Momania Flashback: How ‘helicopter parents’ may thwart the launch into independence

This is the seventh in a series of stories to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Momania. We are flashing back to some of our favorite columns and blogs. I believe this Jan. 13, 2008 column was our first reference on the blog to “helicopter parents” and it certainly wasn’t our last. We debate often the pros of and cons of helicopter-style parenting versus free-range parenting. I am finally admitting to being a helicopter parent, and I am working on it.

By THERESA WALSH GIARRUSSO

Am I helping or am I hovering?

I have been asking myself this a lot lately as my 6-year-old daughter becomes more independent. When should I step in and offer assistance and when should I back off and let her handle things on her own?

A few years back, “hovering” became a bad thing for a parent to do. It was what overinvolved “helicopter parents” did. Originally, the term applied to late-generation baby boomers who were micromanaging their college students’ lives — calling professors to discuss grades, mailing clean laundry to their kids. But then “helicopter parents” started to be used to describe those with young children as well.

I don’t know about you, but I think parents should hover over small children. They need you close by for physical safety and for emotional security.

I am proud to say I am the mother you see walking behind her toddlers on the playground ready to catch them if they fall from the slide.

But how long do you spot for your children? When do you step in to catch them and when do you let them fall — emotionally or physically?

Last Saturday, I had two experiences — one where I think I hovered and one where I think I helped my 6-year-old.

My daughter started winter swimming lessons and Rose’s teacher was asking the class to do a lot of things in the water she had never done before — scary things. He was asking the class to swim down to the deep end and tread water. He was asking them to jump off the diving board and swim the length of the Olympic-size pool. He was asking them to crawl down a pole and touch the bottom of the deep end of the pool. He was asking them to do a sitting dive into the deep end.

I was standing close by during the class so I would know how to reinforce his lessons when we were in the pool later. Each time he asked the class to do something scary, I blurted out to the teacher, “She’s never done that before.”

This was bad in so many ways. I’m sure it let my daughter know that I was nervous and scared for her, which only added to any anxiety she already had. It also may have embarrassed her in front of the other kids.

I was scared, but I should have kept my mouth closed and just watched to see if she needed me.

It turns out she didn’t need me. She was a little pro and handled it all swimmingly. That was hovering in a bad way.

That afternoon, she had a skating party to attend. I kept thinking about what I had done that morning. I wasn’t sure how much she wanted me around at the rink. I didn’t know if she wanted to skate with me or just with her friends. And when I would see her friends skate off, I didn’t know if I should rush over or if she was OK just skating alone.

I made a conscious effort to give her a little space. I would check in with her to see if she wanted me and then would skate off to the periphery. I was close enough that she could signal if she needed me, but I wasn’t cutting in on her time with her friends. I think I found a pretty good balance that afternoon.

Researching the phenomenon of “helicopter parents,” I found several online quizzes that rated if you were helping your kids in a healthy manner or in a way that would prevent them from learning to do things for themselves.

Two quizzes I took said I was giving my daughter enough freedom to learn to make decisions but was there if she needed me. So, I guess I’m doing OK, despite the swimming pool scene.

Are you a “helicopter parent”? Do you hover? What age do you start to back off and give them a little more room?

Friday’s Momania Flashback: Could you have sex for 30 Days straight?

More Momania Flashbacks

8 comments Add your comment

FCM

October 28th, 2010
1:42 pm

TWG they say that admitting it is half the battle! ;)

I think we all have helicopter moments…and other times where we want to know why our kids are not as autonomous as we wish they would be.

I know there are times I want to clutch my two tight and hold on because they grow so fast. However, lately I want to know why get out of bed, get dressed–and that means shoes too–is still something I have to monitor closely–even with the various alarms we set as “reminders” are going off.

I figure people have been raising kids for 1000s of years…mine will get raised too. :)

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Photius

October 28th, 2010
2:15 pm

Q: “Did you hear about the mother who was so secure she didn’t compare herself to other mothers and find herself wanting?”

A: “No.”

Sk8ing Momma

October 28th, 2010
3:21 pm

I think perspective and memory go a long way in this area. Think back to when *you* were a child…Did you parents engage in even half of the antics/actions you consider/do as a helicopter parent??? My guess is definitely NOT!

Relax…We happily and safely survived the 1970s (and 1960s and 1980s) with very little parental intervention. Our parents were supportive and encouraging…They just didn’t do it on a micro level. Giving my children the same freedom I had was a priority. (Btw, I learned to swim at my local YMCA when I was 3yo…I was instructed to jump in the deep end early on and went from there. I’m happy to report that I’ve been swimming ever since and lived to tell about it…It wasn’t a big deal!)

BACK OFF!! Let children explore and take risks when they are young while the stakes are not high. (I’d much rather my child learn a necessary life lesson at 6yo than at 26yo.) Most often experience is the best teacher. We owe it to our children to let them grow & experience…Long live free-range parenting!!

Jeff

October 28th, 2010
3:53 pm

TWG, let it go. You should never have blurted out “she’s never done that before”. If she had, then why have her in a class. And now you risk the instructor and other parents thinking you’re one of “those” moms. It’s not your strongest trait.

Biting my tongue @ tomorrows topic so this one doesn’t go off the rails. hehe.

catlady

October 28th, 2010
5:55 pm

Don’t let them play with guns. Don’t let them drive with friends, or in the dark, or in the rain until they have significant driving experience with you supervising. Be sure they know about contraception.

Spend a lot of time asking them “How will you handle that?”

Get out of the way. Let them let you know when they need you, and then be judicious about how much help you provide.

Kate

October 28th, 2010
7:06 pm

This is an issue I struggle with as well. My MIL was a classic hover mother back in the day. My in laws didn’t have the happiest marriage in the world, so I think my MIL compensated by focusing every ounce of her energy on her kids. Consequently, both my husband and his little brother are as helpless as kittens around the house and more than a little neurotic in a lot of ways. My own mother was the complete opposite. She always worked full time while I was growing up and she was all about independence. The only time I can remember her waiting on me was when I got really sick. I also remember being a little bit sad whenever I got well because I would really miss the attention. In a way it was great because I always knew how to do so much more both for myself and around the house than any of my friends ever did, but I also turned into a fiercely independent teenager, which, ironically, didn’t always sit well with my parents. Too much free-ranging can have its drawbacks also! With my own family, I try to balance somewhere in between the two extremes of motherhood I’ve experienced, but it’s tough.

Light

October 29th, 2010
10:31 am

Let God will be done thru this blog http://lightoftheearth.blogspot.com/