I’m sure most parents don’t set out to overindulge their kids. I know I don’t, but sometimes it happens when I’m not paying attention. Overindulgence comes from a good place — it is born out of our deep love for our kids. We want to meet their needs and to make them happy and comfortable. We want to nurture them, and rightfully so — nurturing is foundational to parenting.
But did you know that we can overindulge our kids by OVER nurturing them? When we do things for our children that they can and should learn to do for themselves, we are over nurturing them. Every loving parent crosses this line occasionally, and when it happens once in a while, it simply sends the message to our kiddos that we love them and want to celebrate them in various little ways.
But when the occasional overindulgence becomes the norm, it can spell huge problems for our kids later in life.
Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote, “The proverb warns that you should not bite the hand that feeds you. But maybe you should, if it prevents you from feeding yourself.”
When we do things for our kids that they should learn to do for themselves, we train them to be helpless and teach them be incompetent.
So what should our kids learn to do for themselves? Everything!
I remember once, as a younger mom, seeing a woman who had had her baby later in life and marveling at how she doted upon this little girl. The child was nearing a year old, and she had her strapped into a bouncy chair while she spoon fed her baby food.
From infancy, our goal should be gradual independence. So we help our little ones practice sitting up, and then we encourage them to stand, while we hold there hands. As soon as we see them grasping things with their thumb and forefinger instead of raking with four fingers, we begin offer small pieces of food for them to feed themselves.
Soon we teach them how to undress and dress themselves and how to clean up their toys. Two and three year olds can do simple little chores like folding wash cloths or putting their folded shirts into their shirt drawer.
As kids get older, they learn to make their beds, do dishes, take out the garbage. Our goal with housework should be to eventually teach our kids how to do everything we do as well or better than we do it.
When we are prescribing over-the-counter meds to our 10 year old, we can explain what we are giving them, why we chose that medication and how we determined the dosage.
Our kids can learn how to find experts who can answer their questions, make phone calls and leave detailed messages. They can learn how to make reservations, book airline tickets, cook for themselves, get directions, do their laundry.
Of course, we have to be mindful of their developmental level, but when we assume strength and competence in our kids, we gradually teach them to become capable, independent people. On the flip side, when we do things for them that they can learn to do for themselves, we are assuming that they are weak and incapable, and over time, we will train them to become helpless and incompetent. And who really wants that outcome?