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Overindulgent Parenting: Are You Guilty?

What Is Overindulgent Parenting

Overindulgent parenting is a parenting style in which parents consistently inundate their children with family resources, such as wealth, attention, experiences, and a lack of responsibility at developmentally inappropriate levels. Children are often given these things too early or too much​1​.

When parents overindulge, they may do so not for their children but for their own emotional needs. They may have lived in poverty as a child and don’t want their child to go through the same experience.

Overindulged children are raised in an unrealistic environment. They miss out on essential life experiences such as persevering through challenges, dealing with setbacks, and learning how to compromise. Dawson & Bredehoft argue that it is a form of child neglect​2​.

overindulgent parents and toddler surrounded by gifts

Overindulging vs. Spoiling

Overindulging and spoiling are often used interchangeably, as they display similar parental behaviors. However, their underlying causes can differ. 

Spoiling typically arises from the child’s rather than the parents’ needs. 

Parents may give in and spoil their children to avoid conflicts or to seem like “cool” parents.

These permissive parents often surrender their authority and have difficulty enforcing consistent, age-appropriate boundaries. This can lead to excessive, self-absorbed, unruly, and ill-tempered behavior in children. 

Parents who yield to their children’s desires might inadvertently overindulge them. But a child with an overindulging parent might not necessarily become spoiled, as the parents’ actions stem from their own beliefs rather than cater to the child’s wishes. 

Overindulgent parents tend to provide an excess of resources that may not necessarily match their child’s true desires. Their actions may deprive children of opportunities to develop coping skills crucial in their future lives.

Also See: Overparenting

What Causes Overindulgent Parenting

Researchers at Concordia University, St. Paul, conducted a study involving 730 participants, of which 124 identified themselves as adult children of overindulgent parents. 

Contrary to popular belief, most parents who overindulge their children do not necessarily do so out of a desire to spoil them, cater to their every whim, or be their “friends.” 

Instead, overindulgent parenting often stems from deeper emotional or situational factors.

Here are some common reasons or situations that are believed to contribute to these parents’ overindulgent behavior.

Parent’s bad childhood experiences

Some parents who experienced poverty themselves were determined to protect their children from similar hardships and give them a better type of childhood. To provide a better life for their children, they resorted to overindulgence to ensure they never faced feelings of deprivation or lack.

This might include doing for the child routine tasks, not assigning the child chores, granting special privileges, buying the child lots of gifts, and so on.

Guilt

Many adult children of overindulgence attributed this behavior to their parents’ feelings of guilt. This guilt stemmed from a variety of reasons.

Compensation for an abusive partner

In cases where one parent was abusive, the other parent might overindulge their children to compensate for the negative experiences they faced. This could be an attempt to make up for the emotional or physical pain their children endured.

Lack of time

Parents who worked long hours or had demanding careers might have felt guilty about not being able to spend sufficient time with their children. Overindulging their children may have been a way to make up for their absence and demonstrate their love and commitment to their child’s well-being.

Struggles with substance abuse

Some parents struggled with substance abuse and had feelings of guilt and shame due to the negative impact their addiction had on their children. To compensate for the harm inflicted on their children and lessen their guilt, these parents may have resorted to overindulging them.

Compensation

Another prevalent reason for overindulgence was a family member’s death or a child’s illness. In these situations, parents often felt empathy for what their children were experiencing and wanted to provide some form of compensation to ease their suffering.

Ease Suffering

Another prevalent reason for overindulgence was the occurrence of challenging life circumstances, such as the death of a family member or a child’s illness​3​.

In these situations, parents often felt deep empathy for what their children were experiencing and were motivated to provide additional support and comfort. 

This could involve showering the child with material possessions, offering excessive praise or attention, or being overly lenient with rules and boundaries. 

The intention behind these actions was to help the child feel better and alleviate their suffering during difficult times. However, despite the parents’ good intentions, overindulgence could contribute to the child’s development of bad behavior or unrealistic expectations.

