Sunday, August 9, 2009


I was with my mom and the wee ones at a kids' maze the other day when she turned to me and remarked that the helicopter parenting really started early. I gaped at her briefly, taken aback. I looked around and thought for a moment before replying.

To me, it didn't seem like helicoptering. I have horrid images of the helicopter parents who don't let their children have any independence, who never let them become their own people. I've read the articles about the parents calling bosses demanding to know why their children were passed over for a raise, the ones who help their children do the research for college papers, those who have forced many colleges who have deans dealing only with the annoyances of the helicopter parents.

By God, I've even laughed (from my verrrry far away vantage point of having a five year old as my oldest child) about the idea of having an orientation at college just for the parents. Really, college is for the children. Why on earth do the parents need their own program? Help the kids unload their boxes into the dorm, take them out for dinner, and give them a hug and a kiss good-bye.

But perhaps my superiority is merely an illusion of my far away vantage point. As my mom so eloquently pointed out, when she was a child, there were no parents constantly there telling them how to play together. They either figured it out or didn't... and socially that is where they developed.

In the maze, parents were constantly walking up to the netting to scold their children (me included, when Mister Man used his foot to shove a younger child down a slide and then again when he tried to climb up the slide instead of just going down it). A child would periodically come out crying, and the mom would sooth away the tears.

For me, that's where I draw the line. "No blood, no foul" is my mantra now with the wee ones. They may come out crying about a child who was hitting them, but they need to figure out how to keep the child from hitting them, and they aren't truly hurt. My thought was that (especially for Mister Man who needs the help with the social cues) if I were to model and give him pointers on the correct behavior he should have and then let him use that knowledge to help himself shake off the inevitable dings and scrapes of childhood rather than crying "bully" each time, I would be fostering the independence in him that I so badly want him to grow into.

My mom's words shook me though. Is me going up there or calling him out of the maze each time he makes a misstep taking the wrong path? Should I let him falter, so long as he isn't really causing injury to another child?

Today, there is a different criteria for parents. If I let my child run wild, you know the other moms will be whispering behind their hands about me. We strive to teach perfect gentlemanly behavior in all our children from the earliest age by instilling our rules into them -- the constant "don'ts" and "nos" they hear incessantly. Is it really any wonder that so few children will introduce themselves anymore? That children don't so easily instantly bond and start a game but are more shy in expressing themselves so often?

Knowing that neither of the wee ones will hurt another child and will always look after each other (I did hear him say to another child that he wouldn't do something to Little Miss because she's his sister and he loves her), I finally sat back to watch.

And slowly, the games integrated more children. The messy game of tag where I'd pulled Mister Man aside a few times evolved. It became a game of ghost in the graveyard - though not one I'd recognize from my childhood. That evolved into hide and go seek before it was time for us to leave.

And there was not a tear shed by a single child. The sounds were the raucous laughter and shouted instructions of children playing their own self-directed games.


I really don't want to be a helicopter parent, for both my own sanity and that of the wee ones. I want them to grow up socially adept and respectful of themselves and others. I don't want to be that mom with those kids.

I'm not sure where the balance is, but I think I need to sit back just a bit and let the wee ones enjoy playing. Maybe.

Where do you fall on the helicopter scale?


Mrs4444 August 9, 2009 at 11:51 PM  

Not a brick wall, not a jellyfish, and not a helicopter. Not sure what I'd call me, but my values mirror yours. When your kids are small, you have to guide them but let them learn. Most of what I base my parenting on came from Barbara Coloraso's book, Kids Are Worth It. So far, it's more than paid for itself :)

Have a great week!

Laura August 10, 2009 at 4:11 AM  

I try to let my kids work things out. But for my sanity I have rule "if you make the other one shriek you both go to your room" that way they are learning to talk things out rather than scream it out. Gee I don't know where they got that?? I try to let them run wild with a few rules, I don't want to be that mom that people hate 'cause her kids are hooligans but they are loud, wild boys and I let them because really soon the will be young men as evidenced by my teenage son who was only 7 just last week...

WeaselMomma August 10, 2009 at 6:10 AM  

It sure is a hard balance to find. When to let it go and when to step in, is a struggle that I share every day. I try to err on the side of independence, but often find my self directing the situation.

Melisa with one S August 10, 2009 at 6:59 AM  

I'm not even on the landing pad. That said, I've never let my kids run "wild"; I think perhaps I was on the landing pad when my kids were toddlers, but quickly taught myself to choose my battles; it is SO important to let them have a little rope. As long as they're not causing trouble for anyone else. If that happened, I would pull them aside (or, better yet, give them the death glare) and let them know that they needed to check their behavior.

Now that they are teens I fins myself having to nag them to death about certain important things that have deadlines because, due to the nature of many teens, that's what parents have to do. But we don't do this often and do let them make mistakes that affect their teen standard of living, so they learn the lesson and take care of details later.

Pat August 10, 2009 at 9:37 AM  

I have 3 grown sons, 26, 28 and 30. With each child I was less hovering, partly because they learned to work thigs out over time. I did as Laura did, "if you make the other one shriek you both go to your room." I always pushed them toward independence because they tended to be passive and reserved, especially #1 and #3. #2 has always been very independent.

Jeff August 10, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

My mom's rotors must have been broken because she never hovered over me at any time.

I was more of a "hands off" dad when my kids were little and tended to let things play out as much as possible - as long as they weren't hurting anybody or acting like total jerks.

On the other hand, I was often amazed by the parents who did nothing to supervise or control their kids when they were acting like jerks, being disrespectful or disrupting an event. I never bought into the whole "he's expressing himself" thing where you let your child do anything in the name of personal growth. So I think there's a balance and no magic answer.

