Parents are addicted to micro-managing

  • September 25, 2014

Early September found our family sitting in front of a university, again. 

Last year, we took our son to an inner-city Halifax university to kick off his post-secondary education. With a good deal of trepidation, we left him behind and made the short trek home. He could call if he needed anything. 

Apparently, what he needed was not to be at that university at that time. After just more than three weeks and some legitimate complaints about courses and a roommate who spoke very little English, he was back home. 

He found a number of jobs to take him through the year and before you could say university freshman, it was time for another kick at the academic can. 

This time we were sitting in front of Mount St. Vincent University. This time it was a single room and the promise of a more concerted effort to make university work. This time, the trepidation level of both student and parents had been somewhat assuaged. Then again, his level of apprehension probably had never been as substantial as mine. 

The whole scenario brought back memories of his transition from elementary school to middle school. He went to elementary at a small community school within walking distance of our house. Most of the parents knew each other or knew of each other. The school kids were all familiar with one another. 

But the middle school was a new experience. Sure, kids knew their mates from elementary but there were so many new faces, new students and new teachers. 

On his first day it almost brought me to tears to think of him in this huge, cold world of middle school. But our son took his new surroundings in stride and kicked off the new phase of his education with little apparent anxiety. 

The school and university experiences raise the question about parents micromanaging children’s lives. I talked with a friend and former schoolmate of mine recently at her uncle’s funeral. We agreed that we, as parents, supervised and monitored our children more than any generation that preceded us. 

Where did it come from? My friend, a school teacher, pointed out that our parents didn’t have a tight 24-7 leash on us. They wanted to know that we were safe and healthy but they didn’t impose themselves in all our activities. 

We wanted to ensure our son’s university room was set up properly, that everything was in its place. That’s what he ought to have been doing and that’s what he wanted to do. 

My parents never set foot in any of my university dormitory rooms. It wasn’t that they were disinterested. They knew it was my responsibility. Plus, a large family left them neither the time nor inclination to manage adult lives. 

And they had the good sense and good faith to let go and let God.

My parents prayed long and hard but they rarely interfered with what their children did. They had that great faith that things would work out. Sure, there would be problems but prayer and a proper dependence on God was the way through to the other side. 

I’ve never been able to embrace the Let Go, Let God axiom. Like many Christians, I have a difficult time accepting that anyone, including God, can handle the things I need to deal with any better than I myself can. That will continue to be a life-long struggle. 

It is that same struggle among modern-day parents that prevents kids from doing their own thing and making their own mistakes. 

These kids then head off to university or to work without the real-life skills they need to succeed. 

I have always been a proponent of the St. Augustine dictum: Pray as if everything depends on God. Work as if everything depends on you. 

But when prayer loses its smack, as it inevitably does from time to time, you’re left with working or acting as if everything depends on you. And then you find yourself in real trouble as a parent, a student or whatever your role in life might be. Because everything does not depend on you, it depends on God. 

Our daughter is in Grade 12. Next Labour Day weekend, we’ll probably be sitting in front of another university. 

Here’s hoping, for her sake and ours, that we’ve discovered a compromise between parental guidance and an adult offspring’s independence. Let’s hope that my lessons learned are to pray constantly, to let God and to refrain from acting as if everything depends on me. 

(Campbell is an editor at the Chronicle Herald newspaper in Halifax, N.S.) 

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