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Can a Parent Love a Child Too Much?

By: Cindy Durkee

This was the title of my son’s essay in 7th grade. When I first read the title, I thought, “I’m sorry if I love you TOO much! There could be worse things!” However, upon further research and life experience I have discovered yes, I am guilty as charged. Actually, I don’t believe we can love our children too much. What I think my son was trying to communicate with his 13-year-old brain was, “Can a Parent Be Too Involved in Their Child’s Life?” Yes, it is called mollycoddling. Have you heard of it? It was a new term to me. Defined in the Oxford dictionary as “treating someone in an indulgent or overprotective way".

It is very common for parents to mollycoddle and try to keep children out of harm’s way. Of course, we want our children to be safe. We also want to spare them from disappointment and pain. It is so hard to see our kids suffer. I remember in high school, my daughter made the reserve soccer team, while her friends made higher-level teams. When she saw me, she burst into tears. Her pain was palpable, and I wanted to make it go away. I reached out to the coaches to reconsider her placement. Thankfully, they did not. This turned out to be an amazing season of growth for her. She was chosen as team captain, considered a role model by her teammates and received the Coach’s Award at the end of the season. My daughter also developed lasting friendships. This experience had such a positive impact, she wrote a college essay about it. If I had pushed the decision and tried to prevent her from feeling disappointment, embarrassment and pain, all of that growth would have been lost.

According to Dr. Gabor Mate, the tendency to mollycoddle has more to do with the parents than the needs of the child. Based on a parent’s own fears, anxieties or past trauma we seek to protect our kids from suffering. When we mollycoddle, it can transfer our fears to our children, and they learn to take them on. Dr. Mate states, pain is inevitable, however, it does not have to become traumatic if we support our children through it. We can validate their feelings, empathize, and help them to accept their grief.

Experiencing the normal stresses of life is important in developing coping skills, empowering children, and in building their self-efficacy. If we do too much for our children, they may believe they do not have the ability to make it on their own. I drove forgotten lunches, homework, sports equipment, you name it to wherever it needed to be, whenever it needed to be there. One time I was speeding after the school bus, waving my arms, trying to give my son his backpack. I followed the bus for 30 minutes! I would often drop everything to respond to the needs of my children. This prevented learning from logical consequences and how to sit with disappointment.

Discovering the balance between supporting our children and being overly involved has provided rich discussion in our YHAV groups. There is not an easy answer, and it is a question I believe we will contemplate as long as we are parents. I have since realized my overprotection was a result of me trying to manage my own fears. I didn’t need to “fix” so many things for my kids, they were very capable on their own. I have apologized for being overly involved in my children’s lives. Thankfully, they understand that I am human. I am learning the beauty of letting go and allowing them to develop their individuality and learn the important skills gained from disappointment and grief. We are all becoming more resilient as a result. Of course, I wish I had the epiphany when I read my son’s essay in 7th grade. Kids are intuitive!


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