Pushover Parents

by Dr. Bill Maier

“Pushover parents are so concerned with being liked by their children that they give in to their children’s every desire.”

Another parenting problem is emerging due to parents who give in or cater to every request and fancy of their children. The evidence of this parenting deficit can be found at the shopping malls, fast-food restaurants or local cinemas—spoiled, selfish, out-of-control children with little concept of right or wrong.

While many aspects of our culture are harmful to children, I’m particularly alarmed by the rise of what I call “pushover parents.” These parents are either unable or unwilling to place limits on their children’s behaviour—even behaviour that is unhealthy, dangerous, or destructive. They are so concerned with being liked by their children that they give in to their children’s every wish.

This neglect has a ripple effect. Even if you are doing a great job of raising responsible children, your children’s lives are still influenced by this unfortunate trend. Their world is inhabited by children raised by pushover parents—think bully, dishonest classmate, abusive boyfriend or girlfriend.

The root of the problem

What turns parents into pushovers? The root causes include:

  • Wrong thinking. Many parents today believe they have no right to impose their beliefs on their children. They heed the advice of secular parenting gurus who preach that children are brimming with innate goodness and should be allowed to create their own values. Such humanistic advice denies the fact that all of us are inclined toward selfishness and self-deception.
  • Guilt. When Mum and Dad are both professionals working 50 to 60 hours per week, their children may spend the majority of their early years in day care or with the maid. Because these parents are physically and emotionally unavailable to their children, parents may feel tremendous guilt. To ease this guilt, they often find it impossible to say no.
  • Copycat or reactive parenting. Some adults today were raised by parents influenced by the permissive beliefs of the 1960s on the rejection of authority (the hippy days / days of Flower Power). As a result, they never learned the importance of setting appropriate limits. Conversely, individuals who grew up with harsh, authoritarian parents may reject any form of child discipline. They vow, “I’m never going to treat my children the way I was treated.”
  • Divorce and single parenting. Divorce disputes can sometimes turn parents into pushovers. In order to be seen as the “favourite parent,” a mum or dad may spoil the children. Single parents can fall into the trap of looking to their children to meet their own emotional needs. As a result, they may fail to enforce limits for fear that their children won’t like them.

Don’t be a doormat

How can we avoid becoming pushover parents? We can begin by recognising that our children are a blessing, and with that blessing comes an awesome responsibility. Children who fail to experience consequences for misbehaviour typically grow up to become selfish, mean adults who leave a trail of broken relationships in their wake.

If you believe you might be a pushover parent, ask your spouse and friends to give you feedback—and give them permission to be honest. If you’re a single parent, ask yourself if you look to your children for comfort and fear their disapproval. If so, develop close, nurturing friendships with adults—friends who will support you in your role as a single mum or dad.

By balancing love and limits, you can help your children grow into healthy and responsible adults who—as they become mums and dads—will break the destructive cycle of pushover parenting.

Dr. Bill Maier is Focus on the Family’s psychologist-in-residence and host of the Weekend Magazine radio program.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.


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