I saw a mother once buy a small pack of Pringles for her three-year-old daughter. The little girl gave a real fight to open the package. Her tiny fingers hadn’t acquired the necessary amount of strength or skillfulness yet, so the girl resorted to her teeth.
She was struggling, but if she had two more minutes or so in her disposal, to inspect the object, to understand why it resisted so she could try a different approach, then I am pretty confident she would manage to deliver.
We could accomplish everything, if we were given the time.
Even if she didn’t, though, at least she would be content with having tried her best. The little girl would have realized her limitations — hence she would get an idea on how to overcome them — and only then she would have asked for her mother’s valuable assistance when she actually needed it.
Before the little girl had the chance to test her abilities for the second time, her mother repeatedly demanded that she hand over the pack of chips.
“Give it to me. Give it to me! Let me open this for you!”
You could tell of how much importance it was for the girl, how desperately she aspired to make it on her own. She brought the package closer to her chest, unwilling to give in, but after her mother’s furious instructions the little girl eventually conformed.
Her mother removed the plastic lid and tore the paper. Then she gave the package back to her daughter; however, the little girl’s face was not delighted or thrilled with the unhindered treat.
The chips weren’t as tasty, because they lacked the sweet sense of accomplishment, the building block for fundamental skills like self-confidence and concepts like self-worth.
What the mother failed to see is that the chips were never truly the goal, only a fortunate byproduct of the real target; to open the package. Meeting that goal would be enough reward on its own.
The real compensation for overcoming the obstacle and arriving at your destination is the satisfaction that you made it.
What the Little Girl Learned Instead
This kind of parental interference seems trivial, but it will prove to be devastating down the road.
The little girl interpreted her mother’s meddling as a lack of agency by her side. She deduced that she can’t make it on herself; that she will constantly be in need of saving; that, since someone willing enough to solve her problems will always be around, she doesn’t even have to try.
The little girl learns that everything is within her reach, obtainable without any effort or struggle. Thus she doesn’t learn to appreciate and be grateful, and so she grows bitter.
If you are unable to appreciate the little things and distinguish the beauty in the mundane, then you are unable to enjoy life.
Maybe the mother thought she acted from a place of love and wanted her daughter to see that she will always be there to support her. However, if this parental policy continues, it is only a matter of time before the little girl grows into an irresponsible, demanding, resentful and ungrateful teenager.
The more you interfere with something, the more it moves away from your desired outcome.
Her mother wanted to help, but she only managed to undermine her daughter’s future independence and wither her true potential.
Why the Mother Reacted This Way: Helicopter Parenting and Its Causes
The term was first used in Dr Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. So the behaviour exists for a while but has escalated to a widespread social phenomenon only recently.
I believe this happens for two reasons.
Out of the Devastating Fear of Being Called a Bad Parent
Social media have rampaged into our lives and have brought about radical changes to our behavioural patterns. One of them is they have rewired our brains into making us more susceptible to criticism.
With every post or photograph we upload, we expose ourselves to a huge number of people, potentially to the whole world, so the criticism and the negative comments we can receive augment exponentially and it gets hard to handle. Due to a mere matter of numbers, they manage to penetrate our defences.
In addition to that, internet anonymity facilitates cyberbullying without the fear of personal consequences. What is more, this specific way of communication blinds us to the impact our words have on others, since we are unable to see their hurt face expressions. As a result, we lose our ability to empathize, and we become even harsher.
The mother felt daunted by the idea of being blamed as indifferent to her daughter’s struggle and rushed in for the rescue to prevent the stigma of being called a bad parent.
As a result, parents don’t allow their kids to make mistakes anymore. They pave the path in front of them; they do anything to prevent them from failing. They take their child’s misfortunes personally and attempt to wipe out every harshness out of the road. They don’t have the luxury to tolerate failure out of fear of parent shaming. On the long-term, this will turn out catastrophic because by doing so they deny them so many valuable lessons.
You will never learn as much from success as you will do from failure.
