Helicopter parenting, I will be the first to admit, I am guilty.
My daughter goes outside to play in the front yard (which faces the streets). Upon hearing the door slam, I yell through the window: “don’t go onto the street”. With a bit deeper voice and all, so she knows I am serious. The reflex is strong, it’s like when I touch a hot stove and immediate withdraw my hand type of reflex.
My daughter had enough of my shit after 5 years, will say, “I know mom, you tell me the same thing every single time.”
If you don’t know what helicopter parenting is, here is the wiki page explains it. Because by this point, you should know this jargon so you can shame parents who are overbearing. (You know I am kidding right?)
But the anxiety is real. I have an irrational fear that my daughter can walk onto the street and getting hit by a car. But of course, she wouldn’t, because let’s face it, kids are not morons.
I was flying a kite when I was 5 years old. I loved flying kites, the sight of a flying object is majestic - nothing is lifting it up but air, how magical. Mesmerized and obsessed, all I wanted at the moment was to launch it higher and higher.
Then I ran into a poll. The park is near a busy street, and they put up polls and fences to keep kids from running into the street. The polls are not the skinny metal ones you see where they hand flags. They are large concrete which will take 3 little kids to wrap their arms around to make a circle. Which makes sense, because I wasn’t looking at all when I was flying the kite.
But instead of running in front of a car, I ran into the gigantic poll, with full force. I crashed into the poll so hard it felt like getting hit by a car. The humiliation of people’s laugh for a 5-year-old is devastating. Sure, anybody running into a poll is funny, but not to the person who actually did run into a poll.
So, this is where this “don’t go onto the street” obsession comes from. I am still scared, and it buries deep deep deep and all buried in my subconscious.
I have a hard time having her out of my site. Because you know, not only moving cars, but abductions, and serial killers. Although the odds of abduction are slimmer than getting hit by a car, still, terrifying.
Despite all my parenting principle of “let your kids be independent”, “let them fail”, “let them fall”, etc, etc, I hover. I hover over her. And sometimes I catch myself and I have to restrain and bite my lips hard not to say or do anything.
Almost every single parent hover. Some moderate, some severe. As this Redditor said:
Hovering much?! Some of those parents did their kids’ homework. Some sat on their job interviews, called and yelled at their boss. One called the cop when their 18-year-old didn’t come home before midnight. One even, how do I put this, put tampon into her daughter’s v, what?! Here is the link to that Reddit post.
It’s comical, but also worrisome. On the one hand, we don’t know what is going on in their lives. Some parents do have a legitimate reason to be anxious. Like if the child has a medical issue and will die if not monitored. But, some are worrisome. I had a classmate in middle school who bragged about not knowing how to do chores, like sweeping the floor. The students take turns to sweep the floor and rearrange the books of the classroom, and we often work in pairs. And whoever had to work with this girl dreaded it. She thought this was cool: “I don’t know how to sweep the floor because my mom never let me do any housework.” Spoiled much?
This is the real concern though. Some people do think it’s cool to act like Paris Hilton in her reality TV show The Simple Life. (Don’t ask me how I know this show) The price is everyone around them gets to do double work. It’s that little toddler who has helicopter parents grow up feeling entitled. He believes “the world owes me because I am great and I deserve everything.” Then this toddler grows into an annoying college classmate and never completes his/her part of group projects. And this annoying college kid who becomes this coworker who never finishes his/her work but takes credit for everybody’s work.
You see, it’s annoying for the people around them.
We don’t want entitled kids because they make life miserable. But to stop raising entitled kids, parents need to chill out a bit.
Some “hovering” is legitimate. Like your toddler who wants to climb the “spider web” but don't quite know how to walk yet. It’s legitimate you don’t want her to fall and break her bones.
But sometimes anxiety takes over People. Horrible thoughts come to mind when the tiniest warning sign flashes and we panic: “what if she breaks her bone?” “What if she gets bullied?” “What if she goes out with a friend and smoke pot?”
Having concerns is normal. What we do with the concern is what differentiates a helicopter to the rest.
