Monday, April 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Overparents

Dear OverParents:

I am leaving your ranks.

Your compulsive need to hover over your children is destructive. More important, it is boring.

You have taken the fun out of parenting.
For six years now, I have watched you behave. I have witnessed your hurling invective at soccer games to an innocent coach who has volunteered their time to help your child have fun. I have watched you reduce underpaid nursery school teachers to tears because your 3-year-old wasn’t reading properly. I have seen you shell out money for a tutor so that your toddler can be ahead of my toddler by the time they hit Grade 1. I see you proudly holding up your child’s mastery of fractions at the age of 5, and I also see in your face the cost of that mastery. I see your tight smile, your hurried walk, your impatience as you talk to your child, your scheduling of endless programs and playdates as you try and create the perfect child that you can live vicariously through.

Yes, my former parent pals, that is the sad source of your overparenting. Rather than live your own life, you have chosen to live through your child’s life and that is not good for him. Your child was not put on this earth to make you happy. He is not the receptacle of your insecurity and unfulfilled dreams.
You realize, of course, that I am speaking from experience. After all, I was once you. I overparented the hell out of my firstborn — applications for private school once the ultrasound was in hand, mountains of baby Einstein CDs, private speech therapy, you name it. And man was I miserable.

When I actually took a breath from all the expensive baby classes and thought about why I was so unhappy, the answer came clearly: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Each of my pre-baby jobs was more unsatisfying than the next. I had dropped out of a Ph.D program in genocide studies. I had been a technical writer, a management consultant, a university administrator. None of these jobs satisfied. I was completely unfulfilled professionally.

Rather than dealing with that problem, I had thrown myself into my kid’s life. If I couldn’t be successful in the work force, then damn it, I was going to succeed as a parent. All of my energy - some positive much negative - went into my son to no one’s benefit. After a year of this misery, I went to a career counselor and after a few months, figured out that I wanted to be an editor. I went back to school and when my son was 18 months old, I started working again and have been doing so ever since. Rather than overparent, I now underparent, and my kids are better off for it. Sure I find being a working parent to be a tough gig, but it’s my gig and when I succeed, it’s my success and when I screw up, it’s my failure.

So OverParents, here’s the bottom line: You need to back off your kids. Instead of focusing on them, which is easy, you need to focus on you, which is infinitely harder. Are you happy? What will make you happy? Once you have answers to these questions, go out and hire whatever career counselor, shrink, marriage therapist that will put you back on the road to personal fulfillment.

Leave your kids alone. Get a life. Your own life.

Love, Natalie

Women's Post Online: March 2010