parent opinion

'My 15yo son asked me how much mayonnaise to put on his sandwich.' Are you an overindulging parent?

After explaining to my son I was too busy to make him a sandwich for afternoon tea recently, he reluctantly went about making his own. 

"Is this ham okay to eat?" he asked. I checked the use by date. 

"Sure is."

He then went on to ask me if each individual item was still good, including the salad, which I assessed by looking at it, identifying it was fine and telling him so. And then. 

"How much mayonnaise should I put on?" my son asked. He's 15. 

My mouth opened, about to explain that it depends on personal taste, when I closed it again. Despite saying 'no' to making the sandwich, I was now giving a play-by-play description of how to do it. And was literally about to tell him how much mayonnaise to put on HIS OWN sandwich.

I was pondering this later that evening when my 10-year-old daughter walked down from her shower, wrapped in a towel. 

"I need pyjamas," she beamed. 

Without a second thought, I handed her the neatly folded PJs I'd already pulled out of her drawer, and reminded her to brush her teeth, and hair. As I did so, a third child — also a teen — walked down stairs, bellowing: "Mum, where are my AirPods?"

"You mean the ones that were in your ears when you walked upstairs half an hour ago?"


In that moment, I made a mental note of my instinct to walk up the stairs and help him find them; find the AirPods that were no doubt on his bed, where he was last using them. 

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I took a moment to process what was happening. My children are intelligent, well-adjusted, and capable, why, then, was my eldest child confused about the amount of mayonnaise to put on his bread?

Turns out, I may be an overindulgent parent. 

What is an overindulgent parent?

According to a 2014 study and subsequent book titled, How Much Is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children — From Toddlers to Teens — In An Age of Overindulgence, "overindulging children is giving them too much of what looks good, too soon, and too long. It gives them things or experiences that are inappropriate for their age, interests, and talents."

And the clincher?

"It is giving things to children to meet the adult's needs, not the child's."


The research identified three types of overindulgence, each of which come from well-intended parents who are essentially trying to show love and commitment to their children.

The first is called: too much. This one is self-explanatory. It’s about giving your children too many 'things'. Too many toys, too many privileges, too many hobbies, etc. Giving your child too much creates entitlement, and an inability to do without. 

The second is: over-nurture. This one is about doing too much for children - something I've discovered I'm guilty of. It could be sorting out problems for them, making their snacks and lunches, finding their lost items, requesting assignment extensions at school, etc. Basically, doing things they could do themselves, and should be, in order to learn how to manage their lives as they get older. 


The final one is: soft-structure. This is where children aren't required to follow a specific structure. No chores, no set bedtime, no set routine. 

According to the research, the risk of overindulging your kids in these ways, is that children will grow into adults who don’t have the knowledge or skills necessary for being an adult — or expect others to do things for them. 

And with children living at home for longer, there's a new problem — children are being overindulged, not only in childhood and through their teens, but also through what's been dubbed 'emerging adulthood'. 

What is emerging adulthood?

The term 'emerging adulthood' was coined by psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett, to describe the period of development between the ages of 18 and 25. But it's a concept that exists only in cultures that allow young people a prolonged period of 'independent role exploration' during the late teens and twenties.

"Emerging adulthood is neither adolescence nor young adulthood but is theoretically and empirically distinct from them both. Emerging adulthood is distinguished by relative independence from social roles and from normative expectations," Arnett writes. 

In other words, emerging adults view themselves both as an adolescent and an adult, depending on any specific experience, which makes 'adulting' challenging. 

And with many emerging adults living at home, overindulgence is now being extended to financial support, which can set young people up to fail financially during actual adulthood. 


According to a 2023 study, almost 45 per cent of parents give financial support to adult children. That figure climbs to 57 per cent when adult children are living at home. A 2021 poll suggests Gen Z has the lowest level of financial literacy of any generation. 

What is the solution?

Resisting the urge to overindulge in a world where parents are working harder than ever to combat rising cost-of-living can be difficult.

We want to show our children how much we love them. But at the same time, it's our job to raise independent kids. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind:  

Make your children do chores, regardless of their age. Not only will it teach them to be independent when they leave home, but it shows them that all members of a household should contribute to its functioning. 

Learn to say 'no' or 'do it yourself'. It's important for children to realise they can’t have and do everything they want. They also need to learn that if you want something to happen, you're probably going to have to do it yourself. 

If you have a young adult living at home, negotiate a new set of rules for living with each other. Make it clear, and enforce it. 

Talk with your children about money and budgeting. If you're living with adult children, ensure they're able to manage their own money, and contribute to the running of the house. 

For me, that means telling my children: find your own pyjamas; if you lose your AirPods, do without; and when it comes to making sandwiches, you decide how much mayonnaise is too much — and live with the consequences. 

Feature Image: Getty