Why it's important to step away from being the ‘always there’ school parent

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK
Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK 

Stepping away from your children and letting them grow into independent people is hard for some parents.

You see them at schools, dance halls and sporting clubs. They're the ones on every committee. They're the first to volunteer for all the excursions and the last to leave the schoolyard. They're everywhere, all of the time.

While being an active member of your kid's life and putting your hand up to help is valuable, experts say there is a fine line between supportive and overbearing.

Paediatric psychologist and founder of the Northern Centre for Child Development Amanda Abel said being an involved parent was important, but it can go too far.

"Many parents are involved in the school community, which can have a very positive impact on their child's learning and participation in school," Ms Abel said.

"However, if parents are involved to an extent whereby it is to the detriment of their other commitments and interests, we would want to consider why?

"We would also want to be looking at whether or not this level of involvement impacts their child at all."

There are many reasons why some parents find it hard to give their kids the space they need to flourish.

"Of course, most parents engaging in this pattern of behaviour would be doing so without realising it is detrimental, and with the best intentions for their child's happiness," she said.

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"Of course there is also the possibility that the parent may be avoiding something in their own life and being involved in their child's activities provides a plausible excuse for not pursuing their own interests."

Being involved with your children - volunteering at school, being a sporting coach – is vital, but it's also necessary to know when to step away.

"The worst thing parents can do is to not let their child develop independence, because then they don't build up the skills to feel confident and safe in the world without their parents around," she said.

Principal psychologist at Oracle Psychology Daniel Wendt said the transition to school could be hard for some parents.

"School can be a difficult time for some parents as they want their children to be successful, accepted and included by others," Mr Wendt said.

"It is truly a challenge to maintain balance between supporting them while also encouraging freedom to explore.

"They are also faced with the challenge of rediscovering themselves separate from their children. This can be scary if you don't know where to start."

He suggested parents take the time to rediscover what makes them happy.

"This could be joining a club, learning a new skill, studying for the first time in a long time or reaching out to people socially," he said.

"Of course, being a strong independent and fulfilled individual does not mean you are no longer a parent.

"You can use this version of yourself to be a role model for you children by showing them that taking risks can be scary, but it also comes with rewards."  

Founder of the Get Set For High School Program, former teacher and author Jenny Atkinson said sometimes it's not as simple as having too much time on your hands.

"Some parents definitely struggle more than others to let go," Ms Atkinson said.

"It can be for many reasons but a few are: fearing the future outcome for their child, remembering a past experience of their own which they want their child to avoid, worrying about what others think.

"I don't believe it's simply a case of a parent having nothing else to do with their time, but rather they may feel that things will not go 'according to plan' or may go very wrong if they are not fully involved or controlling the situation for their child."

However, this type of parenting can be draining.

"Parenting is a job where the aim is to put yourself out of a job," she said.

"Yes, we'll always be there to love our children, but our job is to help them be caring, well-functioning contributors to our society and that's hard to do if we don't let them go.

"By letting them go and fostering their independence they'll be ready to face the world as an adult because you've given them the practice and tools they need to grow."