Parents Mistake Selfish Interests for Unconditional Care and Love
Your purpose in life is to be useful, and it is a vital key to your wellness. Occupying the space air would fill otherwise won’t do you any good and it will only lead to self-loathing and hatred.
It is fantastic to feel useful. It is great to see that you can still be of some help to somebody. You are making a difference, no matter how small. It helps you feel important. And you are.
But that should come naturally as a product of your acute skills and your value; not by nurturing dependence, not by making someone else so useless they have no other option than to rely on you.
Many parents boast about the sacrifices they make, many times at their own expense. “I will do anything for my children. They are my life.” If you neglect your self-care, though, you will grow bitter, and miserable, and resentful, and at some point, you won’t be able to cater to anybody.
For some reason we have come to deem self-sacrifice as virtuous, but as Aristotle had said: “Altruism is to the same extent an erroneous bias as selfishness.”
Be a parent, not a martyr.
Based on personal experience, I have come to realize that behind this promoted sainthood lurks a dark and devious motive. Most of the time it is not apparent to the individual, but the devious incentive is there.
Parents exclaim their unconditional love to their children through the form of supposed self-sacrifice in order to set a future argument for when the child seeks to rebel or leave. They spin the thread skillfully, and they attach the strings with which they will control their child puppet.
“How dare you after all I did to raise you? Show some respect.”
They coerce the children with guilt to stay and reciprocate their parents’ thoughtful actions.
Their train of thought goes like this:
I raised you, so when I get old, you have to look after me as well.
To guarantee the success of their Machiavellian plan, they emasculate the individual’s capacity to existing on their own with surgical accuracy by not letting them do anything.
If you want your child to resent you, hate you, hold grudges, make your life miserable or even leave you to rot and never talk to you again, then, by all means, continue with this strategy.
What to Do Instead: The Compound Interest of Learning
Children are way more resilient than you think. They don’t need a deus ex machina that will decent from heavens and facilitate their lives with a gentle swift of their magic wands.
They need encouragement and approval; they need you to act out your trust in their abilities.
They need you to love them unconditionally.
You can’t be a successful parent, if you are not patient.
If your son attempts to eat by himself, don’t grab the spoon from his grip, because the idea of having to clean a possible food stain bores you to death. Applaud the initiative. He will get dirty today, but he will do it better tomorrow.
If he desires to get dressed by himself, let him. Give him the freedom to express himself with his outfit. Let him experiment and develop his style and taste.
If he is hungry and makes an effort to prepare himself a lunch, don’t think about the messy aftermath. He develops basic skills for survival and self-preservation. You can’t navigate the world if you are in no position to feed yourself. Supervise him if it’s necessary and pat him on the head when he does something correctly and, by all means, ask him to help you with cleaning afterwards. That is how he will get the concept that our actions have consequences and that we are obligated to clean up after ourselves. That is how he learns to be responsible and self-reliant.
You will have succeeded as a parent when your children don’t need you anymore.
These small actions are the ones that bring the most significant results as time passes by.
They appear trivial to you, so you deduce that they have no intrinsic educational value. You have forgotten in the meanwhile how much demanding and difficult you considered them as a child. Several decades have passed since then, and now they are embedded in your muscle memory, so they manifest spontaneously and effortlessly.
But that doesn’t apply to your kid. They start at zero. These actions matter.
Don’t do them for them.
On the contrary, let them experience as much as they can. Give them chores, give them responsibilities. Allow them to feel useful. Offer some guidance, if needed, but mostly let them figure it out themselves.
These seemingly negligible victories that pile up over the course of time have the power to change your life radically and transform you into a completely different human.
It’s the concept of compound interest. The new piece of information you learn, not only adds up to what you already know but also reacts with your pre-existing knowledge and leads to the creation of something different and fresh. As far as learning is concerned, one plus one equals three.
So, please, allow that little girl to open the pack of chips herself. You can’t even fathom how this could transform her life.
It’s the small victories that make the difference.
One small victory at a time.
P.S. I saw the girl and the mother again a couple of days after the incident. Her mother bought her an ice-cream. This time the little girl gave it to the mother along with an order.