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Helicopter parents, please step down

Categories: Guilt Inducers, Mommy Angst


The days of overparenting are over. Not only does Time Magazine say so, but we’ve all been seeing this coming from miles away, haven’t we? Helicopter parents, please move over. You’re blocking the view.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve helicoptered with the best of them. Who wouldn’t want to protect little Aidan or Ava from getting a boo-boo? We don’t want our kids to suffer the same horrible childhood fates that we did — like being left to our own devices. Our parents didn’t play with/entertain us 24/7? How awful! We would never, never, never allow our own kids to suffer that way. Nope, better to suffocate them with yards of bubble wrap love and keep them safe. From everything. Oh, and make them perfect. Yeah, that’s it.

But the tide is turning. Have you heard? There’s a recession out there! Cello lessons and travel soccer teams and French-speaking au pairs and real miniature backyard play mansions cost real hard cash. Cash that we’re seeing less of these days. Suddenly, some things seem a little, well, unnecessary. Never mind cello lessons — go play outside. And if you’re lucky, this year Santa will bring you a rock.

Oh, but it’s not easy to quell your inner overparenter*, is it? The voice that screams NOWHERE IS IT SAFE! DARK-WINDOWED MINIVANS! CODE ADAM! ZERO TOLERANCE! It’s hard to silence that voice. We still can’t even bear to let our kids walk to school and the urge to protect our kids from all possible ills is high.

But kids thrive on benign neglect. Without Mommy and Daddy to wipe their noses for them constantly, Aidan and Ava will learn to do it themselves. My parents NEVER played with my brother and me except for a couple of games of family Whiffle Ball (I kid you not) in the front yard. So we played with each other. Or with other kids. Most of us grew up not being played with. And we didn’t have cell lessons or a French-speaking au pair either. We turned out fine. Me, I couldn’t wait to relive my kidhood through my own kids and play Legos and Tinker Toys again. Eventually that got out of hand and I was entertaining the troops on a nightly basis. (The costume budget alone was killing me, not to mention the lighting, but hey, you do what you have to do, right? If your kids can’t sleep without seeing you perform showstopping torch songs in the living room, you have to go with it.)


It’s far too easy to go from rolling a ball back and forth with your toddler to doing their 4th grade homework. Overparenting is a slippery slope. But like I said, the tide is turning. Some of this is from necessity — if you’re working 2 jobs to keep the family afloat, something’s got to give and it’s probably you. You make compensations. You set new priorities. So your 12-year old is home alone after school instead of attending ballet lessons. Fine. It’s too bad about ballet, but she can fix herself a snack. She can do her homework. She knows how to dial 9-1-1. You just have to let it go. She’ll be fine.

There are a zillion ways to parent. A zillion RIGHT ways. We’ve been looking for a magic formula in parenting, the one thing we should do to make our kids turn out PERFECT, but there is no one right thing. The best thing we can do for our kids is to trust them. And then to trust ourselves as well.

How has this trend away from overparenting affected you? Do you see change in the other parents you know? How have you toned down your own inner helicopter parent?

*It’s a word if I say it is.

photo: cieleke, Stock.xchng

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6 comments so far...

  • I tend toward the other extreme, so this is good for me (us). Maybe I will get fewer glares for letting my kids go potty on their own. Maybe while my kid laboriously struggles into her jacket at daycare, she won’t have multiple adults trying to offer help. Maybe the girls will soon be able to go up and down the block without someone reporting a wandering child. We can hope.

    SKL  |  December 2nd, 2009 at 12:26 pm

  • Since Amelie’s only 19 (almost 20? Sheesh) months, I don’t know if I can guage what sort of parent I am. But I do know that I can do the dishes without her in the room until the silence becomes so loud that I have to hunt her down and rescue my…er…feminine hygiene products (these have become her new, favorite, verboten “toy”) from further destruction.

    Seriously? She wanders around the house and plays with her “pee doh” (playdough) in the play room or goes in to her room and reads books out loud to herself or dumps every toy out of the box or just bounces around. Last night, she was roaming the house with her laundry basked over her head, going, “RAAAAHHHRRR” and declared that she was a “basset mo’ssur”.

    I don’t follow her. I don’t check up unless, like I said, the silence gets too loud or I hear a crash and a wail. I figure that she’ll have to hurt herself a few times to learn why we tell her not to, oh, I don’t know…climb the book case?

    We don’t put her in dangerous places or let her do dangerous things, but I don’t follow her with a camera to keep her out of trouble either. She needs to understand why we tell her “No, don’t touch” or “No, don’t climb” and if that means burning her hand on the radiator (nothing serious, but it was a little too hot for her comfort) or bopping her head on the shelf, well, guess what she doesn’t do anymore?

