Umbrella Parents, Part 2: How Much Is Too Much?

Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.
Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.

Last post, I defined “umbrella parents” as parents who have to do what it takes to get their child’s needs served, even if it means looking like a ‘smother mother’ to other parents. I have always advocated parents being fully in the ring with their kids—and urge them to do whatever it takes to get their child’s needs met at school, camp, sports teams and elsewhere.

In that post, I also talked about executive function development and how it is often delayed in atypical children. This makes it essential for good parents to pave the way for their kids. Teachers, coaches, counselors and well-meaning parents of other children can be unintentionally cruel unless they are instructed otherwise. Your child clearly needs strong parental support as he or she is growing up.

But when does protecting your child become a habit rather than a necessity?

Or, as the exhausted mother of a teen put it, “Just exactly until when do we have to keep doing all of this?”

What Are Habituated Parents?

Umbrella parenting takes a lot of energy, planning and anticipating daily twists and turns of life. But eventually, it’s time to let go…. slowly. Sometimes this doesn’t happen fully until young adulthood, but it’s never too early to try to release the reins and see what happens, if only for a moment. Otherwise, parents risk becoming habituated to their children’s dependency and forget that the goal of umbrella parenting is to ultimately let go.

Here is an example of what I mean by a habituated parent:

Herbert is 11 years old. He’s so anxious about coming to me for testing that he is lying on the floor of the waiting room at his mother’s feet. She apologizes for him but does not make him sit up. He is, you see, anxious.

Herbert sullenly shuffles into my office and slumps into the chair. Mom checks that he has his backpack and enough snacks, and then tells him she loves him twice before leaving.

Who is the anxious one here?

Herbert slumps passively through his days while Mom takes care of all his needs. He is not developing the skills he needs to navigate the world independently or advocate for himself. Mom is too afraid for him to teach him what he needs to know. She has forgotten to retract the umbrella once in a while to help him learn to fend for himself.

Retracting the Umbrella

Instead of worrying yourself ragged like Herbert’s mom, try stepping back now and then, just a little.

You may start to notice that your child is capable of much more than you thought he could do. This change may come in stages, or progress at a more rapid pace. Take your cue from how things go in school. I find that many parents have no idea how independent or resourceful their child can be at school (or how polite and interactive), because he regresses as soon as he gets home.

Your child may be aware that she has a problem but is unable to act on the coping strategies she is learning right away. Once she matures that extra little bit, things suddenly click.

You may be surprised at how much your child can manage on his own, when you start to retract that umbrella bit by bit.  If you have been a vigilant umbrella parent for a while and are wondering if it’s time to step back,  take that baby step to see how it goes. Remember: even a small step can be a major accomplishment for your child. Give it a try and  be sure to share with us and with  other “positively atypical” parents and friends about your experience.

Next Post: Key teachable moments for every child.


4 thoughts on “Umbrella Parents, Part 2: How Much Is Too Much?

    1. Yes, so true. We as parent become habituated to help and not realizing that we are hurting or robbing opportunities for children to learn. Often times I remind myself not to rescue. It it indeed a walk on thin rope which we ought to master. With patience and hard-work we can teach our children to take care of their needs. More importantly teach them how to seek for help. Initiation is important, I already remind my daughter to ask for help I will be there; but don’t want to take the driver seat.

  1. Cool post! I would add, that behaviors can become somewhat entrenched, and this varies by degree, so sometimes the transition into more self directed behavior takes time, as deconstructing what has been impulsed and restructuring into a directive capacity needs space. If we reprimand within this process we teach what not to do and what to do, instead of looking here and realizing solution that encompasses all aspect of life. A “don’t do that” can always be worded into a practical action without the use of a negative reinforcement, because that value becomes the within of the child, as they pick up everything, evident in the point of this article’s story – that the child takes on the values the parents exhibit. What goes in is what comes out. If the within has added values to points, these later interrupt the foundation of the child, slowing them down from being directive as there is the added burden of the fear of a ” don’t” in word.
    Also, do umbrella parents use the child to define themselves as give them, the parent, purpose, which is the parent using the child as an ” umbrella.” So, it is to look carefully at how quickly we can get lost in behaviors and lose sight of the ultimate goal, which in essence is to stand and face life with clarity and understanding. Our children become what we model. Thus, our integrity must be to value life.

  2. More Linked In Readers respond:

    Katie Glaser 2:10pm Sep 6
    Omg! This amazing! Soo many ppl I know! My self included!

    Chris Dendy 2:04pm Sep 6
    with regard to working independently & remembering tasks such as homework. Also in middle school demands for executive function skills increase significantly and EF is greatly delayed in our children. Punishment doesn’t change brain chemistry or teach new skills!

    Chris Dendy 2:02pm Sep 6
    Keep in mind that our children have a three year delay in brain maturation. As a result they will need more supervision for a longer period than their peers. Many educators don’t understand this and say parents are to involved and that we need to let our children fail. Unfortunately, they don’t know the research–our children don’t learn from punishment & reward as easily as other children–so they repeat the behavior. Our parents walk a fine line with providing developmentally appropriate supervision and being to involved–after all a 12 year old is more like an 8 or 9 year old.

    Eva O’Malley 1:38pm Sep 6
    Is this like helicopter parents, cause I am a Black HAwk. lol

    Barbara Steinmetz 1:34pm Sep 6
    Excellent post, I never realized I was an umbrella parent, it is so hard to let go

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