wellness

Paralysis parenting: You're not imagining it. The kids are in charge.

When parents pick their kids up from a childcare centre in Sydney’s west, Nicholas says they rarely tell their kids it’s time to go home.

Instead, they suggest it. Or pose a question with an air of hesitation. “Should we go home now?” they ask their three-year-old.

He watches day after day, as parents attempt to round up a kid or two, with a tone that implies they have a choice in the matter.

“Kids appear to be using emotional outbursts as leverage,” he tells Mamamia. “And the parents are terrified of their tears, so tiptoe around them in an act of surrender.”

Things teachers never, ever say. Post continues below. 

Then there’s the students in Ashleigh’s maths class.

Just this week, a young girl forgot her homework.

By recess, her mother was at the school gate, the exercise book under her arm.

“I felt bad for the mum,” Ashleigh told Mamamia. “Her time is worth more than a detention. And I felt bad for the kid.

“She won’t learn to take responsibility if Mum always fixes it.”

In fact, parents dropping off their child’s forgotten items became so out of hand at Wenona School, a private high school in North Sydney, that principal Briony Scott made the decision to stop delivering them to students. Instead, they stayed in reception all day.

Anne deals with parents who defend their child before they even know what they’ve been accused of. Swearing. Punching another kid in the playground. Spitting in the direction of a teacher. “That’s not my son,” they say, looking the teacher directly in the eye, while their child sits in guilty silence.

Though it’s not universal, this kind of parenting is perceivable among just about anyone who works with kids.

And, in a way, it’s a form of parental paralysis.

“I call it a Vitamin N deficiency,” family psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg told Mamamia. “Parents have forgotten how to say ‘no’ and are excessively hesitant to set limits or boundaries.”

Carr-Gregg has recognised “an overwhelming imperative to be their best friend and that of course is ridiculous”. As a parent, it is the job of a good parent to be the “frontal cortex of your child” while their brain develops, he says.

Listen to Mamamia’s parenting podcast, This Glorious Mess. Post continues below. 

The question becomes, why are some parents so fixated on being liked? And why are they hesitant to enforce consistent rules?

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The habit of removing any obstacles to a child’s happiness, Carr-Gregg says, comes from a sense of fear.

“Parents are confusing stress with anxiety. The amount of parents that come to me and say ‘my child has an anxiety disorder’. No. Your child is stressed. And what we can do is teach them coping strategies to deal with that stress.”

In 2019, parents are terrified of mental health crises. If their child is unhappy, will they become depressed? Will they hurt themselves? Will they end up like that boy or girl on the news?

And like a rabbit who freezes in front of an oncoming car’s headlights, some parents become paralysed.

They might avoid limitations or boundaries. They don’t react to unacceptable behaviour. “No” becomes too hard, as they’re immobilised by the fear that something might go terribly wrong.

The irony, of course, is that parenting paralysis is what leads to the very thing so many parents are afraid of.

If a parent refuses to be the boss, and rescues their child from every challenging situation, then in the words of Carr-Gregg, there becomes an “unhealthy reliance of that child on the parent and it basically sends the message that someone will always come to the rescue. Resilience and creativity goes out the window, as well as their capacity to control their own emotions and behaviours.”

Facing adversity is a key ingredient in the recipe that produces a well-adjusted, independent adult.

An additional byproduct of paralysis parenting at home, is a lack of respect for authority – especially at school.

“The three reasons teachers are leaving the teaching profession are because of lack of respect from students, lack of respect from parents and lack of respect from colleagues,” Carr-Gregg said.

In an attempt to shield their child from any adversity, some parents are undermining the role of teachers, meaning that a child believes no matter what they do they’ll have the unconditional backing of Mum and Dad. This doesn’t serve anyone well.

While it might look like “micro-parenting” from the outside, on the inside, it’s the opposite.

It’s a parent who feels powerless, and allows unbridled access to all forms of technology.

It’s a parent who doesn’t back themselves, and threatens not to give their son pocket money this week, but inevitably caves when they see the look in their eyes.

It’s a parent who feels perpetually guilty because they resent how many hours they work, and when they come home, they want all their interactions to be fun and carefree.

It’s a lack of action inside the home – not because they’re “bad parents” – but because they’re scared.

It’s paralysis.

Perhaps some parents need to hear the tough words of Carr-Gregg. It’s not only okay to say ‘no’, it’s essential. Back yourself. Don’t try and be their mate.

Teachers all over the country will thank you for it.

Read more:

Apparently ‘Sherpa parenting’ is now a thing. Here’s how to recognise if you’re doing it.

 ‘I’m a working mum who has tried a nanny, family daycare and a childcare centre. Here’s what I’ve learned.’
A dozen loaves of bread and 50 litres of milk a week: What life is like with 16 children.
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