Trend: Helicopter parents win kids in divorce

One of our regulars Deidre_NC sent me this awesome story about helicopter parents and divorce.

We talk about them all the time and many of you believe they are hurting their kids by their constant presence. However, according to this ABC News story divorce courts think helicopter parenting is the new standard of good parenting!  (Or as the ABC News headline succinctly declares: Custody goes to the craziest parent!)

From ABC

“Increasingly, courts are using intense, even smothering, parenting as the legal standard of good parenting, says Seton Hall law professor Gaia Bernstein, co-author with Zvi Triger of ‘Over-Parenting.’ Their study, to be published in the UC Davis Law Review, looks at the world of custody hearings and finds that judges are buying into the idea that the more a parent hovers, the more that parent cares.”

“Result? ‘We talked to attorneys and they describe this ‘race for involvement’ that’s going on,” says Bernstein. “So if somebody’s about to get divorced, and it’s a parent who was less involved, they’ll go to a divorce attorney who tells them, ‘Now you have to get really, really involved. So you should get to know all the names of your children’s teachers and friends, and coach their Little League and attend Parent-and-Me classes if the child is young ?’ And the attorneys are pretty good at telling them not to overdo this, but parents just go crazy! So they start texting their child 20, 30 times a day, and they take photos of the cellphone to show they’ve done that, and they completely overtake Little League, and they leave the children with no independence…”

” ‘You hope at some level that the courts will stay neutral about what kind of parenting, within reason, people choose to follow,’ says Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Instead, they seem to be siding with the same folks who brought us the new infrared baby monitor –a real item that allows you to watch your baby, even in the dark, even when she’s sleeping, presumably because you should be watching your children. ALL. THE. TIME.”

The article is pretty editorial and was written by Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the book, blog and movement, Free-Range Kids. We’ve talked about her and her movement before.

So with the background of the author in mind, what do you think of this story?

Is this true in you and your friends’ experiences that the “craziest” parent gets the kids? (I told Michael this morning I would WIN!!! He says calmly, yes, yes you would.)

What standard should courts use to decide who should get the kids? What shows good parenting?

37 comments Add your comment

I'm up too late tonight

August 13th, 2010
12:50 am

Theresa–I love your sense of humor–and the fact that your husband agreed with you!

In response to who should get the kids? I’m a little jaded on this one. My husband never got involved at home with me or our child during our marriage and then threatened to make things miserable for me if I tried to fight for primary custody. I appreciate the fact that the joint custody arrangement we’ve worked out has been best for our child, and I think we probably both stepped up a bit to be better parents when faced with the fact that our son would only be with us part of each week so we better make the best of our time together.

I think that if a parent gets involved for legitimate, sincere reasons it can be a good thing. And the realization that your child is not going to be with you on a full-time basis makes a lot of parents stop taking the relationship for granted. In my son’s father’s case, I think he became a better father when he realized there was a chance he would only see his son periodically and all of sudden he decided to get involved. Good for him. But it doesn’t make him the better parent. And if he doesn’t start stepping up to being a better roll model in other areas of his life and how he treats the mother of his child, then we’ll have to rethink this joint custody situation.

I’m a fan of Lenore Skenazy’s, although I’m not quite a “free-range parent.” I do agree that it’s troubling that certain parents will get overly involved to “prove” their love. I think that’s dangerous. It reminds me of people who “find religion” to prove what worthy people they are when they haven’t actually changed their ways. My ex found religion, for a few months, during our divorce process. I’d like to believe it was for legitimate, healing reasons. But his actions never changed, he still verbally attacks me and my family, has violent tendancies, and uses our child as a pawn to get things from me. But he likes to use the “but I started going to church to turn my life around” defence to “prove” what a changed person he is and how much more “noble” he is than me.

Like I said, when it’s legitimate and sincere, it’s worthwhile. But many people are “players” and that doesn’t do the child and good.


August 13th, 2010
1:14 am

Wow, pretty crazy stuff.

Haha, Theresa. Cute. My husband would agree with that statement if it came out of my mouth as well. I am trying to learn to take a few steps back. I would not say that I am a helicopter parent, but I do have some tendencies;-)


August 13th, 2010
3:00 am

I, too, have a pretty slanted view on this one. Just because a woman spends a crazy amount of time hovering over the kids doesn not make her a good paren t.

