Confessions of a Recovering Helicopter Parent

In my early years of parenting I heard many times from older mothers, “You are one of the best, most engaged parents I have ever seen”. Some even went as far as to admit they felt a since of guilt that they were nowhere near the hands on parent that I was. Insert Sigh of relief and maybe even a moment of gloating that perhaps I was doing this parenting thing right!

But was I? Since that time, I have made some parenting adjustments. Partly because 1. no one can keep up that pace and stay sane and 2. I had another child and went through a divorce at roughly the same time and simply couldn’t be there like I had in the past.

It was the end to craft marathons, baking and cooking from scratch together for hours on end (while pretending to narrate our own mother daughter cooking show), and trying to fill every waking moment with a kid filled activity from library story times, to mommy play groups, to the zoo to…you name it. If it was published in a local paper, or posted on the internet – you can assure it was marked in my calendar and it was a ragged, grueling schedule to keep up with.

Both me and my husband (I remarried) are products of the generation of parenting that was fairly hands off. I was left alone at very early ages to navigate some pretty scary situations and paid the price now and then. I had the added handicap of having a mom that was afflicted with mental illness and simply couldn’t look after, or advocate for me consistently. She herself actually put me in harms way sometimes. The result left me with a strong desire and urge to over parent and over protect my children – in attempt to keep anything bad from ever happening.

My husband was doing man chores – like serious hard labor chores at the age of 8 and continued to do so for years. To this day he is the hardest worker I know – and I sometimes have to get on him to just chill out and take a break and have fun, and I am guilty of quoting corny cliches things like, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. But the nice unexpected result is that since he has entered our lives he has helped instill a since of work ethic into our girls by doling out age appropriate chores – that I otherwise might not have done – or at least on a consistent basis.

With him in our lives thankfully our girls are learning the feeling of earning a true “Atta girl”, and a sense of accomplishment, not to mention just a sense of worth. Just this weekend my little one age almost 6 decided to take upon herself the chore of cleaning the kitty litter box. This has been my 11 year olds job for a few years now. I think tid bit volunteered partly because she wants to be like big sis, partly because it is a novelty (I’m a romantic…not an idiot), and partly and maybe without her even realizing it – it gives her a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

So while our generation is getting a bad rap for the helicopter parenting style (as my earlier years), our previous generation sometimes gets pegged with under parenting (examples – I had to cross a 4 lane highway to get to school unattended at age 7 and tripped one day to nearly be smashed by a semi). But where is that healthy middle ground? It’s kind of hard to navigate sometimes.

But I have to set one thing straight for the records. Since I have intentionally backed off a bit I have to say this, “The less hands on parenting style is NOT for the lack of parenting or love or what is sometimes perceived as”. It does NOT give me more “Me” time. It does NOT make my life easier. In fact…what I am finding is as I force myself to back off, let them be “alone” sometimes, let them do chores and fail at them many times over is WAY WAY harder than just doing it all myself in the disguised name of “helping them out”.

Because let’s be honest here. It would so much faster for me to always vacuum, do my oldest daughters laundry when she has nothing clean to wear, for me to always do the dishes, etc. Why? Because I know it would be done right! Yes, it kind of drives me a little nuts when I go to get a plate out of the cupboard that has some mystery dried gunk on it. Not a fan of that.

But that is also a teaching moment. That is when I need to call for my oldest and either give her the option to eat off that plate tonight or let her have a re-do. It takes extra time…and it takes multiple times because believe me – you would think that after you did that once or twice…or 36 times that they would incorporate quality into the initial process the first time! But then I remember that she IS a kid… and that this IS a slow developmental process. And that in the end it is for her benefit – not just mine. And it is ANYTHING but hands off and easy.

I gain more respect for my parent’s generation style of parenting all the time. Especially when I know some 13 year old kids that literally don’t know how to make a sandwich for themselves. I absolutely cringe – and part of me feels really sorry for the spouse to be – if they ever get that far.

So let’s be clear here and say that those parents that are filling out college applications for their kids or worse yet – taking tests for them or intervening into their battles of “he said/she said” staying up all night to finish a project that the kid had 4 weeks to complete…are not these great hands-on parents that we should feel guilty that we don’t measure up to. They are doing clean up duty!! Because it is easier to swoop in and be the rescuer to avoid an emotional let down than stand back and let the kid build some character – which WILL require some heartbreaks, broken friendships, and a failed test or assignment here and there.

Not only are we giving them a false sense of security, a warped view of reality, but we are robbing them of the building blocks to life. If I didn’t like my boss…I can’t have my parent call HR and get me moved to a different department people! And if I get lazy and don’t do my best, mommy is not going to call my boss to fight for another chance for me or worse yet – blame my boss for some unrealistic standards!

Now I am not saying to NOT advocate for our children when they are actual harm, being bullied or something like that. In that case you smack it down like starving lioness and instill the fear of what is good and Holy where you need to. But even then – there are tactical, ways to do that. And discussing it with your child is a good start, making them part of the solution if and when appropriate, etc.

It is much harder to let your kids get scraped now and then, than to never let them fall down on the play ground. I have had to literally turn the other way a few times or pry my knuckles from a bench to refrain from catching a near fall (of 1 foot or less). It requires a sense of patience, a very selfless kind of love. Because when our kids hurt WE hurt. And maybe that is it too! We don’t want to experience that pain of rejection or failure either. And at some twisted core of it all – maybe we are protecting OURSELVES just as much or even more than we are protecting our kids. Ouch!

It took me about 8 years of parenting to realize that my child’s failures are not exactly a reflection on me. If they fail to turn in an assignment – it should not mean that child services will be at my house shortly to investigate what the hell is going on in my obviously chaotic and unorganized household. Is THAT part of it too? Paranoia? I mean – honestly – by today’s standards – I would absolutely have been removed from my mother’s care by the court. Now do not mistake me – I am thankful for the many gains we have made as a society in protecting and advocating for children and think we still have a long way to go.

All I am saying is that we sometimes over parent out of fear of what other parents might say, teachers might say – or what we “think” they might say. We over coddle not just out of love for our children to save them from pain and rejection, sometimes we may do it out of selfish fear! Our parent’s generation didn’t quite have that level of paranoia going on. They had that Clint Eastwood tough-as-nails-deal-with-it mentality.

And yes – over the years I have detected some guilt on my father’s part. Sad and grateful eyes and admission that he has no clue how we turned out normal. But I will totally be saying that about my girls too. As a parent – there will always be guilt – one way or another. I think that is in the unwritten by laws of parenting. I learned to accept that awhile ago. I know I am not perfect. I am going to mess up. But that’s part of learning too.

Honestly – I don’t know how right I am on this – I am only relaying some of my own fears and experiences and things or epiphanies I have learned along the way. And no doubt have so much more to learn along the way. I have always said, “My best teachers are my kids”.

All I do know is that I am intentionally trying to back off a little hopefully in the right places, because I don’t want to go to the other extreme so my girls feel like I don’t care or are not there for them. But honestly – that is perception too. There will be a time when they yell at me that I don’t care. And that may mean that they didn’t get the Ipad that they wanted at age 8. So we take these things with a grain of salt.

But at the end of the day I am just incredibly thankful. They are fed, laughing (and sometimes bickering at each other), safe, healthy, and doing some daily chore here and there (and yes sometimes rolling their eyes at having to do them) we are always interacting in some way or another, tickle fights spontaneously erupt, there is a light and sparkle in their eye. There is real effort…sometimes balanced, sometimes over or under done. And when effort isn’t enough – because it never is – there is always forgiveness and most of all…love.