We all know that children do not come with an instruction manual. Motherhood – and fatherhood – lasts a lifetime, and everyone approaches the challenge in different ways. Eva Millet has explored the issue of parenthood in depth and is the author of two books on the subject: Hiperpaternidad (2016) and Hiperniños (2018).
You say family life has changed and now revolves around the children.
Like many things, the concept of hyper-parenting comes from the US. It is a style of parenting in which the children are the maximum centre of their parents’ attention, in which the children receive almost obsessive attention from their parents. This produces children who are not prepared for life.
It sounds like a stressful way to live.
My intention in writing these two books was to reach out to hyper mothers and fathers, so that they relax and do not throw out everything that’s good about traditional parenting. Times have changed, but that doesn’t mean that some of the tools from the past cannot also be used today.
Give me some examples.
Respect for adults is being lost. Adults are not only parents, but also teachers. There is a tendency today to confuse authority with authoritarianism, so that any disagreement at home, at school, or in the playground is seen as an attack. It is worrying.
You say hyper-parenting is a middle class phenomenon.
That’s where we find more cases; lower class families have other problems to deal with. For any family, raising children requires a great effort, particularly a financial one. So aspiring to raise perfect children adds an extra pressure, and the competition between parents can become ferocious. Achieving perfection is by definition expensive, and parents become their children’s managers.
Do we fill our children’s free time with activities because we are working?
In part we want to compensate them for the time we are not there, whether it be because we are working or because we are on our phones [she laughs]. On the other hand, many children could easily be at home but are doing extra-curricular activities because their parents are worried about them losing their place in the competition that childhood is turning into these days, in order to ensure they will have a better life as adults.
But there is no guarantee of that.
Obviously not. I always point out that there is a part of growing up that is in the hands of fate. You cannot control everything your children do. The hyper parent gives importance to knowledge, but forgets about developing character, the tool children need to overcome obstacles as they grow up.
Is a hyper parent someone who is trying to make sure their children have a better childhood than they did?
No, and it is very strange. They weren’t traumatised as children, and were likely raised traditionally, with the freedom to play and experiment. I think it’s more about getting carried away by a trend based on the idea that they have to do a better job than their parents did. In fact, we are now seeing a new opposite trend appearing, slow parenting, which involves raising children without stress or pressure.
You often say overprotecting is no protection.
All my research leads to the same place. Overprotecting children in no way guarantees the child’s happiness, which is supposed to be the main aim of this type of parenting. If you do everything for your child, if you solve all their problems, if you smooth the way for them every day, then you are sending them a clear message: you can’t do anything without me, you’re weak, and you are not capable of overcoming the challenges you face.
Are hyper-parented children destined to become hyper parents themselves?
I think so, but it’s not an exact science. Curiously, of my childhood friends, none of those most likely to become hyper parents have children. I can only imagine this type of parenting put them off.
In your book you say overprotective parents do not like setting limits on their children.
They see it as a personal attack. Limits and affection are the two pillars of good parenting. I have studied this field for 15 years and setting limits is a constant whenever I speak to experts. Children without limits are lost, because they need them to structure their day, and they will be indispensable for living in society when they are grown ups.
The trend in education is for the school to adapt to the needs of pupils.
Yes, but it’s impossible to adapt to the needs of each pupil, and less so when pupils all want to be first, to get personal attention. It’s a case of the “me, now” generation.
And if the parents add a need for personalised attention to this?
Schools are not having a good time of it because of hyper-parenting. For example, there are mothers and fathers who join the parent-teacher association to make sure the dining room doesn’t serve food their children don’t like. That has actually happened. Teachers complain that the first ‘no’ some pupils hear is when they start school. Schools teach children to do everything for themselves and then when they leave, the hyper parents waiting outside automatically carry their backpacks for them.
It sounds funny but it is also serious.
Yes, but it happens. One school even made a music video in which they appealed to parents to let their children carry their own backpacks. There are more examples, such as a nursery teacher who told me they’d come across children who after falling over just lay unmoving on the ground. They realised that the reason they didn’t get up is because they didn’t know how to do it by themselves.
Is there a formula for good parenting?
A good start would be for the child to learn when to say “good morning”, “thank you” and “sorry”. It might seem a simple thing, but it’s something that is much less common than you would imagine.