The Hardest Question Parents Need To Ask Themselves

You and I are parenting in a new era.

Ours is the generation that grew up at a time when the Singapore school system was just starting to get tough. We had a fair stack of homework to complete every day, but nothing on what kids these days have to grapple with. We could enjoy our recess breaks and “enrichment classes” were few and far between.

Then and Now

We lived for the 6pm cartoons on television (Gummi Bears, Captain Planet) and ice lollies or a paddlepop from the Ma Ma shop downstairs.

These days, every other kid is plugged into an iPhone or iPad, and ice cream treats are from brands like Magnum or Ben & Jerry’s.

Most of us spent a fair amount of time with our grandparents while our parents went to work. Rising costs of living made it necessary for them to do so. For some of us, the latch-key kid syndrome impacted us deeply; for others, there was little or no effect.

When we became parents, we vowed not to repeat the mistakes of our own parents while bringing up our child. If we had felt unloved, we promised undying love. If we had longed for verbal affirmation, we now seek every opportunity to encourage our child. Even if we had parents who raised us well and many happy memories of our growing up years, we’ve still got those mental lists of “Next time when I have a kid of my own, I will…”, haven’t we?

We want to be better parents than our parents have been

We read parenting articles and books, scientific and social research, and forum threads. We make time for our children, and we strive to build up their self-esteem while challenging them to do their best in life. We encourage them to develop their artistic potential or musical inclinations, instead of forcing them into the “Science is best” route that so many of our parents took with us.

We’re doing a lot better than our predecessors – or so we’d like to think. But Katherine Ozment, in a thought-provoking piece on overparenting written for the Boston Magazine, puts a new spin on things. She asks, What if we are trying too hard to be the perfect parent? What if we are overparenting our children?

What does it mean to overparent?

In a nutshell, it is trying too hard to be a good parent.

But wait, isn’t being a good parent supposed to be a, well, good thing? Ever heard the saying “Having too much of a good thing?” Have we gone overboard in our efforts to bring out the best in our children?

It starts from birth. Exclusive breastfeeding is now the desired route of most mothers. Whether this is actually possible in reality can make or break the morale of a new mum.

We choose the theories/principles that make sense to us, and make that our go-to-guide as we figure this whole parenting thing out. Attachment parenting, Cry-it-out, co-sleeping, sleeping in a separate room, baby-led weaning, and so on. And discipline methods definitely could take up a whole article on its own.

As child and family psychologist Richard Weissbourd says, “We’re in the midst of a giant social experiment. Historically, parents have been concerned with things like obedience, manners, and respect for authority. We’re the first parents in history who really want to be their kids’ friends.” According to him, parents can sometimes put friendship with their child on a pedestal, so much so that it undermines their authority and creates a whole host of discipline issues and blurs the boundary lines.

This is not to say that all your/my desire to build strong, lasting connections and bonds with our children is anything but good.

But here are two main points to leave with you.

finding a balance as a mother1. Find your balance

Yes, a strong sense of self-esteem is the goal of every parent for their child. But praising your child’s every move and celebrating his attempts to try, whether or not he succeeds at the task however, can bolster a false sense of confidence or create a warped sense of self and reality.

Related post: What Are The Right Ways To Praise Your Child

Similarly, it’s great to spend regular quality time with your child. But sometimes we think that the only quality time our children have in life is with us. And, honestly, just typing that makes me realize how irrational that is – but so many of us think that. We guard family times jealously, because we believe, on some level, that this is the highest quality of interaction our child can receive with others. Is it, really?

And when it comes to academics and opportunities in life, we push our children to give of their best, to excel, to seek out their niche in the marketplace. Again, in itself, nothing harmful. But are we so concerned about giving our kids the “best shot” at lift that we serve long hours as a school volunteer, just so our son is guaranteed a place in a popular school? Or do we take leave during the exam period to “make sure” that our daughter doesn’t fail a single paper?

It’s all about balance. And what’s “balanced” really isn’t an easy one-size-fits-all formula I can list out here. Every individual and every family has to figure out its own mix of push and pull, challenge and affirmation, time spent together, and time spent apart.

2. Who are you doing it for?

It’s tempting to say “For my child lah!” in typical Singaporean fashion. But, if we are totally honest with ourselves, the truth is that a lot of the good parenting techniques we try to live by stems from our own needs for control and structure, managing our own fears and emotional baggage. In many situations, it’s about making us look good, helping us to feel good about how we are doing as a parent. Once in a while, it’s good to take a step back, look at the situation objectively, and ask yourself “Why does it matter?”

Why does it matter if my child is not able to read fluently before he goes to Primary 1?

Why does it matter if his artistic skills go unnoticed or untapped?

Why does it matter if he doesn’t get the best grade he could get?

Try it and see. The answers might surprise you.

By Dorothea Chow