By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
3 Part Blog Series About Over-Functioning Parents
Part #2 So you are an over-functioning parent. What now?
Welcome back to our three-part blog series about over-functioning parents. Last week, we discussed what over-functioning is and how it impacts children. This week, we will discuss what to do if you want to change this dynamic in your family.
The first step is to have a conversation with your child about what you have realized.
Depending on the age of your child, you could talk to them about this situation in a variety of ways, but usually, it will sound something like this: “I love you so much. Unfortunately, because I worry about the future, I have been doing way too much for you. And this might make you feel like you are not able to do things on your own, which is not at all the case. I believe in you and your ability to manage things more independently. Moving forward, I am going to stop doing so much for you so that you can learn how to do it on your own. I am still here, and I love you. I believe you can do everything I ask of you.” You can add examples or specific areas you are going to work on reducing your involvement in or even other phrases such as, “I know you can cope with things on your own without texting me from school” or “I know you will figure out a way to wake yourself up in the morning.”
The most important thing is to communicate to your child that you have been making a mistake, and that has led to their feelings of incapability. And that you believe you were wrong because they are much more capable than you taught them to believe! For this to be a truly corrective experience and productive conversation, you need to be prepared to take full responsibility for this dynamic. Keep in mind that your child already feels like they are doing everything wrong and are not capable. So your job now is to acknowledge that you are the reason they feel this way and that you will work to help shift this pattern because it is your responsibility to do so and not theirs. This acknowledgment is the first step to changing this dynamic and helping them build feelings of capability.
The next part is the hardest, as you have to actually pull back your support. Here are some examples of what this might look like:
I could go on, but mostly the idea is to observe how you solve problems for your child and stop doing it. I know it sounds basic and also quite risky, especially if your child is older, but kids who have yet to learn to solve their own problems just do not do as well in college and later in life.
As parents, we need to raise our kids to know their abilities and when to ask for help. Stepping in before they even ask for help or know they need it is not teaching them any of this. It teaches them to be passive and wait for a rescue rather than be proactive problem solvers.
Be prepared that your child will likely not seamlessly transition to independence once you pull back your support. They might kick, scream, pout, ask why you don’t love them anymore, ask why you don’t want to help them, or even just fail at whatever it is you were helping them with in the past. This reaction is okay. I know that sounds really callous, but it genuinely is okay. Your child needs to experience challenges to figure out how to overcome them, which is part of their path towards independence.
All of this will likely make you feel very uncomfortable, even anxious. I can tell you that this is perfectly normal and almost expected. Every time I have had this conversation with parents in my office, they look at me like I have lost my mind. “Erica, you expect me just to sleep and know my 16-year-old hasn’t done their homework?” And to that, I answer ABSOLUTELY. I expect you to do just that so that you are not more invested in the outcomes of their education than they are.
You see, not only does our emotional investment and over-involvement lead to kids who feel incapable or even anxious, but it can also lead them not to care as much as we do. Simply, in the kids’ eyes, it becomes less of a “me thing” and more of a “you thing.” This point of view, unfortunately, leads some kids to become less motivated or interested in their activities or school. Any of these outcomes - anxious and stressed out kids who feel incapable or kids who appear completely uninterested in goals/school/future types of things which also feel incapable - are not helpful in our goal of raising independent people!
For the final part of our blog series next week, I will share ideas about how to cope with the challenging emotions this process might bring up for you. You don’t want to miss it!
If you are interested in learning more about connecting with your child, please make sure to sign up for our newsletter! Dr. Wollerman will be launching a parenting course all about this topic later this summer or early fall! You will want to be a part of this!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client-centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy we offer in person and telehealth via video sessions, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
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Blogs from the Thrive Family!
Musings from Erica, Jennifer, Maria, Kim, Andrea, Molly, Abbey, and Ying-Ying