I feel that my wife babies our son too much; he is seven and it seems as if he’s heading to become a “mama’s boy”. Anything our friends or I say about this subject is not received well by her; my wife says it’s a dangerous world out there and the longer children have their mother’s protection, the better off they are. What do you think?
It is not only the children who grow up; parents, too, need to keep growing with their kids, which means talking and interacting with the children in ways appropriate to their age. For most parents, this happens naturally—children themselves, as they grow older, demand that we stop babying them and allow them freedom.
However, some parents remain stuck in their offspring’s babyhood, where the child is completely dependent on them. In spite of all signs that their child is growing up, these parents are unable to “update” their parenting role. They continue to closely monitor how much and what their children eat, what opinions they express, and even what they choose to wear. They will insist on baby talk when the child wants to have a normal conversation; they will issue instructions such as “go wash your hands” when the child is excitedly trying to talk about something that happened at school; they will oversimplify answers to complex questions that a child asks; they will read the child’s school syllabus, pre-digest it, and offer morsels of information to the child even before he can encounter it on his own and come up with his own questions, confusions and, possibly, mistakes.
Don’t make your kids too dependent
This type of parent has a deep emotional investment in not letting the child grow up. And this emotional investment is not a healthy, nurturing one. It is one based on fear. Such a parent fears losing her identity if the child begins to make sense of its world on its own. Rather than allow the child to grow up, this parent does everything in her power to keep the child at the infantile stage, and to remain infantile herself. Here, parenting becomes the ideal excuse to avoid other social and adult relationships and responsibilities.
Such a parent will often turn the other parent too into a “child”. How often do we hear women saying: “My husband is a big baby, he’s my eldest son.” In this way, everyone remains under her control, they do not form separate identities, and her authority is never challenged. It may appear like love and duty, but it is a form of smothering. In such a scenario, the child is there to fulfil the parent’s needs—not the other way around.
On the other hand, there are parents who grow up appropriately with their kids, read the signals, and pick up clues about how they may need to modify their interaction. For instance, after the age of 8 or 9, you suddenly find that your son avoids hugging you in public; you know then that you shouldn’t force him to. Or a 17-year-old daughter shows some embarrassment if you turn up at her college with the lunch she forgot at home; the aware parent recognizes that this is not an outright rejection. It is a sign that your child is now in a social zone which does not accommodate you.
If seen in the proper perspective, such developments do not turn into an emotional crisis in which the mother believes that the love between her and the child is waning or has become dispensable. Your position as a parent is never dispensable. As your kids grow older, even into adulthood, you continue being a parent, a friend and a guide. But in new, more mature ways, giving your child the space and freedom to be his own person.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org