From the first moment you gaze into the eyes of your newborn child, you begin to see their future. As they grow, and your love for them grows, the ferocity of your dreams for them grows too. I can’t lie. Sweet first smiles, first words, first steps, and first grade don’t hold a candle to the ultimate reward of seeing your child–your baby–become the adult you always hoped they would be. There will be bumps along the way…sometimes big bumps…but no worries. The child you know and love is still there the whole time. Many times, the sacrifices we had to make to get them there are still hanging on our shirt sleeve…waiting for validation.
I suppose that validation appears to each parent differently. For me, it was seeing my children become good parents, because parenting has meant more to me than anything else in my life since I first gazed into my newborn’s eyes and fell madly and hopelessly in love. However, I recently attended a class in DC full of people who would look at the financial success of their children first. Different strokes for different folks. Diversity makes the world interesting.
I am pretty certain that I fit the criteria of a ‘helicopter parent’ even before the phrase was coined. I had a 10 year old and 8 year old when the term came into use in 1991, however my obsessive checking and double checking to make certain everything in my children’s days was going according to plan began when they were toddlers in the 80’s. I had them enrolled in everything: jazzercise (yes, for toddlers!), tap, ballet, karate, baseball, softball, tumbling, gymnastics, story time, preschool (in which I volunteered daily of course). I wanted their little lives to be full and perfect. If they performed less than perfect in anything, we took private lessons on the side–so they could always be the best they could be. Good grief!
I was always team mom, class mom, team manager, classroom volunteer, recess volunteer…anything that put me in a position to give my children that extra advantage…and to watch over them. Heck, I made cookies before every one of my daughter’s softball games all the way through high school and she started playing in first grade! And nutrition? Two days before a game, I was thinking about how the body processes fats and proteins and watching every bite that went into their mouths for optimal performance. It is a wonder I am sane today! Heck, it is a wonder they are sane today!
According to Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders, “helicopter parenting is a sort of ‘over-parenting.’ Over parenting means over controlling, excessive protection and trying to achieve perfection in parenting.” That doesn’t really sound very nice, does it? But I can attest first hand to the fact that every single thing I did for my children, regardless of how over-the-top it may have seemed, was done out of love and hope for that future I was dreaming of for them. In my mind, it wasn’t about me–it was about them.
You notice I said “in my mind” because that is where helicopter parenting begins…in the mind of a very loving parent. So before I say another word, I will say this: if you have to choose between too much love or not enough, go with too much. I can personally testify to the loving adults that come from it. However, that being said, I must also note some of the negative impacts of being a helicopter parent–the hardships it has placed upon my adult children.
While my children are all very resilient (never-give-up kind of people), I do believe that they beat themselves up when they make mistakes, regardless of whether they are big ones or small ones, expecting complete perfection from themselves all of the time. It is hard to accept that I taught them that. Obviously, I would never have chosen to pass along that kind of anxiety to my beloved children. I can now see quite clearly that some of the protective over parenting I did was not necessarily in their best interest, long term. It is hard to watch your adult kids push themselves this hard and know you caused it, even if it was done in the name of love.
It is even harder to watch history repeat itself: second generation helicopters, if you will. But it is virtually impossible to pass along grandparental wisdom to a helicopter parent–the total passion with which they embrace their children’s lives leaves little room for unsolicited and uninformed (in their opinion) advice.
Although I try immensely hard to work within the confines of modern parental guidelines: gluten free, dye free, low sugar, organic and non GMO, out of respect for their parent’s wishes, if staying the weekend at Mimi’s house is the same as every ordinary day at home, why would kids ever want to come over and visit with the old people? I want them to be thrilled at the prospect of going to Mimi’s and bringin’ down the house, junk food and all!
I loved the grandmother that my mom was and I know how deeply she was loved by every grandchild. Since I had so many older siblings, their kids (her grandkids) were at our house constantly. ‘Granny’s home’ was full of fun and love. It is my heart’s desire to be such a grandmother. I want to bake cookies without worrying I’ve purchased the wrong ingredients or that I’ve given them too much sugar. I want to have heartfelt discussions with them without making their parents wince. I want to let them stay up late on a Saturday night. I want to make silly videos with them without worrying they’ve exceeded their iPad time limits. I want…..wait, am I a helicopter grandmother?!
I am so proud of the love and care with which my children are raising their children. It is truly a blessing to have such devoted parents. But if I could just change one small thing, I would take back my helicopter days and ways and set a better example for my children. I would tell them they don’t have to be everything for everyone. Relax. Enjoy. Indulge a little. Slow down. I would show them that it really is okay for their child to experience some disappointment, some unfairness, some loneliness, and some indulgences in life. But how can I argue the end result when their very actions are what have validated my life as their mother? How’s that for a conundrum? Shall we call it the Hel-parent-con? (helicopter parent conundrum, for those of you who don’t get my crazy abbreviations) Kinda fits, doesn’t it?
There was a hilarious movie about this (Parental Guidance 2012 starring Bette Middler and Billy Crystal) a few years back. It addresses the issue in a comedic, but real way. It is a must see for all in the helicopter generations, young and old alike.
For my part in aiding the construction of the helicopter generations, I apologize, although I think the next one may be even worse…Slacker Moms…Heaven help us!