The hot parenting topic these days is Helicopter Parenting … you know, the parents who hover over their children and become too overbearing in their lives and the lives of the kids around them — think cops being called because kids are in trees. You guys know what I’m talking about you either are one or you know a few. And despite all the outcry lately, these types of parents have been around for decades!
Now I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of helicopter parents. The first type is the overbearing, living life again, making up for their own failures by creating a super star child type of parent. They are the ones at the soccer games screaming and yelling at the refs or, God forbid, even the kids. These parents know everything about everything and if you get in the way of their child reaching the parent’s goals, well they may kill you. These parents control every aspect of their child’s day from the moment they awake to the time they finally get a reprieve and fall asleep.
I’m not going to touch on this type of helicoptering in this blog, except to say to these parents, get your own life! It’s not ok to scream at your kid, but it’s sure as hell not ok to scream at my kid because he’s on your kids soccer team! Don’t let it happen … ever. And fyi — you look like a moron and everyone is talking about you!! LOL!! Seriously, it happens in every sport, every school … just get my kid outta your radar!
The second type, which I believe is more understandable and can be sympathized with because they only want what we all want and that’s to ensure their kids are safe. These parents are the ones who are scared to death that something horrible will happen to their precious child. So instead of teaching them and letting them make age appropriate decisions, they just don’t let them out of their sight. They don’t let their kids take calculated risks, in fact, they don’t let them do anything that can be perceived as even slightly dangerous.
I have more sympathy for these parents, I understand their fear, I really do. The most difficult part of parenting is the inability to ensure that nothing terrible will ever happen to our children. The desire to prevent suffering in our kids is as strong as the need to breathe; but no matter how strong this desire is, we simply cannot prevent our children from experiencing pain and suffering, it’s not humanly possible because if it was, I probably would have figured out how!
We all know this , but it’s the variables we believe we can control that take hold of our hearts, and often our minds. What about abduction and molestation and drugs and injuries and drinking and sex and the like? We can control this if we just stay vigilant, right? We can keep our kids from injury and sadness if we stay vigilant, right?
I actually semi-subscribe to this notion. I know, it’s shocking … me? My kids kayak, they cave, they run crazy steeps, they scale cliff walls, they climb playground equipment in odd ways and climb trees, they take huge risks compared to 90% of the kids in this country… how can I say I’m a quasi-helicopter parent?
I can say this because I try to control their environments, the people they associate with, and I am seriously terrified of abduction. You see, I let my kids learn to take risks and to assess their own capabilities, but I worry about everything. I worry about the crowd they run with, I’m worried about their souls and getting them to heaven, I worry about their strength of character and how much adversity they can take. I worry and worry and worry. I’m a mom, it’s kind of in my job description.
I allowed Grady and Brody to run creeks like the Green and Homestake, but the North Fork is out of the question and all the above are a resounding NO to Kenny and Dally. Why? Kenny and Dally are kids, babies. I’m sure they are more than capable of running the creeks Grady and Brody do, but I’m NOT allowing them to take that risk. The consequences should they make a mistake far outweigh the benefit if they run it clean. They’ve only been paddling for 4 years, they don’t have the experience, the size or the mental awareness to know unequivocally what to do in case of an emergency … they still need to be taught this, they need more life experience for me to permit them to run this … and they have their whole lives, we are in no rush, and so we wait and prepare.
But, with all my worry, I refuse to confuse helicopter parenting with parenting. Helicopter parents don’t teach their children life skills, their children are the ones who fall from a tree and break their arm because they didn’t have the ability to assess their own ability. The children of hovering parents are not self-sufficient, they can’t make decisions, they can’t rely on their intuition because this very vital instinct was never given a chance to blossom.
Parenting is teaching. Moms and dads who are engaged in actual parenting are always teaching their kids the skills needed to take risks, to weigh the risk/benefit ratio, and to know themselves and what they are capable of! Parenting is hard as crap work. You aren’t just trying to raise a child safely to adulthood; you’re trying to raise a child to be a phenomenal adult who can take risks and push the limits in all aspects of life! If you don’t try, the answer will always be no. If you don’t take a chance, a risk, you’ll always tow the line, never advance and never be exceptional!
