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The Harmful Side of Helping Too Much

Are you helping your child or harming them when you do everything for them? Do you use your “helpfulness” as a way for you to measure your ability to be a good parent? Your method of helping may actually be disempowering your child without you realizing it. Disempowerment is a big word that can refer to so many situations. It’s a word that I think really needs to be explored in parenting because I have been guilty of doing this to my child. I know it sounds like I’m admitting to some horrible crime but in reality, all parents do this out of love even if it is a misguided form of love.

If we break down the word dis-empowerment its meaning becomes clear; To remove ones own or someone else’s power. Usually this word is used to describe a power of self care or emotion versus some violent self-defense action. Are you aware of when you are disempowering your own child?

Moms and dads are love machines. They want what’s best for their kids and they want their children’s lives to be easier than theirs were. Let me give you a few examples of how we think we are helping our children and showing love…

  1. We don’t expect them to do chores because “they will have to do that for the rest of their adult lives. Let them be kids!”

  2. We conversely say “This is your time to be a student so go study and take copious amounts of extra curricular activities so you can get into college” and yet we fail to teach life skills.

  3. You indulge your child’s every material request so they can fit in. “Everyone is doing it or has it or needs it.”

  4. We fail to say “no” because our kids may not like us.

  5. We don’t listen to our guts and instead we go with the popular stance or the easier route which may really not be the guidance your child was seeking.

So let me give you an example of where I used to disempower my own son. When our kids are little we are programmed to feed them and help them. That’s our job. But at some point they need to start caring for themselves. I failed to see when that should happen so here is this 7 year old, who is quite capable of getting himself a glass of water, asking me to get it for him- While he’s standing in the kitchen! And what do I do? I get it for him!! I think it was at about this time that my husband started saying- let him get it for himself. Well, thank you for that wake up call. My husband showed me that I needed to break my habit of serving and start empowering. And so for the first time I said to my son- your can get it yourself. Actually my son was surprised by this because he didn’t know he could do it! (One detail you should know about him is that he has high functioning autism so most things in life are a little wonky but in a delightful way!) And so a new habit was born. Did he still ask for help with things? Yes, but often I also refused to help. I had to constantly remind myself that I was helping him by not helping him. So to continue empowering him, I would help less and less especially when I knew it was a task he could handle such as zipping his jacket or packing his lunch box or even doing his laundry.

A few words about the power of chores. Chores are not a punishment. They are an important contribution to the society (your home) in which children live. By doing chores, they are part of a bigger fabric and learn that other people depend on their contribution for the running of the household. Chores also build life skills which are not taught in school. I have a perfect example of the importance of chores. One summer I was a counselor at a residential camp for wealthy, over-privileged children. It was eye opening for me and them!! For the first time in their lives, in their teen years, they had been asked to do chores. They had to clean toilets, and sweep floors and maintain order in the common spaces. I actually had to teach them how to hold brooms. These girls had no understanding of how to care for their personal spaces or public spaces. It had always been done for them. If I were to site a flaw in the parents it is that they assumed their children would always be wealthy enough to afford help. That’s a dangerous assumption to make. If the money doesn’t manifest, these kids will be clueless about managing life without hired help. Additionally, how will they have any appreciation for the hard work people around them do if they never experience it themselves? Can you see how disempowered and disconnected these kids are?

Really our job as parents is to help our child grow into a self- dependent adult. Notice I’m not using independent because that implies they are fully capable of moving out and living alone. This is not true for every human- especially those with special needs. However, no matter where they end up living as adults they need to have the power of care for themselves, make decisions about their well-being, advocate for themselves and do what makes them happy! These life lessons begin in the home and can begin as early as the child is capable and continue through young adulthood.

I challenge you to notice where you can empower your child. I’m willing to bet that you are doing way more for them than they need. By empowering them, you are encouraging confidence and independence and freeing yourself up for your own self-care. Love=empowerment=love. Power up!

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