De-Overparenting Is The New OverparentingS

In a rather disturbing bit of irony, parents can now take classes that teach them how to parent less.

The backlash against overinvolved "helicopter" parents has been going on long time, and Nancy Gibbs's description of such people in Time will surprise no one who reads trend pieces. They buy Baby Kneepads! They monitor their kids at college, and even in their jobs! When their precious daughter forgets a necklace she needs for her "coordinated outfit," they race to school to drop it off!

More surprising than these stock Generation-Y anecdotes is the news that some parents are pushing back, not just with rebellious mommy-blogging, but with actual classes designed to curb their overparenting impulses. Gibbs describes one such class:

Eleven parents are sitting in a circle in an airy, glass-walled living room in south Austin, Texas, eating organic, gluten-free, nondairy coconut ice cream. This is a Slow Family Living class, taught by perinatal psychologist Carrie Contey and Bernadette Noll. "Our whole culture," says Contey, 38, "is geared around 'Is your kid making the benchmarks?' There's this fear of 'Is my kid's head the right size?' People think there's some mythical Good Mother out there that they aren't living up to and that it's hurting their child. I just want to pull the plug on that."

Truly committed de-overparenters can get Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, to "go into your home, weed out your kids' stuff, sort out their schedule, turn off the screens and help your family find space you didn't know you had, like a master closet reorganizer for the soul." Payne recommends that parents get rid of children's broken and outgrown toys, "pare down to the classics that leave the most to the child's imagination and create a kind of toy library kids can visit and swap from. Then build breaks of calm into their schedule so they can actually enjoy the toys." Paring down its possessions seems smart, but "toy library?" "Build breaks into their schedule?" These make fun sound like school, childhood sound like work, and de-overparenting sound a lot like, well, overparenting. In the same vein, "pulling the plug" on unrealistic ideals of motherhood is a worthy goal, but do parents really need a special class — complete with nondairy ice cream — in order to achieve it?

One dad, Matt, tells Gibbs that de-overparenting can be a tough transition. He says, "it's not every day that I consciously sit down and ask myself hard questions about how I want family life to be slower or better." But should the process of being a more relaxed parent really involve "hard questions?" Can't you just do it by, you know, relaxing? Can't parents just lighten up without making lightening up into yet another rulebound parenting project? When did parenting become a gerund anyway?

One point kind of gets lost in all the hysteria over helicopter parents: Gibbs writes, "It's a tricky line to walk, since studies link parents' engagement in a child's education to better grades, higher test scores, less substance abuse and better college outcomes. Given a choice, teachers say, overinvolved parents are preferable to invisible ones." And while she also says "helicopter parents can be found across all income levels," it's certainly easier to hover over your kid if you have the money for things like violin lessons, college admissions coaches, and de-overparenting classes. This is not to say that poorer families never have overparenting problems, but it might be wise to redirect some of the hysteria over helicopter parents towards making it easier for all parents to get an appropriate level of involvement in their children's education. Moms and dads who don't speak English or who work three jobs might not be able to harass teachers or overschedule their kids with extracurriculars, but they also have a harder time helping with homework and addressing kids' difficulties at school — and this might be a bigger problem than a few jerks with Baby Kneepads.

Can These Parents Be Saved? [Time]