Do You Have O.C.P.

“One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to fix it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery.” – Parker Palmer

All across America today there are after-school and weekend programs that are full of parents who are afflicted with O.C.P. This is what Jeff and I call the Overly Competitive Parent Syndrome. Many parents find it nearly impossible to let their kids experience any kind of hardship of failure. The term “helicopter parent” has now been replaced with “snowplow parent” or those who completely clear the path for their kid, versus letting them build their own sense of strength, confidence and resilienece.

If you’ve been to a school, sporting or performing event recently you can hardly miss seeing how parents are becoming more and more competitive. Parents sign their kids up for myriad activities from the earliest of ages. We have created environments filled with intense competition. It seems that our culture has embraced the goal that our children have to become excellent in everything, and it’s not being driven by the needs, wants or desires of children. It is being driven by parents who are plagued by O.C.P.

Here’s the real issue. As a result, we see children who are unintentionally learning that the only way for them to receive their parent’s approval is through performance. Kids think that by scoring a lot of points, getting straight A’s, or having the lead in the fall musical that, only then, will their parent love them. While this certainly isn’t the intent of the parents, it is the result.

This behavior is all about the parent’s need to feel good about themselves. And our research and experience shows that kids are more interested in just having fun, being part of a team and fitting in, while the parents are obsessed with their child’s achievements.

A friend of Jeff’s, Dr. Jim Afremow is a sports psychology specialist and a licensed professional counselor. Jim says, “Fathers fail when they don’t ensure that their sons are enjoying the process of a game, that they’re out there because they want to be out there, and that they’re learning and developing. If you give feedback to your sons, make sure…it’s not comparing your sons to other kids or emphasizing stats, numbers, and awards.” This advice obviously applies to moms and daughters, too.

If your kid’s value comes from how well he performs (music, sports, grades, acting, etc.) then he can’t help but fall short, which leaves him feeling that he’s disappointed you. He can’t possibly be great at everything. On the contrary, if he knows and believes that he’s loved unconditionally by you, regardless of his performance, then his identity isn’t subject to whether or not he gets a good or bad grade or if he scores a few or lots of points. Then performance becomes an action taken to demonstrate love of the game and gratitude for talents received as gifts from God.

It’s so common for parents to relive an entire competitive event with their children on the way home from the event. Just to be clear…all kids hate this. Particularly when the parent tries to live vicariously through the child. Afremow says the most important thing a parent can say to their child on the way home is, “I love watching you play!” That’s it! Stop there. Just breathe, relax and enjoy your child for who he is, not what he does while he’s competing.

This is an edited excerpt from Tender Lions – Building the Vital Relationship Between Father and Son.

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