3 important questions to ask

Keener has been wanting to pour his own milk for his cereal. On the one hand, I love it. Selfishly, this is one less task for me to complete during the hectic morning shuffle. More importantly, he is flexing his independent muscles and learning how to meet his own needs. Why on earth would I not support this?

Because one of my number one triggers is lurking — the mess. An absolute known trigger of mine that rears its head daily. Sometimes when the milk is nearly empty and easier to control the flow, I let him (albeit standing back wincing). Other times, I tell him that I am going to do it for him. He often responds with “Well you might spill it too!” and he is absolutely right. I might. Dr. Eger so beautifully reminds us, “Human, no more, no less. Human like me.”

I’ve started verbalizing to him the reason behind my decision. I’ve also been spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about this seemingly trivial part of our day. Listening to How to Raise an Adult will do that to you. Because finding that balance is key.

Madeline Levine

In chapter 7, Lythcott-Haims talks about hearing psychologist Madeline Levine share her research on the three ways we might be over parenting and unwittingly causing psychological harm:

  1. If we are doing for our kids what they can already do for themselves
  2. If we are doing for our kids what they can almost do for themselves
  3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own ego

Levine adds that when we parent in one of these ways, we actually deprive our kids of the opportunity to:

  • be creative
  • problem solve
  • develop coping skills
  • build resilience
  • figure out what makes them happy
  • figure out who they are

Lythcott-Haims goes on to say, “Although we over involve ourselves to protect our kids and it may in fact lead to short term gains, our behavior actually develops the rather soul crushing news, kid you can’t actually do any of this without me.

Parenting Styles

Without going into too much detail, I don’t want to confuse fostering independence with permissive parenting. There are four recognized parenting styles: uninvolved, permissive, authoritative and authoritarian. I will go into depth about these styles in a different post. However, permissive parenting reflects very few limits, and a high level of parental warmth paired with very little parental control.

I am not advocating to let Keener pour the milk just because he wants to. There is a huge difference between letting kids “be in charge” and being mindful of over parenting. Kids have an immature prefrontal cortex and need us to be their leader. In fact, it wouldn’t be fair to let my four year old “make the rules” for our house — a burden he certainly can’t bear. Boundaries are essential and keep kids feeling safe and protected. As Janet Lansbury says, “Children do not usually admit this, but they do not wish to be all powerful, and the possibility that they might be is frightening indeed. Children raised without firm, consistent boundaries are insecure and world-weary.”

This does not mean that every time my kids ask to do something on their own I let them. Keener often wants to help with dinner and sometimes I let him and sometimes I don’t. Not because he isn’t capable but because I am practicing self love. And loving myself means in this moment, I need 5 minutes ALONE to prepare dinner. This may sound like, I know you can make dinner and I love when you help. Right now, mom needs to make dinner by herself because she is overwhelmed. You can put silverware on the table or go play for a few minutes while I get the food ready.

Ways we over parent

Doing for them what they can already do

I’m guilty of so many things. Sometimes, I have a well thought out reason why I might still help. Other times, I am straight up over parenting. I need to spend some serious time here thinking about all of the activities and skills in which I am over parenting. Thinking in terms of deprivation — opportunities to problem solve, be creative, or just be human may be an easier approach.

Doing for them what they can almost do

This one really challenges me. I love being a problem solver. You have a knot, I will get it out. Technology problem? I’m on it. I can’t necessarily get it all on my own but I am almost there — with one quick YouTube video, I can fix that printer. I am absolutely depriving my kids of that same satisfaction by jumping in when they are almost doing it on their own. This post address this in more depth.

Motivated by our ego

Gulp. This is the hardest one for me to sit with. Parenting behavior driven by my ego. I desperately need to spend some time here. It won’t be easy or comfortable but I owe it to myself and my kids to reflect on this last area of over parenting. Having not been nearly as social this last year, my “public” parent hasn’t been on display nearly as much. I wonder how this may play into things as we slowly emerge from the pandemic and begin to socialize more.

3 questions

Turning these common over parenting pitfalls into questions has really helped me. Considering I want my kids to develop creativity, problem solving skills and resilience, I know I have my work cut out for me. The last thing I want is my kids thinking I can only do this with my mom. However, it would be naive to think they will feel empowered if my words and actions foster dependence.

  1. What am I doing for my kids that they can already do for themselves?
  2. What am I doing for my kids that they can almost do for themselves?
  3. Which of my behaviors are motivated by my own ego?


  1. I have a solution to the cereal conundrum…….open the door to the dishwasher…..put the bowl with cereal on the door…..hand your son the milk container……if he spills, no mess……just shut the door and the milk empties into the dishwasher….also buy 1/2 gallon milk size.

    • Good idea! Especially since the dishwasher is constantly being run! That’s so funny — I usually do buy the half gallon 😂

  2. Another insightful post! I really appreciate your thoughtful, reflective honesty about your journey as a parent.

  3. I think you are creating an important space for parents to reflect and grow knowing that it is okay not to have all the answers! Thanks for modeling and inspiring an attitude of growth and learning in this journey. xo

    • You’re welcome! Growth, learning and connection are what it’s all about in my mind! Just started Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly and love this quote: “What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” 💗

  4. Ha! I’m reading that one too! I love her work. This Brene Brown quote reminds me of the gift you are sharing in welcoming growth, learning and connection into the world of parenting: “What we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human.”

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