Great post Michelle.

septembermom August 10, 2009 at 11:32 AM  

I do like to encourage independence in my children. However, I will watch very closely when they are playing in a large group. Having three boys, you never know what rough (and sometimes really rough) play may start. I keep my eye on the situation. My boys don't start any conflicts on the playground. They will go after each other sometimes. With my 4 year old daughter, I do tend to follow her around a bit. She is shy sometimes and doesn't zoom through the playground. Since she's so small in stature, I'm always afraid that someone will even accidentally knock her over :)

Anonymous August 10, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

This is a great post, and problem I am struggling with lately as well - I had to remind myself the other day that Cooper is ONLY 4, and that I was setting the behavior bar just a tad too high. I do try to let the kids run free as much as possible, but also try hard to make sure that they know there is an acceptable way to behave in public - I think I often walk the fine line when handling those the 'right' way.

Martha August 10, 2009 at 8:30 PM  

It's a hard balance to figure out because each child is so different!

I will say since I work at a high school just how damaging helicopter parenting is - those kids either stomp around like two year olds very disrespectfully demanding everyone respect them with such a sense of entitlement! Or they have no clue how to even ask a simple question on their own until their mommy gets there.

I've personally always believed in being maybe even a little over protective until the kids start school - then they have to learn how to handle social situations on their own from there. We can try to guide them but they are the ones living it and we should back off as much as we can unless we really feel there is really a major problem to address.

It's worked for me so far!

Ryan Ashley Scott August 10, 2009 at 10:12 PM  

If you look at most adults today, we all pretty much know how to get along. But how many adults can communicate effectively? How many have learned to control their temper? Could we all learn a lesson or two about talking things out? I think so. I think there is always room for improvement, and if we're not watching them, how will we know when to help and when to let them work it out themselves? Watching (which is totally different from hovering, despite what our parent's generation thinks) is how we learn about our kids and how we figure out what they need... and also what they don't need. You're a good mom.

Cookie August 10, 2009 at 10:58 PM  

I'm not a helicoptoer... Not sure where I fit in.

anymommy August 11, 2009 at 11:09 AM  

I'm pretty on top of my kids out in public, so I guess I might be like you, a little more helicopter than I realize. But, I have a really strict noninterventionist rule at home - don't cry to me, talk to each other type thing. This was a really interesting post, I"ll definitely be thinking about how much I interfere next time we are at the playground!

Unknown Mami August 11, 2009 at 2:01 PM  

Hmm, quite thought provoking.

Michelle August 11, 2009 at 8:54 PM  

Barb - Hmmm, I need the urban dictionary again -- jellyfish? Brick wall? I may have to check out that book. Remind me if I don't say anything about it soon!

Laura - That's EXACTLY the line -- how do you ensure in public that you don't have the hooligans that everyone hates but yet you aren't micromanaging things....

Weaselmomma - Yep. I'm with you on that one... if only it were easy to figure this one out.

Melisa - I like that analogy of the landing pad. It's that learning to fail when the stakes are low that's a big part of what I want to help teach. And the causing trouble -- like the kids Mister Man accidentally made cry when he laid on them this afternoon (don't ask).

Pat - I do really like that rule about making others shriek. My #2 is also VERY independent, so not much needs to be encouraged there, but she does need to know where the lines are sometimes. As they all do, I suppose.

Jeff - Broken rotors, I love it! And it's exactly the going from being goofy without hurting anyone to disrupting things. Since people's perceptions of this vary so greatly, there are always people who will feel that children are acting out too much. Ugh!

Kelly - Oh but isn't it always the tiny ones who are most tough? Or is it just mine? Little Miss can get plowed over and gets up with a giggle. And the large groups are definitely the bigger challenge, I'll give you that.

Nichole - I think by definition we almost always have to walk that line or risk damaging our children one way or the other. I just have to pray that my line is in the right place.

Martha - Oh I'm absolutely 100% with you on the damage that helicopter parenting does. Fingers crossed it will work for me, too. And lots of others.

RAS - Thanks for the encouragement. The difficulty people have in communicating, controlling tempers, dealing with failure, etc... I see it getting worse and worse, and that is something that I hope we as parents help reverse with this next generation. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm doing the best I can with the wee ones at least.

Cookie - It's hard to figure out, isn't it?

Stacey - I'm glad I'm not the only one who found it interesting. I have to admit this is really sticking with me even now. I think Martha might be right that now is the time to be on top of them and get the rules and acceptability drilled in then let them fly on their own once they reach school....

Unknown Mami - I'm with you. I still don't feel like I've found a comfortable middle ground. If only I could just program my child to do what I wanted... but that wouldn't really be fun either.

bettyl August 15, 2009 at 8:05 PM  

It's definitely hard to find the right balance. But, then I'd rather be TOO protective than not enough--they can get over hovering, but not being abused or worse.

Michelle August 16, 2009 at 3:06 PM  

bettyl - True, abuse and worse is not something easily recovered from. But hovering has its own challenges. I just keep hopingg that there is an adequate balance that I reach.

Elizabeth September 4, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

This is a great reminder. I think I hover a little sometimes, especially because I know Jackson is prone to hitting when he feels like someone wronged him. But other times, I let him explore on his own and I will tell you it makes other parents VERY nervous. Once at a park, when he was playing in a fountain, a dad even grabbed him to keep him off of a rock. I was letting him climb and explore on his own, but apparently it was too much for the man.
Your post reminded me to back off more and let my kids figure some things out on their own.

Michelle March 28, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

Elizabeth - I'm so with you. I've really been trying to lay back more and more now that he's in kindergarten, but sometimes it's hard. Great book recommendation that's been a huge help to me: Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg's Building Resilience in Children. Read it, and it makes so much sense....

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