‘I am a grownup now’

Look for the two big signs that tell you when to stop hand-holding your child

Father shouting at his son

In one of his counselling sessions with me, an 18-year-old boy angrily voiced out, ‘My mother tidies up my study desk and keeps my books in order before my private tutor comes in. I resent this. In this way, she gets to sneak and read my personal diary. Why can’t she leave me alone?’ His mother justified, ‘I was only trying to help. He always keeps his room untidy and loses his books.’

The young adolescent had been pampered as a child. His mother had catered to his every need, not providing him opportunities to be self-reliant. As a child, if he misplaced things, she would search for them, or buy new. As he grew up, he began to view his mother’s help as molly-coddling and resent his mother’s intrusion into his privacy and space.

At times, parents are unable to disengage themselves from their children, sometimes even after the children have crossed 30 years of age. Some unmarried men and women often complain that their parents continue to put a tab on their social outings, and have to be provided the names and contact numbers of all their friends. They have to return home by a specified hour and if late, they are left feeling shamefaced in front of their peers to answer the repeated calls regarding their whereabouts from their anxiety-stricken parents.

Young married women also resort to counselling, seeking to know how they can stop their overanxious mothers from pushing onto them their views on how they must run the household finances and manage the maids. Patterns of intrusion and over-involvement from parents can be traced back to the manner in which they bring up their children, especially in the early years of development. However, it is possible to tow the line if parents look out for signs that clearly indicate that the child has matured and hand-holding would mean interference and hamper the child’s growth as a mature, self-reliant individual.

  • Request for space: When as a parent the child [who is otherwise carrying out his normal daily activities and is not depressed] often says to you, ‘Mom, please leave me alone’, it’s time to check if you are questioning the child too much or demanding that he ought to do what you say, without taking into account her needs.
  • White lies: When grown up children begin to lie excessively about their social outings, parent needs to discern whether the lying is to withhold information because children perceive the parents to be over-possessive, or whether it stems from the child’s dysfunctional behaviour. Grown up children with a single parent are sometimes reluctant to share information of their social group as they feel that parents may become increasingly lonely and insecure.

Why does this happen?

Often it is the insecurities of parents that make them unable to provide their children time and space to understand the flow of life. Most parents who have hectic work schedules, spend the little time that is left with their children trying to ‘fix’ their problems [out of guilt], and keeping a detailed track of their movements [out of anxiety].

Parents who are seen to be excessively guiding their children and intruding into their lives often view themselves as extensions of their children. Statements from parents who say, ‘When my child cries, I can feel the pain in my heart,’ or ‘When I see my daughter on the ventilator, I can hardly breathe myself’, reflect an inability to separate their identities from their children’s. Often, in such families, the parents are devoid of supportive systems and respond to the children as if they were only a continuation of themselves. There is lack of individualisation and an inability to step back from the problem situation to view it objectively. Overprotection and over involvement of family members with each other results in an inability to resolve conflicts in the child.

What’s wrong with it?

Over-involvement in your child’s life becomes stifling for her as she grows up. Intelligent children who have good verbal skills are able to voice out their woes to parents. However, those who lack the courage, show their resentment in passive-aggressive ways, either turning withdrawn or becoming sullen and angry.

Frequent unwarranted intrusions into a child’s life only serve the purpose of distancing the child from her parents. It prevents the child from utilising her abilities and skills to deal with demanding situations in life, as the parent is always ready with an advice or a solution.

An over controlling parent who intrudes into a child’s life by not allowing him ‘to be’, and expecting him to behave according to set family rules and regulations, is paving the way to rear a child who will be unable to relate to himself and others in spontaneous ways. Fear and rigidity often dominate the responses of such children towards themselves and others, preventing them to experience life in healthy ways.

A word of advice…

At times, parents must allow their children to learn from their mistakes. Not every knock in life is disastrous. It can be an opportunity to face life and deal with it in realistic ways.

Parents need to step back and reflect. Some questions that would need to be answered to understand one’s behaviour would be: ‘Why do I need to control my child?’, ‘Can I trust myself as a parent and know that I have done my best to equip my child with good sense and the courage to face life?’or ‘Why am I so anxious to help my child always?’

They can also ask themselves, ‘Am I helping my child to be confident of his own abilities, when I rush in to fix his problems?’, ‘Did my parents always intrude and assert their opinions on me, when I was a child?’, ‘Can I trust the forces of creation to help me and my child in the unfolding of life’s events?’

The ebb and flow of life cannot be controlled. Anxiety begets anxiety. We can only learn from life’s experiences, pray for protection, wisdom and courage and do our duties with sincerity. We need to be grateful for the gift of life and use our potential to the maximum to be of service to others. These are the lessons we can impart to our children instead of being overanxious and trying to steer their lives in a certain direction, at all costs.

Communication code

When children are small, parents must take care to discipline them with firmness, but not resorting to punitive measures. The child always needs to be praised and appreciated for his endeavors, however small, so that he can remain positively involved in the overall development process. When children grow into adolescents, communication must be maintained in a friendly, respectful manner. However boundaries must be maintained and the adolescent must know that the parent has a right to exercise his authority, if required and when needed.

When communication between parent and child is built upon mutual trust and respect, trusting and sharing continues into adolescent years. This results in the growing child remaining receptive to advice given by parents. However, when disciplining patterns remain autocratic or laissez-faire [wherein the child is allowed to do what he wants], the child will grow up to be an individual who will disregard his parents, turning defiant and rebellious or turn into a weakling as he does not have the emotional maturity to deal with the nuances of life.

This was first published in the July 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Maya Kirpalani
Maya Kirpalani is a consulting psychologist and a family therapist practising at Jaslok Hospital and Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai.


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