[...] Trend: Helicopter parents win kids in divorceAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)One of our regulars Deidre_NC sent me this awesome story about helicopter parents and divorce. We talk about them all the time and many of you believe they … [...]


August 13th, 2010
4:47 am

Agreed, Jeff. In over 20 years of teaching, I’ve seen many a helicopter parent. The overwhelming majority are women (although there are a few dads in there, and sometimes even helicopter couples). These parents aren’t helping their children at all. In order to learn responsibility, autonomy, and many other life skills, kids need the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. I’d much rather my students do this while they’re with me in middle school, rather than waiting until high school or beyond. As a parent myself, I hope my son makes mistakes. In fact, I’m counting on it, so that he can learn not to make those mistakes again.


August 13th, 2010
6:57 am

Comment disappeared!!! T, could u please check?

not the crazy one...

August 13th, 2010
7:05 am

fortunately in my case, the craziness did not look better in the eyes of the courts and i was awarded full custody. in fact, all the hovering my ex-wife did only got her in more trouble because there were more witnesses to her showing up at school events after hitting her hidden stash of wine. she hid the little twist off bottles in the wheel well of her suv. of course that was just the tip of the iceberg.
so, i guess there are two sides to the coin….if the helicopter parent is truely crazy (or a drunk) then all the hovering allows more potential witnesses to see what kind of hell they are putting the other parent, and children, through.

Sk8ing Momma

August 13th, 2010
7:20 am

Long live free-range kids!! Lenore Skenazy is my hero. ;) (Boy, do I wish more parents would read her book and buy into the free-range movement!…Life was good growing up in the early 70s and I strive hard to replicate the same freedom I had growing up for my children in a world filled w/ over-protective parents ~ Grrr!! Just yesterday I mentioned to a friend that I bought my 8yo son a “real” archery set. She gasped in disapproving horror and said, “There goes the neighbor’s cat!” Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! I smiled broadly and said, “Long live Robin Hood!”)

With regard to what standard the court should use…It should use the old “best interest of the child” standard. Hopefully, each case would be decided on an individual and rational basis without hard and fast rules about what constitutes good parenting. One size does not fit all and each case should be decided on its facts ~ Hopefully, common sense will prevail.


August 13th, 2010
7:48 am

I am with Mary on this one ( imagine an educator?) To me hovering=smothering.

HOWEVER this is 2010 and NOT the early 70’s. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and what we did then is NOT always what I would let me kids do now. So many examples but I remember we went camping in another state and my parent’s friends left their 4 kids ( eight and under) with me and my younger sister at the campground while they went to dinner. I was 12. ARE YOU KIDDING? We did not have cell phones and we were in campers in ANOTHER STATE. I also rode my bike to the mall ( that was farther away than the MOG is to my house here) with my friends at the same age. Yes, we lived in Chicago. I would never have let either of my kids do that here and I do not feel I am a helicopter Mom. I walked 4 blocks to meet the bus IN KINDERGARTEN by myself. No, I did not even go to preschool then and Mom sent me out the door to school alone. I was always with my kids at the bus stop, until they were in the 4th grade or so and our stop is at the end of our block…I also worked and my Mom did not.

We do not have friends, relatives or even neighbors who have gone through custody issues. I do think it is a hard call and many times Dad would be a better choice.

T…I could NEVER see you giving your kids up to your husband…I have already figured that out ;)
He probably knows that it would not be worth the hassle to even argue with you on that one!


August 13th, 2010
8:08 am

LOL…would these be helicopter parents;

We went to orientation at UGA in July. The students were to spend the night in the dorms.
My daughter met a girl whose parents decided she would stay in the hotel with them and not the dorms. WHAT will she be doing now?

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August 13th, 2010
8:43 am

MJG I grew up in Chicago also and my sisters and I walked and/or rode our bikes everywhere. There is not a chance that I would let my daughter do that here. But then again, unless you live in very specific locations, the Atlanta area was not really built for a walking crowd. Although off topic, I must say, my office is inside of City of Decatur and I absolutely love to see the kids and parents walking, biking and/or skate boarding to school every morning. The people who live around here have such active lifestyles.

