Over-parenting is ruining our kids

It's just a single word but it's at the heart of so much that's wrong with modern parenting.

When are we going to have children?

Such an innocuous question took on deeper resonance this week when Kayla Boyd, the wife of NRL player Darius Boyd, revealed she'd chosen to abort her baby last August after suffering a miscarriage four months earlier.

"I didn't want to get attached to the fact that I could have another baby and then I could miscarry again," said Kayla.

The outrage was instant. How dare she? How ungrateful! Couldn't she keep her legs closed?

What the Boyds do is clearly their business but their decision is emblematic of the control that now drives and infects contemporary parenting. Never before has a generation wielded so much power and given so much thought to when they will have children and how they will raise them.

Equally, never before has a generation of children been so anxious, entitled, fragile, over-medicated and lacking resilience.

The correlation has been troubling parenting experts for the past decade: why, when we have access to so much information about parenting, are our children doing so badly?

As Michael Grose points out in his forthcoming book, Spoonfed Generation, one in three girls and one in five boys in Australia now live with an anxiety disorder.

Speaking with Grose, he told me the "when" is the trigger for so much over-parenting. "Not only can we now control the number of children we're going to have but when we're going to have them," he says. "In the past we had 'mistakes' and got pregnant when it didn't suit - now we can control exactly when we have children and that sense of control filters through the rest of our parenting."

Kayla Boyd bears out the theory. Having miscarried, she was fearful. When she became pregnant again her daughter Willow was no longer "a breezy newborn". She'd become more "full on".

As Kayla said: "I couldn't have an 18-month-old, a newborn and continue to do all the things I had committed to career-wise in 2017." So she terminated the baby and focused on being the "best mother I could be to Willow" and the "best wife to Darius".

Best. Best. Best. The word buzzes like a pesky mosquito. Parents want to do their best. Children are encouraged to do their best. Schools, coaches and instructors want to get the best out of their charges. Well, it's time we faced the truth: our "best" isn't working.

The fact is we have reached peak parenting. We have over-parented to the point of despair. There are as many names for our hyper vigilance as there are for the worrying impact it has on our children.

We are "helicopters", "tigers", "lawnmowers", "snowploughs" - all of which describe parents who are over-involved and mow down any obstacle that may trouble their children.

In turn our offspring are labelled Bonsai Children (they never fully grow up), Generation Snowflake (easily offended, thin-skinned, prone to melting), Teacups (fragile and lacking resilience) and now the Spoonfed Generation (lacking in independence).

I tell Michael Grose I loathe these new monikers. Sure, they make good headlines and sell books but what right do we have to label these kids when it is our parenting that's contributed to their fragility and lack of independence.

We chose to shower our children in praise, bombard them with extra-curricular activities, hover over their homework, bequeath them with trophies every time they caught a ball and insert a gift in every layer of pass the parcel.

We organised the lavish birthday parties and excused them from chores to go training and bought them mobile phones and cars and designer T-shirts.

We let them stay at home through their 20s and sighed at their rudeness and entitlement and learned uselessness.

Fortunately, I'm sensing a tipping point, a recognition not just that our approach isn't working but that parents are actively attempting to plot a different course. After nearly a decade of commentary on what's going wrong, this is the year parenting will pivot away from fear, guilt, hovering and hyper-attentiveness towards a new model focused on fostering independence.

"Never regularly do anything for a child that they can do for themselves," writes Grose who says Spoonfed Generation, published on January 30, is his best book to date. His arguments are excellent: parents need to make ourselves redundant; we need to parent confidently not helplessly, we need to stop "rescuing" our kids and encourage them to solve their own problems.

One of his most engaging suggestions is to "manage like a cat" and "nurture like a dog".

But it's an observation he makes in conversation that's most apposite. Technology has given us the power to monitor our children virtually from the moment of conception. We can see 3D images of them in the womb, watch them sleep on baby monitors and contact them through adolescence on their mobile phones.

As Grose says: "We are always looking, always monitoring, always measuring."

Perhaps the message, not just for Kayla and Darius Boyd but for all of us, is that we need to leave more to chance.

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