I found myself in a dangerous position the other day: hovering just over my teenage son, as he desperately searched for his soccer jersey, risking benching in the last game of the season if he could not produce the shirt. Oh, I so wanted to lower my parenting helicopter and make it all right. Discover the jersey in the pile of dirty clothes. Run him to school and help him search the locker room. Call the coach and beg for mercy. But, I pulled up just before landing.
This was his mess. And his life lesson to learn.
Nothing is harder than watching your child flounder, even fail. And, because we are smarter, wiser and armed with cell phones, it is so easy to step in and be helicopter parents, taking care of things for our children instead of letting them figure it out for themselves. Like write the social studies paper. Or bring the forgotten homework to school for the 100th time. But just because we can bail out our kids, doesn't mean we should.
So the next time you about to take off on an adventure in helicopter parenting, try these three easy steps first:
Yes, I stole this from yoga, but it's still a good call. Whatever situation is happening at the moment will be better illuminated with a little perspective. Breathe, calm down and take in the big picture. It's one grade, one game, one blown college interview—life will go on.
Recall all the times you were tested as a kid, either academically or socially. Were your parents around to rescue you? No, they had their lives to lead. But those incidents taught you to cope with disappointment and made you who you are. Give your kids the same moments. Someday, they will thank you!
It's not a thin line between helicopter parenting and neglect; it's a wide, fertile valley of supportive parenting where actions have consequences. Being supportive means giving your children a framework of values and a work ethic and then letting go so that they can explore the boundaries of that framework. Some days, they will thrive. Other days, they will start the semester-long project the night before. Provide food and drink, but step away from the glue gun.
My son found his jersey in the locker of a teammate who had found it on the field. I held my tongue, thinking how lucky he got this time. Did he learn a lesson about taking care of his gear? Let's hope so! My arms are so tired from the hovering.
Are you a helicopter parent, or where do you draw the line? Comment below.
Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, writer and talk show host. She writes and talks about her adventures in modern motherhood for her website, ChaosChronicles.com, and her weekly podcast, The Chaos Chronicles.
Published on February 24, 2010