As for the helicoptering, I think parents have to learn the difference between being involved and suffocating. It’s hard sometimes because you do not want to see your child fail at anything, but that is the only way they will learn to stand on their own two feet. I have to remind myself of this sometimes.


August 13th, 2010
8:58 am

I wish the courts would do a better job of really watching the parents and kids interact. There are times when joint custody is a good thing, but primary custody would be better! When it’s a power play between the parents, clearly the best interest of the child is not at the heart of the matter.

If the courts don’t start paying attention to this type of behavior, we’re really going to have some screwed up kids! I think they should require all parties to attend supervised parenting classes together!


August 13th, 2010
9:01 am

thanks for using my idea theresa! i was afraid people would be sick of the topic, but it put it in such another perspective-custody decided on such a thing. i was pretty appalled. when i lived in atlatna (24ish) years ago and had 3 kids-i was a pretty relaxed parent. there was a time period where i was afraid my ex husband would ’steal’ my youngest son…that never happened. when i was growing up, we would eat breakfast, do whatever chores we had to do and i was out of there. we had to be home by 5pm for supper…other than that i dont think my mom ever knew where we were unless we had to ask for money for the movies or a ride to somewhere. we walked-rode out bikes or whatever. it wasnt that my mom was a non caring parent-all the kids i knew were like this. my rule difference was that i always had to know where they were-if you went to susies and then went to johns-call and tell me or leave a message that you went to johns. thathaas pretty much stayed the main rule here in my home….just let me know where you are. now living here in these mountains of nc things changed a little. the ‘you have to let me know where you are’ rule hasnt changed. there are long stretches here where there are no houses or people in case a kid gets in some kind of problem. there are snakes and things. my youngest daughter is allergic to bees. the whole community knows that, so if she was somewhere and got stung they knew to take action. she always had her epi pen at the main places she would be. as long as i knew where they were i was fine. if they werent home by the assigned time i knew where to find them. other than that i guess i am sort of a free range mom. it makes for independant kids turning into independent adults,, which should be all parent’s goals. my kids have gone camping with their friends and no adults. they have been taught all the rules about drinking and drugs. as in….if you do it at least try to behave responsibly and realize that if you get caught you are responsible for your actions. same goes for sexual behavior. and any other ‘breaking’ of the rules. kids have to learn how to behave when parents arent around, what a shame to have them wait until they are adults (in the eyes of the law) to let them learn these things.


August 13th, 2010
9:09 am

I should have said “close friends” for custody. My daughter does know some kids who spend one week at Mom’s house and then one week at Dad’s. They do live in the same school district. I think this would be hard on the kids but then that is not my life nor my decision.


August 13th, 2010
9:15 am

MJG, we did that for a few years (week on/off in the same school district). They boys seemed to like if for awhile. By the end of the week, they were sick of one parent and ready to see the other. This started to change though when one household uphelp rules and consequences and the other one didn’t! You can imagine how that went! Of course the house with the no consequences is where one of the kids chose to spend his time. He is also still in high school (turned 18 in March) with no chance of graduating in 2011! He has consistently failed classes for his entire high school career. BUT, he still has a cell phone (after we cancelled it), he has a driver’s license AND a car, he gets to go out pretty much when and where he wants too! I just really don’t understand how parents think sometimes!


August 13th, 2010
9:22 am

the only custody issue ive had is with my 2 oldest kids. they lived with me when i was in atlanta and decided to stay in atlanta with their dad when i moved here. they went between the 2 of us…our rule was, if you started school with mom (or dad) you had to finish out the year there. that alleviated the ‘im gonna move in with (other parent)’ in moments of anger. whomever they stayed with for the school year they went to the others for summer. we really just never had a custody issue. i had custody assigned by the court but we just went with out own plan. i have seen many instances (im sure all of you have) where the parent who only gets the kids on every other weekend doesnt discipline or whatever because that is the only time they see the kids and want everything to be perfect. i hate those arrangements. if both parents are truly concerned about the kids and both want to have a big part in their lives the parents need to gdt over themselves and their issues that caused the divorce and put the kids first when it comes to time spent with both parents. both homes need to be homes…not a mini vacation 6 times a year.


