Note to Parents: Fire Your Inner Micromanager
Parents, how many of you like being micromanaged? I’m guessing none of you do. Being micromanaged feels bad. You don’t feel trusted. You don’t feel agency. You don’t feel motivated.
Teenagers, like the rest us, also want to feel trust, agency, and the intrinsic motivation that results from those privileges. These factors enable them to internalize the notion that they are ready to be independent adults.
In the thousands of families I have worked with over the years, the most common source of tension is parental micromanagement of children. In teens, these signs are easy to spot: frustration, resentment, perhaps even rebellion. They are the same ones adults experience in their professional lives.
Full disclosure: I am a parent. I feel the pull to micromanage my kids a dozen times a day. I want to tell my son to not co-mingle sweaters and long sleeve t-shirts. I want to tell him how to more effectively transition from brushing his teeth to the next step in getting ready for bed, in part so I can get on with my day. This is the start of the trouble.
We parents instinctively want to teach our children everything. We want them to find success and fulfillment by avoiding mistakes that might hurt them later. But if we let our instincts run at full force, we will stunt our kids’ growth and limit their ability to achieve functional independence. Letting our micromanaging impulses run free feels good because it creates the illusion that we are dutifully showing our kids how to do things right, while assuaging our own fears that they are doing their work poorly. In practice, however, it has the reverse effect. Acting on our fear of their failures increases the odds that they will be less successful in the future.
So, is there a simple rule to avoid all this? Nope. Day-to-day challenges are far too situational and context-dependent for a “one size fits all” rule. But there is a simple first step on the path: butt out. Ignore your inner parent micromanager once a day. And when you commit to doing that, make it clear to your child that you are butting out and why, so they see you making the effort. Then talk about whatever comes next. Do a quick debrief. Next, try it twice a day, and keep debriefing. It’s the debrief that consolidates the learning for your child.
Go ahead and fire your micromanager, one day at a time and in little, unceasing steps. You and your child will both be better off.