For most parents, raising children well is a high priority. We long to be the best parents possible, and we want to make the very best decisions regarding the particular children the Lord has entrusted to us. There is no one-size-fits-all way to parent, but is it possible to do too much for our children once they are old enough to do for themselves?
What used to be called helicopter parenting, the constant hovering of parents over their child, obsessing over both small and large details of the child’s daily life, is now called overparenting. Since doing my own research on parenting over the past eight years, I’ve come to use the term micromanaging to best describe what it is that we parents often end up doing, especially home-educating parents, when we do things for our teens that may be best left for them to work through on their own.
Often we fear that if we don’t do everything just right, if we don’t hover and observe our teenagers diligently, if we don’t ensure that they have multiple activities, the best curriculum, the best books, and the best of everything that money can buy, we are not doing enough, and we risk failing them.
If we insist on being meticulously involved in every aspect of our teens’ lives, we may actually be demotivating our kids and inadvertently causing them to be dependent on us when they should be flexing their muscles and growing more and more independent.
Don’t we want to raise strong and courageous young adults who shine their lights boldly?
Strength comes from personal exercise, courage from taking calculated risks, knowing God goes before AND walks alongside. Independence doesn’t come overnight; it is a process of letting go. For most of us moms, letting go doesn’t come naturally.
Have you ever been in a job where you were micromanaged? I worked in a customer service environment for several years, and even though my fellow employees and I proved to be intelligent and competent at our jobs, we still were monitored minute by minute by a little box on our desks. Lunch and break times, number of calls taken per hour, actual product sales, potty breaks, average daily handle time of calls—all of these things and many more were tracked and recorded. Middle management dictated how our conversations with customers should flow, down to the minutest of details.
The result of such micromanagement was a revolving door of quality employees because they were not trusted to use the skills and abilities for which they were hired to meet the needs of the customers who were calling in with problems. Employees were not given credit for being trustworthy without being overseen every second of their work day. The result was unnecessary stress, burnout, and high turnover.
Simply put, micromanagement kills motivation. Micromanagement eventually kills the motivation of even the most motivated! If you’ve ever been micromanaged as an adult, you know this well.
In the home education realm, micromanagement leads to burnout for both parents and students. Perhaps it’s time to become underwhelmed again! The first step is to realize there is a problem.
In the event that you think you may be a micromanager, here are 7 signs to look for:
1. You have to repeat yourself over and over. Teens will rise to meet our expectations. We are the parents; we get to set the expectations. I expect my teens to help keep the house clean and in order. I expect that we will talk kindly to each other. I expect that they will do their work—be it school work or work around the house—with excellence, and I expect them to do it without me telling them over and over.
These expectations were set when they were young children, but if you haven’t set standards in the past, you still have the right AND the authority to do so now. The catch is that we as parents have to model the behavior that we expect our children to exhibit. Yeah, I know. That is the hard part.
Oftentimes parents unconsciously set low expectations because they are afraid they will stress their children, or they are afraid that their children may not be capable of performing at a higher level. Sadly, some parents do not respect their position as parents and don’t feel they may rightfully expect their children to do what they are asked to do with a cheerful attitude.
Respectfully submit the expectations to your kids via a family meeting, preferably with Dad laying out the rules, emphasizing that you expect them to follow through without repeated reminders. Ask them what they think should happen if the expectations aren’t met. Get the kids’ input on setting consequences. Make sure the consequences are as clear as the expectations, and be sure to follow through with them. When the expectations are met, follow through with a sincere word of thanks! It may take a little bit of reminding at first, but gently ease back on those reminders. Eventually, no reminders should be necessary.
2. You help your teen without being asked. While it is always nice to do things for our teens, be careful of overdoing things for them. “Oh, Mom will do it if I don’t,” is the outcome of overdoing. Teens are growing into adulthood; they won’t wake up one day and suddenly be responsible adults. Having definite responsibilities in the home with the expectation of excellence is preparing them for responsible independence down the road. Helping with your student with her biology project by going out and finding leaves for her collection is a general no-no.
