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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Your comments are better than peanut brittle.

Please leave one below!

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34 comments
XLMIC
XLMIC

What a great story! We all do learn so much from actual experience rather than say-so... kids and adults alike. It is so hard sometimes to let go in these ways with regard to our children. Happy stitching :)

ninja BITCH, CEO
ninja BITCH, CEO

Do we ever learn to stop eating cookies - for our own good? hehe. I love peanut butter cookies too, and believe me, I'd eat them before anyone else could. LOVE your kid, and LOVE you. And you mend dresses? Can you mend mine too?

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

If by mend you mean staple back together... then YES I mend dresses. #supermom

Mirjam
Mirjam

The hard thing is, that when you don't hoover over your children, it's like you're the odd parent!

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

Oh! The judgment! Seems like no matter how well you parent, SOMEONE is ready to judge you. Which is why I have to follow my instincts and parent the way that feels right to ME. Happy to see you here, Mirjam!

Jamie
Jamie

I'm working on this too. Since the girls, the boys have had a lot more freedom about the house. The basement has become their haven. I hear screaming, yelling, crying, slamming... and I just pause, wait for any major meltdowns and then breathe on. It's terrifying. The cookie thing... it made me feel squirmy just thinking about doing it. Good for you, I promise I'll try too!

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

It's funny...as I wrote the cookie story, the doubt in my head spoke loud and clear. "It's no badge of honor to let your kid overeat cookies. It's not like giving your kid REAL freedom..." But to a five year old? Unlimited cookies IS freedom. Chocolaty, sweet, freedom.

January
January

How things have changes since we were kids huh? I love how you handled this situation. I'd like to think I'm a happy medium between both helicopter and free range but...it depends on the day. ;) Great post.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

I, too, vacillate based on the day. Let's just hope I have more free range days than hover days!

Ado
Ado

I am a fellow hovercraft parent who like you, is rethinking my hovercrafting. I was so impressed with your resistance to policing the cookie table and the kids' party antics - instead letting your child learn through consequence & empowering her to be in control of her own self. My children attend an AMI Montessori school where basically all of it is self-driven by consequence, as opposed to being told what to do by an authority figure. And this is all so good! But then they return to me and my giant hovercraft, blades a'whirling...there's got to be a happy medium. I'm hoping the AMI stuff undoes some of my over-ness, you know? (-: PS: I just loved this post and am going to share it on my FB page.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

As a blogger, you know that sharing someone else's post on your FB page or on Twitter is the highest compliment you can give them. So thank you! Also? Your blog is HILARIOUS. I watched the Maori Haka video on your Bio page and snorted. Aloud. I am so classy.

Alison@Mama Wants This
Alison@Mama Wants This

Great post, Ryan. I've been thinking about this too - am I over-parenting? Do I control my son's environment too much? Am I not letting him just be? I do try let him be, but I'm also trying to implement some kind of discipline. I guess at age 2, the latter is almost impossible as he doesn't appear to comprehend 100% as to why some things he does are not good - for other people, like trying to hit a baby on the head. So which part of their lives do we parent more, and which parts less? That's my issue and I hope that as time goes by, I'm the wiser for it.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

Those hard questions are never answered, are they. And each day I can give a different answer; some days I strike the right balance. Other days, I hover like a tethered helicopter. I think the world does a lot of parenting for us (i.e. when I hit someone on the head, they don't play with me anymore). The trick for me is choosing when to let the world parent - and when to do the parenting myself. It ain't easy.

Eve
Eve

Man I can't tell you how much I love this post. Good for you for taking a breatk from "over parenting." I am more of the "let them explore" type parent because that's how I was raised. I had to teach my hubby not to run to our boy everytime he fell. Because everytime he'd do it, our son would cry even when there no tears from the initial fall. He was crying because daddy seemed upset that he fell. I explained this to hubby and told him that we have to let him be a boy. He's going to fall and scrape his knees from time to time. But you know what? He'll live. He'll be fine and he needs to know that. We don't run to him when he trips anymore (unless it's serious) and you know what? He gets up, dusts off his pants (daddy taught him that) and keeps on playing. He's a more independent kid because we don't hover over him 24/7. I think you're right that it's a balancing act. We need to be there for our kids, but at the same time we need to recognize when it's appropriate not to be there. Great post, Ryan!

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

Thanks for the kind words, Eve! I'm pretty good about not running to a skinned knee. But a broken heart? That's when my "swoop" reflex goes into overdrive. I gotta get it in check. Fast.

Linda
Linda

I loved this article - and you are so much braver than me. My kids are in their 20's now. I always told my youngest I wished I could go to school with her and hide under her desk. The hardest part was/is letting them go - make their successes and their mistakes - and take ownership of them - I did the best I could with the knowledge and experience I had in life - and that's all you can do- awareness is the best thing. My kids are awesome and amazing and I would not go back and change a thing- except maybe if i could have sat under her desk :)

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

Letting go of, AND NOT TAKING CREDIT FOR, the mistakes/successes of my kids is the lesson I'm staring down currently. It's just another level of letting go...and recognizing that both of my daughters are completely distinct from me. Ouch. And Yay. And ouch.