Negative Effects Of Overindulgence Parenting

In the survey, participants reported a range of feelings associated with being overindulged:

  • Feeling loved: 48%
  • Feeling confused: 44%
  • Feeling embarrassed: 40%
  • Feeling guilty and sad: 31%
  • Feeling good about getting everything they wanted: 28%

Some lasting consequences of overindulgence on children can affect child development and persist into adulthood:

Lack of self-efficacy

Children with over-indulgent parents may struggle to make their own decisions, as their parents often complete difficult tasks or solve problems for them. This lack of life lessons can result in diminished self-efficacy and a reduced sense of competence​4​.

Skill deficiencies

These children may feel inadequate in various life skills, such as communication, interpersonal relationships, household chores, mental health, money management, budgeting, and personal responsibility.

Self-centered, narcissistic traits

Overindulgence can instill narcissistic tendencies. 

Excessive praise may encourage entitled children to rely on external validation to maintain feelings of being special. This can put the child at risk of developing irrational beliefs, grandiose self-views, and a false sense of entitlement​5​.

Unhealthy eating behavior

Children who grow up in overindulgent families are at risk of developing harmful eating habits because their parents lack healthy limits on their food consumption.

Behavioral and emotional problems

Some studies have found that adolescents with indulgent parents tend to have less emotional regulation skills and more behavioral issues​6​.

Positive Effects of Overindulgent Parenting

While overindulgent parenting has its drawbacks, style of parenting is not entirely negative. 

In some cases, adult children who experienced overindulgence have reported feeling loved and cared for by their parents. These feelings of love and care can contribute to positive outcomes in certain aspects of their lives.

Additionally, some research has found connections between parental indulgence and positive outcomes, including lower stress levels and increased life satisfaction​7​

This may be attributed to the nurturing and supportive environment that overindulgent parents often create, which can help children feel secure and confident.

Final Thoughts

Striking a balance in parenting is crucial for fostering children’s healthy development and well-being. 

Although indulgent parenting can provide a sense of love and security, it can also lead to unintended negative consequences, such as poor decision-making skills and unhealthy habits.

Parents dealing with unresolved issues should seek appropriate solutions rather than using indulgence as a means to assuage their guilt. When supporting grieving or sick children, find alternative methods of comfort and guidance, such as providing emotional support, attention, and open communication.

A balanced parenting approach involves being warm and responsive while setting healthy boundaries and fostering independence. 

By combining these elements, parents can create a nurturing environment that fosters happy and well-adjusted children capable of facing life’s challenges with resilience and confidence.

References

  1. 1.
    Bredehoft DJ, MENNICKE SA, Potter AM, Clarke JI. Perceptions attributed by adults to parental overindulgence during childhood. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. 1998;16(2):1998.
  2. 2.
    Dawson C, Bredehoft DJ. The unwanted and unintended long-term results of overindulging children: Three types of overindulgence and corrective strategies for parents and institutions. Vistas: Compelling perspectives on counseling. Published online 2005:87-90.
  3. 3.
    Van Schoors M, De Mol J, Morren H, Verhofstadt LL, Goubert L, Van Parys H. Parents’ Perspectives of Changes Within the Family Functioning After a Pediatric Cancer Diagnosis: A Multi Family Member Interview Analysis. Qual Health Res. Published online January 22, 2018:1229-1241. doi:10.1177/1049732317753587
  4. 4.
    Givertz M, Segrin C. The Association Between Overinvolved Parenting and Young Adults’ Self-Efficacy, Psychological Entitlement, and Family Communication. Communication Research. Published online August 20, 2012:1111-1136. doi:10.1177/0093650212456392
  5. 5.
    Thomaes S, Bushman BJ, Orobio de Castro B, Stegge H. What makes narcissists bloom? A framework for research on the etiology and development of narcissism. Dev Psychopathol. Published online October 14, 2009:1233-1247. doi:10.1017/s0954579409990137
  6. 6.
    Cui M, Graber JA, Metz A, Darling CA. Parental indulgence, self-regulation, and young adults’ behavioral and emotional problems. Journal of Family Studies. Published online October 19, 2016:233-249. doi:10.1080/13229400.2016.1237884
  7. 7.
    Coccia C, Darling CA, Rehm M, Cui M, Sathe SK. Adolescent Health, Stress and Life Satisfaction: The Paradox of Indulgent Parenting. Stress and Health. Published online October 13, 2011:211-221. doi:10.1002/smi.1426

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