Mother or Smother?

By Laraine L. Thompson

In our well intentioned efforts to be good, nurturing parents do we end up smothering rather than mothering—or fathering for that matter? We have all smothered from time to time. We want our children to know that we love them. We think that the way to show them that love is to do for them—things that they can and should be doing for themselves. We launder and iron their clothes. We tidy their rooms. We prepare food at their whim. We hover over their homework, their scout advancement, their young women progress. We may even be doing some of their homework! The list could go on.

I know of one woman (and there are countless more just like her) who, in her willing and exuberant desire to be a wonderful, nurturing LDS mother, waited on her family for their every need. She even went so far as to wrap up hot meals to drive to her son’s athletic practice so as not to force him to have to reheat his dinner when he would arrive home. She washed, folded, and put away her son’s clothing. She hovered over his homework. He, along with his other siblings, was the very center of her world. She was admired by her peers for her mothering efforts.  Yet, when it came time for him to go away to college, he began to struggle. Unsure of himself, he had to return home. When it came time for his mission, he balked once again. Seeking professional help the mother learned from a counselor that she had been too “good” a mother! Instead of helping her children grow toward healthy independence, she had succeeded in making them dependent, in sapping them of important confidence to go forth into the world.

In the most recent Mormon Times, is an article entitled, “Stop Babying Your Missionary”. In it Don Aslett, a “Mormon cleaning guru” states that the best way to help prepare a young man—or woman—for a mission or for, we might add, life in general, is “…to stop doing his laundry, cooking for him, and cleaning up after him….it does missionaries no good to be babied….the worst thing you can do for them is protect them and insulate them”

He speaks from vast experience. He has spent over 50 years teaching people to clean more efficiently. He and wife served a mission together where they saw first hand the consequences of smothering as opposed to mothering. He has observed that “…those who are sloppy in their habits [having not learned or practiced important skills in the first place] tend to be sloppy in their keeping of the commandments.”

Complaining about the quality of their school lunch, our children became responsible for their own lunches from an early age. Each night they would have to make their lunches for the following day. They were always responsible for their own rooms and had other household duties as well. When they were 12, they became responsible for their own laundry—washing, folding, ironing. Of course, we showed them how to do this. You should have heard the complaints of child abuse! They took responsibility for the choice and purchase of their own clothing from age 12 as well. Babysitting, yard work, janitoring, house painting all became skills and a means to their end. For the most part college expenses became theirs as well, along with the expenses of a mission. We supplemented from time to time, but we valued their independence above our notions, or the notions of those around us, of what a good parent looked like. I even had one friend tell me, “…the way that I see it is that you are just not as nurturing a parent as I am!” Never mind that it was her daughter who called home in a panic when she got to college and realized that she didn’t have the faintest notion of how to iron her clothing. Her mother, ever nurturing, had neglected to teach her that skill.

The old dictum, “Never do for others what they can do for themselves” keeps repeating in my head.

For more tips from Don Aslett visit

Photo source: LDS Media Library


One thought on “Mother or Smother?”

  1. I think it wise to continuously seek balance in parenting. The needs of a child are not simple but constantly changing. It is easy to smother a child in love; however, an overly independent child would suffer different yet equal levels of damage to their future abilities to cope. The smothered child may be capable of expressing love but lack in the way of responsibility, while the overly independent child could prove to be capable of high levels of responsibility but lack in their ability to communicate emotionally or express love adequately. Both would have weaknesses and struggle in any adult relationship. Both would lack the same balance that was missing in their rearing. Neither would achieve their potential of happiness. As a mother, I try to listen to the Spirit and I pray daily to my Heavenly Father for clarity regarding the needs of each of my children individually and at that time. I believe parenting is something to be fine tuned at every new moment. God bless each and every parent in this world sincerely trying to get it right!

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