Helicopter parents have the impulse to act upon their concerns. Kids not picking up their phone? Better drive to their friends’ house instead of wait 30 minutes. Because maybe the kids are having fun and are actually not on their phones. Oh, my son doesn’t understand the square root? I will do it for him instead of teaching him the concept because you know, it’s a battle to teach kids nowadays. Oh, my daughter is going to a job interview? Let me call the boss and put in a good word for her……
Helicopter parents see the world as a scary and unfair place. And they are right. Life is not fair, I don’t care what the self-help gurus say, but people will try to dominate you. Some will steal from you, some will take advantage of you. Our little babies are innocent and precious, and all we parents want to do is to protect them from all harm.
But from protecting them from harm, they also steal beautiful experiences. The skinned knee is a quest to a new adventure. The unsolved equation is an avenue to a quest. The unknown places could lead us to our best friend. The tough job interview could help us grow and strengthen our characters.
If you ever watch a little bird emerge from the shells, you want to help it out. You want to use your powerful hands to lift the shell and broken a piece off so the baby can emerge. It’s human nature, it’s motherly instinct.
It’s no wonder there is a debate over whether you should help a chick hatch. Because just like help hatching birds, humans are inherently designed to help out our offsprings.
It’s that instant relief of anxiety. By helping, parents feel less anxious at the moment because the crisis at hand has been averted. There is so much anxiety going on already. Parents today not only have to provide basic necessities but also responsible for a child’s happiness. Parents have to work, also drive kids to dance recitals and soccer practices. Parents not only have peer pressures but social media pressures. In short, parents are overworked and anxious. I haven’t figured their shit out and now they are responsible for other humans.
“If I could make my daughter’s life easier, then I can feel calmer”. “If my son is happy, maybe I will feel better as well.” Helicopter parents are loving but anxious people. It originated from a very loving place, then their actions were overtaken by fear. This is the generation that grew up believing “you can achieve anything”. When in fact they settled for a career they don’t really care about. Or worse, they never discovered their passion and are living with a burning desire to discover their truth but afraid to. Some helicopter parents want their children to take part in six extra-curriculum because they have unfinished dreams that they hope their children will carry on for them. Some of them are afraid their kids will get bullied so they cuddle them under their wings. Some of them never had the attention when they were a kid so now they overcompensate.
For a time I was really anxious when my daughter complained to me that one of her classmates was “mean” to her. I laid awake at night in my bed thinking about this little meanie of a kid, how could this kid be so mean to my precious angel. All the fear I had as a child, all the alienation I felt in childhood suddenly came alive. I was tormented by the thoughts over and over and over. I am ashamed to admit but I really couldn’t stop thinking about it. When she came home, I will ask her over and over to spill details of their interactions so I can analyze them. I taught her how to deal with bullies and give her ideas so she can feel mentally strong. Then a few weeks later, my daughter came home and they are best friends. I was like, what?!
It was in my head. My fear blew the problem out of proportion. It was a normal fraction that 5-year-old experience, but in my head, it felt like she was being tortured. It was IN MY HEAD.
Pain, something we all go through in life. It’s the thing that makes us cry, wonder, worry, but most importantly, grow. Some pain is so deep and wound us so badly that we buried it deep and never want to acknowledge its existence.
To combat the urge of helicopter parenting, first, we have to look at pain.
There is a reason we experience growing pain when we were little kids. It’s your body’s way of telling you “hey, I’m growing, so feed me something nutritious.” When you experience pain mentally, it’s your brain telling you that “hey, this is uncomfortable, feed me something good so I can deal with it.” Instead of shutting the experience out, take it in, feel it, and come up with ways to welcome it head-on. Pain is your friend. Yes, pain is uncomfortable. But the way we deal with discomfort is to change the wet diaper, instead of sitting in a wet diaper all day, and pretend we are not uncomfortable.
Helicopter parenting is being shamed all over the internet. I can’t help but wonder if in shaming we are denying some fundamental issues. We all know hovering is harmful, and we all do it from time to time. What I am more interested in is why we do the things we do. And maybe by looking at it rationally, we can find a way to catch ourselves when we are doing it and step back next time.
Letting go of the urge of helicopter parenting is like taking a cold shower. Immediately we want to get out. But if we hold onto the cold sensation for a few more seconds, then we will feel extremely refreshed. Afterward, we are renewed.
I don’t have a cue for every helicopter parents out there. But take a cold shower from time to time.
Instead of wanting to get out immediately, this time, maybe stand in the pain and discomfort for just a little longer.