In defense of helicopter parents
I learned a new phrase recently: lawn-mower mom.
Apparently it’s been around for awhile, along with its predecessors, the helicopter mom and the Tiger Mom.
Yes, we all like to beat up on the mom who hovers over her child with giant rotor arms well into college, or pushes her child to be a straight-A violin virtuoso, or (in this case) mows down every obstacle in his path.
I have to speak up here.
First, a disclosure: Some might say I have helicopter tendencies.
Scenes leap to mind:
— The day I stopped by my son’s preschool on the way back to work from an assignment to sneak a peek at him on the playground. In my defense, when I’d left, he was sitting next to the teacher (OK, it was one of my best friends) with silent tears streaming down his face. Of course, he was perfectly fine minutes later, but that image tore me to shreds.
— The day he was accidentally assigned to the wrong team at middle-school orientation, so he met all the wrong teachers and classmates. Afterward, the assistant principal shrugged and said he’d move him to the other team. No big deal. I hit the roof, plotting all sorts of hybrid schedules that would keep my son with his pals, until he finally stepped in and said, “Mom, it’s fine” (meaning, “stop it, crazy lady”). And it was. Luckily, the assistant principal didn’t hold a grudge.
We all have our Mother Bear moments.
It’s not without cause.
In his short 14 years, my son has had two broken arms, a near-concussion and stitches twice. My daughter has been hospitalized twice, once for a fever shortly after birth (a scary time) and once for a week after an emergency appendectomy at age 3 (even scarier).
Things can happen. I am haunted by a blog post a few years ago by a mom whose son drowned in a sudden flash flood while he played in their neighborhood with friends. She remembers the magazine article she was reading, stealing some alone time, when he died. I don’t think she will ever recover.
I think of it every time my son jumps on his bike to ride to a friend’s, or I realize I haven’t heard my kids’ voices in awhile when they’re playing outside.
Parenthood is a wrenching tug of war between safeguarding your children and teaching them to stand on their own two feet — and praying that nothing happens to them in between.
So forgive us if we moms are a bit protective, especially those of us who waited so long to have children.
I know the term “helicopter mom” and its derivatives go much further. Peruse any Reddit thread on the subject and you’ll hear about parents accompanying their adult children to job interviews, checking on their bank balances, calling them four times a day or demanding to meet with professors when their darlings have failed a class (after multiple warnings from the teacher). Not cool, or as one professor put it, “homey no longer plays that.”
Repeat 100 times: I will not hover in college, I will not hover in college. ...
My parents, in fact, were nothing like that. They helped us sort out the college admissions process (and the hell of financial aid applications), took us on a couple of college tours, accompanied us to registration, and drove us to school at the start of the semester. Beyond that, it was up to us (except they paid a chunk of the tuition, of course).
It went fine, though I think they regret not stepping in more with one of my siblings who took a few detours on his way to a college degree. It was the late ’60s. And he’s a professor now.
They never bugged me about grades, but then again they didn’t have to. If I’d gotten C’s and D’s, who knows?
The fact is, I knew they were always there to back me up even if they weren’t hovering in person.
And that’s a big deal. Some children don’t have that backup. They may come to school without anyone caring if their homework is done, or if they’re tardy, or if they have a lunch. Or maybe their parents are just too stressed from working two or three jobs to keep it together.
According to the Census Bureau, more than 30 percent of children ages 1-17 live with just one parent, or neither of their parents. And two-thirds of single moms work outside the home. Who has time to hover?
Yes, there are moms who still carry their children into the classroom in second grade, making teachers cringe. But they might just be the same ones who sacrifice sleep, money and work time to help out at school — and not just to be near their own kids.
They’re the ones who donate extra money to make sure every child gets to go on a field trip; pack backpacks so every child has enough food for the weekend; volunteer to direct a play in the classroom so every child has access to Shakespeare; or lead a Lego Club at lunchtime so every child can take part, even those who have to ride the bus home.
Helicopters? More like shelters in a storm.
When our schools are begging for parent involvement, are we really going to complain about this?
There’s a line, of course, and we have to figure out how to navigate it so we don’t send our children (or their teachers) into therapy.
It’s a learning process. Sometimes it takes another parent, or a piano teacher or coach, to say, “Step back, Mom. Let him handle it.”
I have learned that the world will not stop if my kids fall (though note the stitches and casts mentioned above).
I allow them go on field trips without me being a chaperone.
I let them strike out, miss a basket, hit a bad chord or even write an awkward sentence without automatically diving in to help. And they’re better for it.
And despite what I’ve threatened, I don’t plan to move to their college town.
But we do have one of the best universities in the country about 12 blocks from our house ...
Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at (217)351-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/jawurth.