3. You step in before your teen makes a mistake. When a young child is ready for the training wheels to come off his bike, chances are good he doesn’t think he is going to fall. Chances are good he will take a tumble or two as he learns to balance on two wheels. Allowing our children to make mistakes or take a tumble is necessary in order for them to learn how to strike a balance in their own lives. Natural consequences are sometimes the best teachers.
Of course we wouldn’t let our young child ride out into traffic, so use your judgment when making the decision of when to step in and when to allow natural consequences to teach your teen. Often we don’t want our teen to look bad or be embarrassed because we may look bad or be embarrassed, so we make sure a crisis is averted which means the behavior that caused the crisis is apt to be repeated.
4. You make excuses for your teen. When a young child doesn’t get a nap, he is likely to be grumpy, right? However, when a teenager is grumpy from not getting enough sleep, he has to learn what acceptable behavior is when one is grumpy, because in the real world, lack of sleep is going to be an issue from time to time.
“Well, James didn’t get enough rest, y’all,” is not the proper response from Mom when James has just been ugly to his siblings. If you have a tendency to make excuses for your young adult, he will be in for a rude awakening when out in the real world. Being honest with our teens about their crummy attitudes or behaviors is often easier than being honest with ourselves about our teen’s shortcomings. It’s our job to assist them in overcoming their weaknesses while at home, and making excuses just prolongs and feeds the behavior.
5. You run your teen’s daily schedule of activities. This is often fueled by a parent’s need for control. No surprise there. A 17 year old should be able to set his own schedule and order his day so that he accomplishes what needs to be accomplished; a 13 year old may need a little help to get started. School work is one of those things that teens should be able to accomplish independently. While some assistance may be needed from time to time, relying on Mom to tell him when to do what subject, or needing Mom to make him get his work done is an indicator of immaturity.
What happens when parents continue to schedule their teens’ lives for them is they inadvertently prohibit them from developing the skill sets necessary to foster problem-solving and self-confidence down the road. If a student is college bound, knowing how to prioritize study time and free time is an important skill!
Many students drop out of college due to the inability to function without someone telling them what to do. Home-schooled students should be experts in this area due to the practice they had at home organizing themselves on a daily basis during the high school years.
6. Your teen has no privacy. A teenager deserves some privacy. Respecting our teens’ privacy is imperative to a healthy relationship with our young adults. If we have a suspicion regarding something that may be happening that should not be happening, then asking questions and delving deeper is warranted, but enabling our teens to earn privacy as they demonstrate responsible behavior is part of growing up.
Once they are out on their own, they will have complete privacy whether we like it or not. As we observe them developing godly morals and values when they are young, we can trust them to carry those values over into their personal lives bit by bit without our direct supervision.
7. Your teen is afraid to make a decision without you. The key word here is afraid. Of course a healthy relationship with our young adults includes them seeking out our opinions before making some types of decisions. However, by the time a student is in high school, he is capable of making daily decisions especially where school work is concerned.
My high schoolers all know my expectations for their school work—to master each day’s material—and I give them as much control over it as I possibly can. My job is simply to monitor their progress on a semi-regular basis. They have a formula they use that dictates what they should be doing each day, and if they want to work ahead, I am cool with that.
If something comes up and they don’t complete something as planned, I don’t have to stress because the onus is on them to ultimately finish their work. They know they are working for themselves, not for me. I don’t need another high school diploma, so I’m not doing their work with them or for them. I’m there if needed, but they are calling the shots within the parameters of excellence.
The best way to demotivate our children educationally is to micromanage them.
I could write a book on this topic. Wait. I did. It’s called The Self-Propelled Advantage, and if you need some direction in the area of raising motivated kiddos who work independently in all areas of life, especially academics, you’ll find practical how-to’s within its pages.
Attitude truly is everything, and when we are willing to let go and allow our teens freedom to succeed and yes—to occasionally fail—we give them the gift of a yes-I-can attitude. We help them develop confidence and independence. We raise young adults who are strong and courageous.
About the Author
Joanne Calderwood has been called America’s Homeschool Mom. She is an underwhelmed Mom of eight great kids, owner of URtheMOM.com, and an author and columnist. Her best-selling book, The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence, enables parents to teach their kids to teach themselves with excellence.