August 13th, 2010
9:28 am

well maybe 24 times a year if its every other week visiting..whatever it is…it needs to be a ‘home’ atmosphere…thats hard to do when you only see your kid for 2 days a couple of times a month.


August 13th, 2010
9:28 am

Deidre…you are SO right! That is what ours turned into. Mom did not want to risk “losing” her kids to dad so whatever they want(ed) she did! She also threatened them with taking things away (or selling them) if they did not stay at her house or chose to come to ours! Finally the oldest one is starting to see what she is doing.


August 13th, 2010
9:37 am

Jeff I concur with your opinion. Being female does not necessarily make one a good a parent. This blog has had folks post about good and bad parents of both genders.

As to the hover vs free: I am there for my kids and they know it. There every day. However if my eldest feels “mature” enough to safely stretch her wings by walking out the door on time and getting to the bus stop while her younger sibling waits for me to walk her…I am good with it. In fact I think I am a good parent because I let her do that. She is practicing her skills in a safe way while I am not too far to help if needed…yes I know that kids get snatched right in front of their parents that way too. However, it is less likely there than if she goes to the Mall in 5 years without the skills!


August 13th, 2010
9:41 am

@FCM ” However, it is less likely there than if she goes to the Mall in 5 years without the skills!” amen!!!


August 13th, 2010
10:42 am

We have also had the battle of the “permissive house” except that in our case, the primary custodian is the permissive one. We have the same issues, children making D’s and F’s in school through pure laziness and taking advantage of a parent who won’t set high standards for them and continually makes excuses for them and intervenes with their teachers to ask for “do-overs” for tests and homework. They speak to her however they choose and she has not allowed their stepfather to have any authority with them.

They come to live with us over the summer and it takes a month or more just to “re-educate” them that they cannot curse at us or each other, lie, cheat and steal, punch each other in the face, stay up until 4:00 am watching R-rated movies and that they will have to do chores, go to church on Sunday, complete their homework, study for tests, etc. or they will lose privileges such as TV, computer and cell phone use. Just about the time, they start to settle in to having some boundaries, they go home to Mom’s house.

Kids are smart and given a choice, they are going to stay with the parent who is more permissive and does not expect much of them. It’s the path of least resistance and most kids (and a lot of adults) learn to choose this path in life if it is an option for them. Given a test, yes, their mother could probably rattle off the names of teachers, dentists, coaches, etc. better than their father could but that does not make her the better parent.


August 13th, 2010
10:44 am

Great -just what our kids and society need -judges siding with these fools are are “raising” completely dependent, insufficient kids who can’t function without mommy, daddy and a bunch of technology. I think judges should take into account -who does the most actual “care” for the child (feeding, dressing, making sure they’re at school, showing up for activities, etc.) and who has been doing this for years -not just since divorce proceedings started. Also, the custody agreement can contain rules regarding what the child is allowed to do, with who and when no matter whose house he may be staying at during any given time.


August 13th, 2010
10:53 am

custody agreements can also include a clause to forbid either parent to talk badly about the other parent. people need to go to a divorce cousleor or something to decide all the ‘rules’ that will be put into a custody agrement. enforcing these rules may be another story..but at least they are there. too bad more parents cant think for themselves and do whats best for the kid no matter how they feel about the ex spouse.


August 13th, 2010
11:04 am

@ FCM…yes, it is all about building responsibility. I think it is probably fine to leave some a 10 year olds home for 1 hour while you run to the store and pick up a few things, especially if the neighbors are home and they have a phone. They need to get used to some independence.

I do not think it is good for a 12 year old to ride their bike to the mall, here in metro Atlanta. I know kids do it but not my kids. Just my opinion.

In Minneapolis, at the Mall of America, they have posted signs to tell what is allowed as far as unsupervised groups….how many children can hang together, how old and how long. They also have police officers walking around and supervising things. This is a NICE mall in a NICE area but they have had issues with kids just hanging out all weekend with behavior that is not appropriate.
Typically, unruly teens who congregate are not going to draw adults who need to hear their language and step around them to shop and spend money.

It appears they have a good handle on what climate you want to create for patrons to spend money.

BTW they have an inside amusement park there, so that is also a big draw in the winter weather!

