Letting Go Of Success In Favor Of Struggle

Posted on October 21st, 2015


I find the evolution of parenting styles fascinating. In my work as an Educational and Therapeutic Consultant, I am on the front lines of identifying parenting patterns in families within the very first meeting. When I sit with parents, they are often in a negative place, having tried everything they can think of to help their child, only to realize it’s not enough or it’s not working. The family system isn’t functioning well, and it’s often compromised and strained. The parents I work with are competent, smart, and successful people in most aspects of their lives, but when it comes to being a parent, they have hit a rather large bump in the road. And, because being a parent is such an important part of their identity, there are often feelings of anger, sadness, shame, and denial.

Parenting in today’s world is a difficult endeavor. One of the more interesting parenting trends in the last several years is the concept of the “Helicopter Parent.” It’s a provocative concept, one that triggers us in many different ways. There are likely multiple definitions, but for me one word really covers it: hovering. Why do parents hover? Some reasons might be fear of negative outcomes if they don’t, overcompensation from how they were parented, pressure from other parents, or messages they get from cultural and societal norms could be a few reasons.

But I think the most compelling answer is that so much of “heli” parenting comes from appeasing their own anxieties and fears; anxiety around their own needs to feel like a good and competent parent. Happy child = good parent. Unhappy or struggling child = failed parent. I realize this is a rather simplistic view, but oftentimes it boils down to this basic belief construct. One would think that all that hovering or over-involvement would aid in creating an enhanced sense of closeness and connection, when in fact, it seems to create the opposite reaction. In my experience, adolescent and young adult clients of “heli” parenting are more anxious, depressed, dependent, entitled, and unprepared for adulthood.

In my line of work, I often find I am in the unpopular position of asking parents to begin the process of learning to focus less on their child’s success, and more on their struggles and discomfort. I remind them to keep their sights set on the greater goal, that to build character and strength from within doesn’t happen when they pave the way for their children; it happens when they don’t. Teaching successful people to make space for failure, to resist alleviating their own anxieties by doing for their children, is counterintuitive. It takes time, patience, and persistence to integrate new patterns of behavior. I consider it a gift to be at the forefront of this journey for families, the journey of striking the right balance. I am inspired by how much courage it takes to embark on the journey called parenting.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.