Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

The Nurturing Trap

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | Feb 2, 2014 2:11 PM

"Adolescence is not about letting go. It's about hanging on during a very bumpy ride." (Ron Taffel) 

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I fell right into the trap. I did such a good job of being nurturer, rescuer and suppresser of my own priorities that I began to reverse years of the self-reliance training I had inflicted on my daughter in an effort to make her a self-sufficient individual. 

I began to realize that things were out of control when I made not one, but two trips to my daughter’s school after school one day last week to bring forgotten items that she needed for her basketball game. It was only when I refused to make a third trip that I began to suspect that I was no longer standing on the line between helping and enabling. I had crossed over. 

My daughter is in high school. She is a capable, conscientious honor student who rarely forgets a test or a homework assignment. She has been packing her own suitcases for camps and family vacations for several years now and has (finally) reached the age where she cleans her room without being told. She routinely “forgets” to pick up after herself around the house, a trait I attribute to my husband’s need to pick up any stray item that is not where he believes it should be. I keep telling him she has learned that if she leaves it out, Dad will pick it up.

Turns out she has also begun to learn that if she needs it, Mom will bring it. Ouch.

I got so excited about being home and being available to my family that before I knew it, I was too available. I mean, how much trouble was it, really, to do this thing or that thing or make this appointment or pick up that item? Wasn’t that one of the reasons I decided on this life change in the first place? 

Indeed it was. But changing my life didn’t mean I needed to pick up the pieces of everyone else’s.

And so on the day of many trips, after the game had been played and we were riding home, I asked my daughter the questions that sparked a change: What would you have done if I hadn’t been available? What if I’d still been working and hadn’t been able to bring you those things? 

I don’t remember her words, but I do remember that her response was best summed up in a shrug: She would have made do.

And she’d have been okay. I, on the other hand, would have battled self-inflicted guilt, instead launching into a speech about experience being the best teacher, telling myself that if she makes the mistake once, she might not make it again.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that speech. But there’s a lot that’s wrong with feeling guilty about not doing things for our kids that they’re perfectly capable of doing for themselves.

Shortly after the day of many trips, I told my daughter that her supply of rescues had been cut off. She needed to make a list of the things she needed and be responsible for getting them together and getting them where they needed to go - something I knew she was perfectly capable of doing. I admitted that I’d played a part in creating this problem, but that things were going to change. And today, during another conversation, I worked in Part B -- the part about pulling her weight around the house. 

The funny thing is, I think she knew it was coming -- or at least that she’d been taking advantage of the situation. Because, after all, that’s what kids do. They see how far they can push the boundaries, how much they can get away with. And it’s our job as parents to draw the line, and to decide if we’re drawing it in chalk, fine-point pen or a big, fat, permanent marker.

This evening, after I’d dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house, I tackled the laundry basket that had landed in my bedroom. I didn’t notice it at first, but the basket was less overstuffed than it had been when it was brought upstairs. Something was missing.

My daughter’s clothes. Removed, folded and put away, with nary a reminder. 

Sometimes all it takes to assuage the guilt is a little unsolicited cooperation.


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Comments: 1

  • claudzilla5 img 2014-02-19 10:11

    I also aspire to be supportive without being too helpful, as my kids get older. A tough balance to find, yes?
    It's funny, I think my mother laments doing that too effectively for her own comfort. As an adult, heck even in college, I never thought to call my mom when I was sick - she was two hours away, how could she help? I think she would have liked - still would like - to feel more needed. But I am sure to thank her for raising me to be strong and to land on my own feet, and to take responsibility for my actions, too!

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