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August 13th, 2010
11:23 am

Bikerchick…your situation sounds exactly like ours! The custodial parent wants to be the friend!


August 13th, 2010
11:29 am

MJG when I worked at a local Disney Store we would see kids quietly watching the tv in the back. After a certain amount of time we would ask where the parent was (usually not in the store)…These kids were under 10!

We often had a police officer (mall had a precinct) come over and when the parent approached would pull them aside. They explained child predators, they explained abandonment. I am SURE those parents who felt Disney was a sitting service for the kid while they shopped thought twice the next time.

Thing is child predators ARE watching for that kind of thing. Kids sitting at Disney.

Ski8 I am not a lawyer. But I believe that courts do look at precendent to see how to rule. That is what I seem to recall from Constitutional Law…

I have joint custody with me listed as primary custodian. Out of curiosity is that what the folks on here talking about primary custody mean?


August 13th, 2010
12:34 pm

Primary custody as in physical custody. Most divorced parents have joint legal custody (access to educational and medical records, passport info., etc.). Joint physical custody is less common. Typically, one parent is the primary custodian with the other parent having “visitation”. If the child spends a substantial amount of time in the homes of both parents, then it is true “joint physical custody” but there is typically still a primary custodian. Even if you are the primary custodian and have final say on some decisions related to the child, both parents must abide by the visitation and custody rules laid out in the agreement. In order to legally change visitation or custody rules, the parents must get a judge’s signature on any new arrangements.

I have seen primary custodial parents lose custody to the other parent simply because they refuse to follow the custody and visitation order as it was written. More and more, judges are getting away from the idea that children are always better off with the maternal parent and more and more couples are recognizing that if they can co-parent after divorce, their children are better off.

What’s really hardest on children after a divorce, is not the “two households” or “Mom’s new boyfriend” or “Dad’s new wife”, it’s the continuing conflict between their biological parents. Most parents would be horrified by the insinuation that they use their children as tools to threaten, control or get back at their ex, however, they refer to the children not as “our son” by as “my son”, question the child after every visitation about what went on at the other parent’s house, communicate with their ex through the child rather than picking up the phone and talking to the ex directly and threatending to withhold visitation or “go back to court” based on their own standards of how they believe their ex should conduct themselves. THIS IS WHAT HURTS CHILDREN 100 times MORE than the divorce itself.


August 13th, 2010
1:14 pm

Dang bikerchick…again…your situation sounds very much like ours!

It's not just divorced couples...

August 13th, 2010
1:56 pm

…that do this – heck, my spouse and I, not necesarily intentionally, sometimes do this and only find out we have done it when one of the kids tells us…


August 13th, 2010
4:27 pm

Bikerchick my parents have been married my entire life and I have heard them refer to me as “my child” or “my daughter” often. I have also heard them say “our daughter” or “our children”. I am not sure that is entirely meant as you present it…but then I am not there to “hear” how it was said.

Certainly my daughters are just that mine. That does not negate that they have a father or that they are his children either. In fact the kids and I have discussed just that issue. We also discussed that when Dad gets married (he wants them to call the new wife mom and that I do draw a line at–that is just so wrong when they spend 90% of the time with me) they will be shared with Susie but it will not make them any less “mine” than they are now. They will just be lucky enough to have 3 grown-ups who love them and want to call them “theirs”.


August 13th, 2010
6:04 pm

I have not seen much of that helicoptering in any form. At my school, we tend to have too many kids raising themselves, with little parental input, guidance or discipline.


August 14th, 2010
9:52 am

As a parent, you are responsible for teaching your child “how to swim”…interpret that however you want.


August 16th, 2010
7:54 am

I think it’s only important if you are planning to get a divorce. If you aren’t planning to get a divorce . . . it’s pretty much a moot point.

Courts also upheld Prohibition and slavery once upon a time — doesn’t make it right.

come on son

August 19th, 2010
11:12 am

This is just another attempt to stem the tide of more fathers getting better custody options than in the past. Of course a a stay home mom will have more opportunities to be that “helicopter” parent than a parent who has to work 8-10 hours a day and is unable to be at the school or practices because guess what, they are providing housing, transportation, food, clothing, etc by going to work.

September 2 roundup

September 2nd, 2010
9:15 am

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