social situations by trial and error, but many parents have such difficulty tolerating their child’s disappointment or rejection that they immediately want to step in and make it better instead of giving the child the opportunity to do so.

Q. There have been some other parenting movements, for lack of a better term, that advocate a more laid-back approach than the current popular model of super-attentive parenting. I’m thinking of books like “Free-Range Kids,” by Lenore Skenazy (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” by Bryan Caplan (Basic Books, 2011) or the “bad mommy” humor phenomenon. How is what you’re talking about different than these? Or is it?

A. My article isn’t suggesting any kind of parenting movement. It’s simply pointing out that while attentiveness is absolutely a very important part of raising well-adjusted, secure children, we might want to explore the difference between being attentive and being overly anxious about every facet of our kids’ lives. As one clinician says in the piece, “There’s a difference between being loved and constantly monitored.”

Q. Your earlier book on marriage evolved out of an Atlantic piece. Do you think you may expand this concept into a book or larger project?

A. As I point out in the piece, the good-enough concept is [D.W.] Winnicott’s, not mine. He coined the phrase, “the good-enough mother.” But as a mom myself, I’m certainly interested in this area, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it and explore it further down the line.

By  |  11:29 AM ET, 06/30/2011

 
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