Kristin
Kristin

My best memories of childhood and growing up all involve amounts of freedom, independence, a little "danger" factor once in a while, and my own choices. It is so hard to strike that balance with our kids since times have changed so much and we really can't just let them leave in the morning and come back at night, like we were allowed to...this is a great entry, Ryan. Really hit home. Keep on fighting the good fight.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

I'll keep fighting the good fight (LOVE that). Even when I over parent. Even when I don't and my kid learns hard and painful lessons. Even when I feel like I'm doing it wrong. Thanks for making me feel not alone!

Erin
Erin

Love this!

Lauren Poppalardo
Lauren Poppalardo

Not only did I read this article, but I got my 22 year old boyfriend to read it as well. Just in case we have to think about this stuff down the road! And another great post, Ryan! No matter how aware of "over parenting" I am, I have a feeling I might fall into this trap when it comes to my hypothetical children. I'm overly bearing when it comes to other peoples' feelings, emotions, whatever. I can only imagine how much greater that will be when I have kids of my own...YIKES! I'll hold off for another 10, 15 years ha!

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

Hello 22 year old boyfriend! Man, do you have good taste in women. ;) And when the time is right, you are going to be a wonderful mother, Lauren. I have ZERO doubt about that!

Anne at Always Half Full
Anne at Always Half Full

Wow. This is quite a post. We do really try to prevent pain - but it can lead to children that have no idea how to navigate the world. Thanks for this. And I'm off to read that article. If I haven't already...

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

You loved the article, I'm sure. Don't forget to vote for it in the contest (link in my post).

Missy | Literal Mom
Missy | Literal Mom

Good for you. Have you read about free-range parenting? It's kind of the antithesis to overparenting. I can't get myself to there, as I'm sure you well know, but it's definitely food for thought to read about it. I did some over-parenting this morning and have been regretting it all day. Ugh.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

You are the second person to recommend free range parenting to me. Off I go to add it to the Xmas wish list...

Debi
Debi

The first step to getting better is admitting there's a problem, right? I choose to think of myself as a "hummingbird parent" - which is to say I stay close enough to swoop in if needed, but allow my kids the freedom to explore on their own. (Of course, last month the result was an 11-stitch gash on my 3.5-year-old's eyebrow while skipping rocks on the river, but let's not talk about that.) I want to know I've equipped my kids with the tools they need to survive on their own when they leave my safe haven. For every hurt knee there are at least 100 small triumphs you will also witness. Good luck.

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

LOVE the hummingbird analogy. It represents what may be the happy medium between totally free range and totally helicopter. Brilliant!

Merri Ann
Merri Ann

Great topic !!! I see so much of this at our school. I'm a MUCH older parent and bring a very different perspective to parenting. I take a lot of flack from other parents because I don't book my kids. I also don't let them spend out of school hours on playdates. My opinion is that they are getting tons of peer time at school and what they need is adult time. If we have a function after school, it is usually something educational (sometimes with friends). I don't feel the need to have them in sports, dancing, etc. I just encourage them to be active all the time. But, having said this, I have a hard time not giving in to the pressure to be like all the other moms. I often wonder if we are doing the right thing. Ugh ... this parenting business is hard :))

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

You got THAT right - parenting isn't easy or simple. But it's so worth it, isn't it?

Tracey
Tracey

I admit it..I too am an over parenter! I wish I had learned these great lessons years ago. It would have saved me A LOT of money. At the end of Hannah's 10th grade, frustrated with sub par grades (gasp! B+'s intermingled with a's) we sent Hannah to a therapist. After 2 sessions the dr called me into her office (without Hannah) and looked me in the eye and said "so...are you planning to go to college with her?". She went on to explain that due to my over parenting her school experience had become mine. Hannah had no goal nor any desire to do well other then to keep me off her back. She told me that it was okay for her to do poorly and that she would learn great life lessons from it. Talk about an ah ha moment! I then learned to say Hannah "what's your plan?" rather then" here's what you should do".

Tracey
Tracey

Ps. It took another 2 years and about 10k to undo the damage I had inflicted! Live and learn!

The Woven Moments
The Woven Moments

I love your honesty, Tracey. Is it wrong that I would have wanted to say to the therapist, "YES! I want to go to college with her!!"...and only be kidding a little bit?

Stephanie
Stephanie

I'm not a parent, but I have been a teacher for over 10 years. I think that the most telling thing that I see in my classroom is kids who don't know what to do. Every year, there are more and more kids saying "I'm bored" and "what should we do?" at recess and at free time. They want me to fill their every minute, and when I don't, the disagreements, tears and hurt feelings start. The beginning of the year is tough, but they get better and better at self-regulating and making choices. By the end of the year, it's amazing to see the things that they create and imagine! So I do think that the more opportunities you give Peanut to explore on her own, the easier it will get for her - and for you! I applaud your decision, even though I know it must be hard! (Disclaimer: it's REALLY easy for me to say that kids need more freedom and self-determination. You know why? Because I don't have kids. And I'm pretty sure that not having kids makes me a parenting expert. Ha!)