You know, it’s shocking to me that I’m sending Grady and Brody to France and Spain … I’m going to be ill for 3 full weeks. I’m going to be freaking out until they have landed and are back in my sights. But I can’t let my fear that the plane will crash or be hijacked or that they will get lost in a country in which neither speaks a lick of the language, or that they will get arrested for some crazy infraction or that they will have drugs planted on them, or that there will be a bombing … (really I could go on, but I’ll spare you – thank me later) — I can’t let my fears stop them from experiencing the trip of a lifetime. They are going to the World Cup, to kayak, they are traveling via plane, out of the country, together … I can’t let this opportunity escape them! So, Dan will get the brunt of my worry, he’ll handle it as he handles all of my “issues” and they will come home with their horizons expanded, their bond as brothers stronger and their independence strengthened.
That is the difference between parenting and hovering. I wasn’t hovered over as a kid, Dan wasn’t hovered over as a kid. We learned all we needed to know about adulthood, we learned all we needed to know about risk evaluation because we crashed our bikes, we nearly drowned, we climbed trees, we made rope swings, we skinned our knees, we snuck out of our houses at night (my brother has one heck of a story … but then again, so does Dan), we got in trouble with the law, we got ourselves out of trouble with the law, we passed tests, we failed tests (me, not Dan, he was smart, I was social), we made the team, we were cut from the team (again, me) and we never ever EVER, not once got a trophy for signing up.
No-one fought our battles for us, no-one. When we got in trouble at school, that was our problem and our parents sided with the school. When we were bullied we never thought to tell the teacher, instead, we were taught that words couldn’t hurt us, and when that failed we were taught how to punch. There were always fights behind the school between boys, but they only involved fists, no-one brought weapons. Kids have no outlet today. They are not permitted to solve their own problems, suffer a punch, enjoy a win. Now, I’m not a proponent of fist fighting, but I think you get my drift. We have a societal problem where adults are solving every issue and every problem their kids have.
For instance, we were at the pool yesterday and Cardy, Maddy and Rowdy were playing with a floatie ring a lifeguard gave them (people leave stuff behind all the time and the pool just shares it). It just so happened that there were about a gazillion of the exact same floaties – pink ones with circles … maybe you have one too? This kid came out of nowhere and started accusing Cardy, Maddy and Rowdy of switching floaties! Cardy looked at him like he was crazy and said, “No we didn’t.” The kid kept going on and on, his mom was trying to talk him down, but he kept saying, “they tried to be sneaky.” At any moment I could have stepped in and solved this issue, but Cardy was doing fine. I was surprised when Cardy asked him if he wanted to trade as it’s not something I would have done. The kid said yes, they traded and it was over. I asked him why he offered to trade and Cardy said, “Because I don’t care which floatie none of them are mine anyway.” Ok then, good point, well taken! If I’d gotten involved I’d have told the kid to take a hike and go pick on someone his own size. LOL! I’m not a very good negotiator!
But my kids are problem solvers. This is the case mostly because they fight constantly and I could either lose my mind or insist that they take it outside, away from earshot. Seriously, the fighting could kill me, and if I have to listen to it, I make them pay, so they’ve learned it’s in their best interest to, indeed, go outside! But as a result, they’ve learned to deal and negotiate and, this is earth shattering, pick their fights, even if they pick every fight, they fully acknowledge that they are choosing to argue over ditched who in the locker room at the pool and other such nonsense!
They are also shockingly self-sufficient. If something breaks, or they don’t like how something works, they go about trying to fix it themselves. I can take absolutely zero credit for this. I’m, unfortunately not this way. Dan, however, is one of those super handy guys with mad skills in all areas and the confidence to know that if he doesn’t know how to do something, he can figure it out or learn how.
Dan refuses to hire anyone to do anything. This used to drive me crazy because I grew up in a household where you paid someone to fix everything! My dad would tinker with our cars, but fix a washing machine or put down wood floors? Never! And so I used to get on Dan’s case, I thought he was just being cheap. But now I see what a gift this is. Dan is a very self-sufficient person. As a result, our kids have never ever seen anyone come in our home to do any work EVER, except for once. One time Dan hired a glass guy to replace a broken window in our house. And for a year or so we had a cleaning lady. I just complained so loudly and so consistently about the outrageous amount of housework and how I couldn’t be a good mom, and most importantly to Dan, I couldn’t be a good wife (wink, wink) as I was exhausted, stressed and totally preoccupied by housework that I broke down Dan’s resolve and we hired Matilda once per week. But aside from these very isolated and random events, no-one comes to our house to do yard work, no-one comes to install a dishwasher, no-one comes to build a deck, no-one comes to repair the dryer or the plumbing or anything. Dan does it all, and now the kids help him.
