Was I a helicopter mom when my kids were baby humans? Hmmmm. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Looking back, there were a few times I just might have qualified. There were the times I urged my pre-teen daughter to let me know she arrived safely at her friend’s house – who lived at the end of our street! Then, there was the cringe worthy moment I ran into the local bank my high school senior daughter worked, begging them to let me take her home before the beginning snow storm took hold. Not one of my finer moments. On the other hand, I never did my kids’ homework or school projects FOR them, so there’s that. Still, doesn’t everyone have a crazy button just waiting to be pushed?
Okay, maybe not.
I’m pleased to say, now that grandchildren are the focus (victims) of my worry, I’ve let up on the controls. Usually. That is except for the times I whisper my over the top concerns about them maybe needing a warmer jacket to which their moms, with practiced eye-rolls, calmly reply “they’re fine, Mom.” Groan.
Being overprotective and over-controlling, while hardly an optimum parenting style, is also not a new idea. A term first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book, “Parents and Teenagers”, helicopter parenting is still alive though maybe not ‘well.’ They’ve just gone 2.0, being dubbed tiger or ‘lawnmower’ parents, mowing down any obstacles in their kids’ way, damn the cost. Some parents, intent on getting their children into the most prestigious nursery schools, begin their helicoptering when the babes are still in the bassinet. There are parents that, out of necessity, like special needs or allergies, have to be more singularly focused on their children. Yet many, even overwhelmed with work, a big household or economic constraints, treat their children more balanced and sanely while conversely, other parents absent themselves completely.
“A lot of parents will do anything for their children except let them be themselves.” Banksy
I’m not proud today of having been a mommy hovercraft. I could blame a lot on my own strict, controlling, appearance-focused parents but that’s just passing the buck. I could say I was the ultimate worry wart but at least I showed unconditional love, something that was elusive to me. I could even wonder if so much of my inordinate worry was based on fear, often unreasonable, that they would be injured or ill, shadowed from the loss of my young brother.
NO one wants their child to be unhappy, feel hurt, or have to struggle. That comes with the parenting territory. It takes such strength and yes, courage, to watch your kids go through hard times and not step in to ‘save’ them. There’s a fine line sometimes between being supportive and helicoptering. But those times when we can’t or choose not to save them from consequences when they failed or were hurt, were necessary life teachers. The toughest lesson of all is that we can’t save our children from their actions’ consequences without depriving them of growth.
“Do not handicap your kids by making their lives easy.” Robert A. Heinlein
Many of us who didn’t feel understood or really loved, who felt deprived or ignored in our own childhoods have a tendency to overcompensate. And that can boomerang in the worst of ways. Our desperate wish to love better than we were loved, and have more than we had, no matter how well-intentioned, does not always have the best outcome. We learn from earning our place in the world, that mistakes, struggle and deprivation are the springboards to finding ourselves. Failure challenges both kids and adults; so does loss and disappointment. However painful, it can be the truest road to self-confidence and acceptance.
Hindsight is everything, isn’t it? It’s easy to beat ourselves up as we look back, but since kids don’t come with instruction books, we just do the best we can. And, when we learn better we do better. Is our now adult child’s insecurity, or lack of confidence because of our over-protection? Did we make them incapable of being sure of their decision-making skills? Did constantly picking up after them ensure that their own homes are overrun with ‘stuff’?
No parent wants overindulged children, kids who feel entitled or have a distinct lack of resilience. Knowing what I know now, I hope I’d remember that ‘saving’ them from consequences in the short term — may be stunting good decision making in the long term. That picking up after them allows them to think others will always do the same. That if it’s a ‘kid’ problem, I’m just there to guide, not solve. That you can’t always stop their falls, but if you’ve given them a net of confidence to walk through the fears, they’ll survive whatever comes their way.
“Children need to take responsibility for their actions so they do not become adults believing nothing is ever their fault.”
Being a parent is hard, really hard. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t, with a tiny baby growing into adulthood in the balance. Kids are shaped by many more things than overprotective love. Genes, environment, peers, education all have a piece in how a child develops and who they become. A parent has influence, but not control of their child’s ultimate evolution. We have to know when and how to let go or let them soar high without a net. From over involvement to free range parenting is a tough transformation. Take it from an old broad who, like you, loves all her kids (and grands) more than life itself.
Dismantle the helicopter and let your children, even if you hold your breath when they do, use their own wings.