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February 21, 2019

Why doing everything for your child is harmful

A few years ago, a friend of mine received a call from someone she didn’t know. The call was from a parent asking her about a job position in her department that was supposed to be filled by his 28-year-old son. Precisely, he was demanding to know why my friend — who was the head of that department — was taking long to appoint his son in the new position.

“Haven’t you received instructions from your boss about my son?” he asked her.

Turns out that the parent and my friend’s boss were good friends, and it is on the basis of that friendship that his son was being ‘awarded’ a job.

My friend was vexed by her boss’s move. Her department was severely understaffed and the workload immense. Three colleagues had recently left the organisation yet none of them had been replaced. This left the few remaining staff working tirelessly to ensure that operations in the department continued smoothly. Her requests for replacements of the colleagues who had left constantly fell on deaf ears, as her boss ignored her. But then, suddenly, and without the regular recruitment processes being followed, the position was filled — by his friends’ son. Forget that the young man had no qualifications whatsoever in that line of work.

As she expressed her frustrations to me over coffee, she lamented over the fact that the young man was not going to help ease the workload in her department and if anything, she now had additional work — that of ‘babysitting’ him.

Then again, what worried us most was why a fully grown man needed his father to get him a job and more so, a father who would make phone calls and intimidate his son’s future employer. We reckoned that a 28-year-old should have been on his second or third job, probably pursuing a Masters degree and balancing all this with his young family. But not in the case of this young man, who it turned out, still lived with his father. We really wondered.

So it happened that I met my friend the other day for coffee. We hadn’t met in a long while, so it was a happy moment. As we caught up, we discussed our new life as parents (we weren’t parents then), and the conversation of the then 28-year-old came up. We looked at the situation differently now. We actually pitied the young man. Probably he’d never been given the space to make his own decisions.

Maybe his parents had given him everything he had ever asked for without him having to work for it. Yes, he had attended some of the best schools in town, but we wondered what that had translated into because he didn’t appear to have any life skills.

While working with my friend, the man was completely unable to make any decisions. He was never sure about what to do. Actually, one time when he was down with flu, it was his father who called the office to inform him that his son would not be coming in to work for the next three days. He would be dropped at work in the morning and picked in the evening. Maybe his father had never given him the opportunity to think for himself, to make his own decisions, to make his own mistakes and learn from them. Maybe his father’s efforts to provide for his children and give them a good life, he had perhaps gone overboard.

My friend informed me that the young man only worked for two months before he resigned. He could not cope with the pressures of work life and the numerous deadlines and the constant need for quick thinking. His father called the office and ‘resigned for him’.

My conversation with my friend offered me important insights as a parent. By sheltering your children and ‘providing’ for them, you may actually be damaging them, not helping them at all.

The writer is a parenting blogger at

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