Letting Go: Mother, Not Smother

When I talk about not being a “Smother Mother,” what I’m really saying is, to mother your child is to enable your child to learn grow and develop, mentally physically and emotionally. Looking at what you can do as a parent to enable those areas in a healthy way, so that you do not smother your child from the life skills and lessons that they need to learn in order to have the ability and to be capable to eventually think for themselves. So, they won’t be completely co-dependent on you beyond their years necessary.

Great parents on every level are invested in their children’s lives and are an important, strong influence. But when parents become too immersed it does not allow children to breath and naturally respond and behave in a way that is socially empowering.

That said, however, let’s not mistake being a cautious protective parent with being one who is hyper-controlling. What it boils down to is the age and temperament of your child. Each step of development is different, so I’ll break it down for you by age group:


With teenagers we must instill the following:


    • TRUST. Believing in their capability to be trusted validates they have the maturity to meet what is required of them. It is not something that is given, but earned. We have to be able to trust that our teenagers can think things through, with a knowing that they have the safety net of their parents behind them. As difficult as it may be to let go and painfully watch your children make mistakes, it will happen. But there are some things they need to learn on their own, as long as they’re safe, they will be ok.


    • Responsible Choices. Our teenage children need to make their own choices with whom they become close to as friends with our gentile guidance, with who is appropriate to keep company with and who isn’t.


    • Don’t be a Helicopter Parent. Helicopter parenting doesn’t hold any advantages and can breed laziness. Disabling our children from the adversity only takes away the opportunity for them to learn a life skill, or to work through their school homework, or learning household responsibilities like cleaning and picking up after themselves.


Our tweens love being given the responsibilities of big adults. It makes them feel grown up and shows them that we trust their ability to get the project done. A lot of my advice for ‘tweens is similar to teens, but while a few more restrictions that are age-appropriate:


    • Let them fail. This goes for ‘tween and teens alike. We must allow our children to learn from their failures and not mask efforts and allow them to experience their successes too.


    • Create space. Nine and 10 year old’s do not constantly have to be supervised. Tweens need space to establish who they are as people. Whether it’s giving your ‘tween their time alone in their bedroom or simply time out of the house, hanging out with friends, space to discover who they are and explore their social dynamics is important.


    • Give privacy. Similar to my ‘create space’ point, privacy is important. As long as your child is safe, allow them certain areas of privacy. When they have friends over or talk on the phone or text. As long as you know the friend they are communicating with, give them the benefit of privacy with their content.


    • Be patient. In addition to failing, your ‘tween needs room to learn life skills and social dynamics. It might not happen the first time. They might make the same mistake a few times, thinking there will be a different outcome. They will learn, it just might take some time or be a longer road. Be patient and understanding, but know when to support or reinforce as well.


    • Balance protection, safety, and independence. This is perhaps the most difficult part because it requires trusting your instinct and knowing when to intervene and when to keep a distance. But do trust your instincts. Be patient. Be supportive. Be there for them. Remind them you are there when they need it. When they need it, they will come to you. As long as they are safe, let them have space to learn. You’ve given and continue to give them the tools they need to navigate in the real world. This part is about trusting yourself just as much as trusting your child. Keep moving forward and preparing them to explore, excel, and become fantastic people.


And, keep in mind, the cost of smothering is pricey. It can fracture close loving relationships or result in co-dependence, or having young adults who cannot think for themselves. Enabling can lead to a lack of emotional immaturity. Remember, restraint on your part is just as important as giving them freedom. It’s a learning experience for both parent/caretaker and child, so allow yourselves the opportunity to learn from each other and fail and succeed together.

Copywritten by Jo Frost

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