The High Cost of Interfering

I have a confession to make… I am a bit of a control freak. There, I said it – whew! I am a person who likes efficiency. I love nothing more than to whip things into shape and keep my world running smoothly. I find it painful to watch others struggling to do something, especially when I can see a way that it could be done “better.”

One spring day, my son was helping me carry in groceries after a large shop. He got a burst of enthusiasm and decided he was going to take over putting away the groceries. I should have been pleased to see him display initiative; however my inner perfectionist cringed as he grabbed shopping bags and swung them around not-so-carefully. “Don’t bruise the fruit!” I cried to myself inwardly. Then he began to put things away in my the fridge (see what I mean?), in the “wrong” spots. With great effort, I stopped myself from blurting out instructions to move things into the “right” places, not wanting to discourage him in a moment of thoughtfulness.

Ten minutes later, he needed some ice and found the empty ice trays in the dish drainer. Again showing initiative, he decided to fill them with water. (Did I mention these were mini trays that take all of 10 seconds to fill?). My son proceeded to fill each.tiny.hole. individually, shutting off the water after each hole before proceeding to the next. Another person might marvel at how carefully he performed his task, but I struggled to suppress my instinct to grab the tray out of his hands and finish the job. Luckily, I resisted the temptation.

Something happens when you stop yourself from reacting and just allow yourself to be present in the moment. It makes space to see things from a different viewpoint… to reflect instead of just act. As an observer, I could see myself hovering behind my son, ready to take over at multiple points that day. My perfectionism visibly loomed in front of me, and the ugly sight of it made me back off and let him finish the tasks on his own.

During the rest of the day, I thought about how often I tend to interfere, and what the cost of that interference might be. So many times, we well-meaning parents feel justified in interfering to “save” our kids from doing the wrong thing – from making the mistake, from wasting time or money, from getting themselves stuck and frustrated. Our intentions may be good, but if we are really honest, doesn’t our interference actually achieve the very opposite by costing them?

By interfering, we deprive our kids of:

1) The opportunity to learn. Learning, by definition, is to acquire knowledge through experience. Yes, we must teach and guide our children up front, but that does not negate the need for real life experience. Experience, and in particular failure, is essential to growth. Muscles don’t get stronger without resistance, and kids don’t learn to do things well without making mistakes.

2) The opportunity to develop confidence. Children love to do things themselves, to prove to us and themselves that they can do it. Confidence comes through facing and overcoming obstacles, while insecurity comes from fear of doing things the “wrong way.” We parents feed a fear of failure when we step in unnecessarily and take over.

3) The opportunity to teach us. It is amazing how many times I have gone to teach my child something and he has already known it. Or, he has caught an error or taught me something new on a topic he is knowledgeable about. These experiences humble me, while serving as good feedback to adjust and relax the reins as he increases in maturity. The benefit of these occurrences to my child is that he sees himself as more competent in the world.

4) The opportunity to bless us. I am reminded of a time where my son was tinkering in the kitchen. The sound of clinking and of unseen doors/drawers being opened made me anxious! When I asked what he was doing, he asked me to wait. I imagined him raiding the snack cupboard, when what he was actually doing was making me a special drink. He soon emerged with a glass of iced tea for each of us, complete with orange slices he had cut himself. Had I been in the kitchen, I would have stopped his plan, as “we don’t have iced tea in the morning!” But he was so proud of himself, and so full of thoughtfulness. Had I shut him down, I would have robbed him of being a blessing, and robbed myself of receiving it. We’ve had a few kitchen episodes since, and I have to remind myself every time to hang back and leave space for him to flex his culinary muscles. We all have to start somewhere!

There is no doubt that responsible parenting involves a lot of supervision and guidance, but we must be careful to not stifle our children from the benefits of failing and learning. Fellow perfectionists, let’s make a resolution. Next time we feel the urge, let’s stop and ask ourselves, “What will the cost be if I interfere here?” Let’s hang back for a moment and give our children a chance. They may just surprise us!


Your turn: Where do you find it hardest to not interfere?

“The parents exist to teach the child, but also they must learn what the child has to teach them: and the child has a very great deal to teach them.” Arnold Bennett

4 thoughts on “The High Cost of Interfering

  1. I don’t have a problem telling someone (a child or wife or girlfriend) why I want to have something done a certain way especially if what they’re doing to causing my groceries to spoil and be thrown out. I believe God tells us to do things in certain ways from time to time and in other ways he gives it up to us to make the mistake. Therefore in my opinion it’s not a control thing that will save my fruit and vegetables but a way for me to explain to someone the method to my madness then if they have a better solution then I hope they tell me.

    1. Hi Stuart. I think the ongoing dance of parenting is finding the right balance between guiding and letting go. It is powerful once experience is added to information. Just like the story of a toddler told repeatedly not to touch a hot stove, but touches it anyway. In their mind they’re thinking, “What IS hot? How hot is it really?” It usually only takes one touch of the hot stove to learn the lesson!

  2. LOVED this piece Kim – and well written! You might consider submitting it to some publications…

    I think it is a valuable lesson to pause before offering all our “worldly wisdom” to those around us. As you experienced – new eyes have may have much to offer us in return. And consequences can be SUCH a good teacher! Blessings are a bonus!

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