But, that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about helicopter parents and how they are doing more than simply hindering their children’s childhood. They are actually handicapping their child’s social, emotional and neurological development!
We are living in a society in which people can’t make any decisions, they can’t make changes to their lives out of fear, they can’t cope with anxiety … everyone’s a victim. High School students lack common sense and leadership skills. We send our kids off to college and they go crazy because it’s the first time they’ve even been out from the watchful eyes of their parents.
Remember when we were kids, we would leave in the morning and not return home until dinner? I remember my friends and I would run all over the neighborhood free to learn about the things that we enjoyed and that made us happy. We got sun-burned and our knees were always skinned! My hair turned bright orange one summer when I was lifeguarding because I stuck my head in a vat of chlorine trying to go blonde! We TP’ed peoples houses and sprayed the hose at passing cars. No-one called the cops, no-one thought we were juvenile delinquents, we were kids, testing the boundaries, exploring the limits. Sometimes we’d get away with our mischief and other times our parents would find out. Those are great memories, they make me laugh. I still keep in touch with a few of the people who are a part of these memories.
And so, I’m trying to make our household as close to the way it was when kids were free. Free to be kids, free to screw up and free to actually claim their victories and wins for themselves. I hover some because I’m afraid of the unknown, like predators and the known, like getting hit by a car. As remote a possibility as abduction is, it does happen and I will not let it happen to my kids. And so, while I can’t bring myself to let my 10 year old run around like I did when I was a kid, I can employ his older brothers to join him. My anxieties don’t have to really affect our kids as much as they would if I only had two children. My kids run around and they look like a gang of kids having a blast. I take comfort in numbers. In this way, having a large brood makes it much easier to not hover, to not always be there to tsk tsk or to caution and to let the kids test, learn and screw up. 🙂
The other day I received an email that actually literally moved me to tears. The thrust of it was that we helped her rediscover herself and her desired path. And if that is true, if we had anything to do with anyone finding peace and happiness in their lives, man that is amazing and a very powerful pull on my heart. But in the email she described her own mother and by her definition I know this mom of 11 is one I would admire and try to emulate if I knew her. Here is a little snippet of what she said:
“My mother is an inspiration. She has always been a free spirit, with faith in God, the beauty of nature, and that people are good and honest. She’s not naïve though, and is strong and has enough character to lead an army (which in my opinion, she has). She is a beautiful soul which never stops seeing the beauty in things, even if they take a turn for the worse. She refuses to be let down, and will fight and pray for what she believes. She reminds me so very much of Susie in the way that she is a loving and beautiful person, who seriously won’t take shit from anyone, but will still stand her ground and then smile politely because that’s what her education tells her to do. Basically she Yolos every day and has always told us to do the same. In a way, we’ve never been told not to do something (unless of course it was actually dangerous), and she’s always supported us in our decisions.
She’s only had three rules for us: “take it outside and I don’t care if it rains”, “don’t compete but empower one-an-other”, and “you have to find something that lets you live for a living”, meaning that she wanted us to be outside as often as possible, empowering and recognizing each other’s strengths instead of competing against each other, and that we had to find a way to live and make a living, not the other way around.”
Cate, if you are reading this, please tell your mom that I will forever use the phrase, “you have to find something that lets you live for a living”. I’m going to end here even though I have A LOT more to say. I think these paragraphs say more in such few words than my entire blog!
Well, one more thing, then I’m done, over and out, ten-four, GONE. Helicopter Parenting is easy, it’s tenants are to stop your child from living and experiencing. Real parenting involves teaching, it involves compassion, it involves understanding, pain, empathy, fear, glory, love, passion, sadness and joy. It takes strength, it takes faith and hope. Put in the work and you will be greatly rewarded.
Shameless Book Plug: :)))