Reflections of a Helicopter Mom

“Over Parenting” 

It’s the phrase that has been haunting my brain since I read this fabulous article by Katherine Ozment.

The excerpt that keeps me up at night?

…While today’s middle- and upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us…Nearly everything they do is orchestrated, if not by their parents, then by some other adult…In our attempt to manage and support every moment of our children’s lives, they become something that belongs to us, not them.”

 Source

OUCH.

My kids and I resemble this demographic too much.  They’ve had wonderful experiences with swimming (lessons) and sledding (in a safe area, with 2 parents supervising at all times) and playing with friends (during pre-arranged playdates).

Part of this is a function of our society today.  We know so much more of the dangers that lurk in dark corners.  And we are reminded of them with alarming frequency on the news.

So it’s no wonder that I’m an “over parenter.”  I regularly try to save my kids from scraped knees or hurt feelings.  I find myself saying, “Be careful, honey,” far too much.  It’s only natural to protect our children, right?

Since reading this article, I’m left with a profound sense of the implications of over parenting.

WARNING! Life ahead...

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I started asking myself…

How would my childhood have been different if I hadn’t run outside on a whim to knock on a friend’s door to play?

Or if I wasn’t allowed to go skiing at 10 years old with friends, completely unsupervised?

Or eat as many cookies as I could steal at the neighborhood holiday party?

What would my world view have been if I wasn’t allowed to explore?

What must life be like for my kids who know NOTHING of unsupervised play with a hint of danger?

My logical brain argues that there’s got to be a balance between over-supervising our kids and giving them carte blanche.  I’m not going to let my kids run around the neighborhood without knowing where they are.  (Someday, maybe.  When they’re 20 …older.) But maybe I can give a little now, so that their world is a little less boring and their experiences a little less manufactured.  

Life is a "Choose Your Own Adventure" story. Far be it from me to take that away from my kids.

 

This past weekend, we went to a holiday party at our friends’  home.  It was a lovely mix of people; some I knew, many I didn’t.  Everyone traipsed in with their bottles of wine and neatly wrapped besprinkled cookies and well-dressed children.  The adults ate finger foods, enjoyed grown up conversation, and allowed the reins to loosen on the kids.

I saw young tykes sliding up to the dessert table, hoping for one more Peanut Butter Hershey Kiss cookie without getting caught.  (Those young fingers crawled across the cookie plate quite often.)

My Peanut didn’t sneak or slide.  Instead, she asked me each time if she could, “have just one more cookie.”  I made a decision NOT to parent the cookie situation and told her she was in charge of her belly and I trusted her to listen to her body.

Full disclosure: I inwardly cringed each time I saw her revisit the cookie table….all NINE TIMES.

Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In between cookie breaks, Peanut was running up and down the stairs with the other kids and there was rough play on the third floor between the boys and girls.  The battle of the sexes raged on with spirited chasing and pillow fights that verged on violence.  Later, there were slamming doors and excluded kids and hurt feelings.

We intentionally decided NOT to parent the situation, instead telling Peanut that, “we trust you to make good choices, regardless of whatever anyone else is doing.”

Not five minutes later, Peanut came down red-faced and tear stricken.  She was in full blown ugly cry. She tried to tell me through gasping sobs that her Christmas dress had ripped when it got slammed in the door by “those boys.”

Oh, how my resolve was tested. 

But instead of marching up the stairs and parenting everyone’s children (including my own) with stern warnings about door slamming and broken fingers, I turned and told Peanut, “you are choosing to play rough with the kids, some of whom are older and bigger than you.  Sometimes dresses get ripped and feelings get hurt when you choose to play like that.” Then I gave her a hug and sent her on her way.

She asked to go home not ten minutes later, complaining that her tummy hurt and she was tired.

And despite the consequences of too many cookies and a tattered hem, I know she will STILL remember having had a fabulous time at the holiday party.  Why?  Because she got to experience, if just for a moment and in some small way, freedom laced with danger.

And because, as the over parenter that I still am, she knows I’m going to fix her dress.

Baby steps.

 

**Note: Katherine’s brilliant article is up for a Leader Board Award!  You can vote for it here.**

 

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