    On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of playmates around for her. We give her free reign on the playgrounds and in open park spaces to run and impose herself on other kidss, but we do play with her a lot - hide n go seek, blocks, etc. We sit together and watch the world outside on rainy days, paint or color, kick the ball.

    So, does that make us helicopter parents? I know I sure as hell am NOT doing her homework in any grade, whether it does or not.

    Phe  |  December 2nd, 2009 at 1:34 pm

  • I tend toward the free-range kid spectrum and always have. I feel less likely these days to be sucked in involuntarily to the “best parent” competition by number of activities. It’s nice not being asked to feel guilty because my son isn’t in at least three activities. One is enough.

    What I have noticed is the other parents trending in this direction. I don’t want to make this about race but I have also noticed that the last to drop helicopter parenting are upper middle class white folks. They are keeping the private schools and music lessons - I suppose because they can. I’d like to see them get with the program. Free range parenting is so now, right?

    Sarah  |  December 2nd, 2009 at 2:27 pm

  • I’m not sure why private schools and music lessons are considered to equate to helicopter parenting. I went to a parochial school and took violin lessons. I also walked to school, church, and any other activity I wanted to be in; was a latchkey kid; babysat my baby brother and sister each afternoon and in the summer; was never allowed to approach my parents for homework help; had to cook the family dinner several days a week; and earned my own pocket money beginning at age 10. Just because my parents considered a good education important doesn’t mean they hovered over us while we acquired it.

    My kid is reading and she’s not yet 3, so I really don’t think I ought to put her in public school just to prove I’m not a helicopter parent. Nor will I deny my other kid the dance and gymnastics lessons she loves, as long as I can reasonably afford them, as it brings her out of her shell like nothing else. Free range doesn’t mean denying kids opportunities.

    SKL  |  December 2nd, 2009 at 3:49 pm

  • SKL - in my opinion private schools and music lessons are not helicopter parenting - that’s sarcasm gone too far, I suppose. My son also read in preschool and was all set to go into parochial school until his father and I divorced. I only wish we could have kept him there and yes, I confess he gets music lessons now.
    The kind of parenting I’m talking about is when the poor tots are picked up and carried all the time, not allowed to make mistakes for sparing minor injury, wear leashes in public as toddlers and later are carted to more than two weekly activities then given trophies just for showing up - Christ, give the kid some dignity!
    All I’m saying, strike a balance.

    Sarah  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 7:25 pm

  • I sincerely hope and pray that some of these helicopter parents are FINALLY coming to their senses and leave these poor kids alone. I have witnessed parents, who while well-meaning in a warped and weird way, have totally handicapped their kids because they quite literally are afraid to let the kids be a kid. I have seen high school seniors who are too afraid to be away from mom and dad and can’t go on a band trip because mom and dad simply WON’T LET GO. I’ve seen kids not be able to really get out and play because mom’s afraid the kid will get dirty and covered with germs, then the kid will come down with some deadly disease.

    When my daughter invited a school friend to go to the State Fair with her, the parents came along. Everything was fine till daughter and friend wanted to go do some things like the rock climbing wall. The mother wouldn’t let her ’cause she was afraid the child would fall. Never mind that there was teathers, ropes, harnesses, spotters, etc. The PARENT wouldn’t let the kid do it cause she was afraid she would fall. This poor kid was so hampered by her parents it wasn’t funny.

    In my sessions with my daughter’s high school teachers over the last few years, you would NOT believe how I was thanked because I didn’t intervene when she got a bad grade that she’d fully earned. I expected responsiblity from her and it was NOT my place to arm-twist the teacher because (gasp!) my daughter got a lesser grade than she should have. Yet these parents are in the faces of the teachers because they simply can’t handle the fact that Suzi or Johnny isn’t perfect.

    How are our children supposed to LEARN the lessons of life if we don’t allow them to experience failure? It always used to piss me off when they give everyone a trophy. Well, guess what? In reality, not everyone gets a trophy. There are winners, and there are losers. That’s LIFE. Yet these helicopter parents have instilled such idiotic ideas into their children that when the kid DOESN’T come out on top, they don’t know how to handle it. They can’t handle rejection because they’ve never been allowed to.

    I’m old school. I will NEVER apologize for it. For all we’ve been thru, my daughter DOES understand that not everyone gets a trophy and that she HAS to work hard for what she gets, ’cause Mom and Dad aren’t going to give it to her and neither is anyone else.

    Personally, I really feel sorry for the kids of helicopter parents. The parents have no idea how screwed up they’ve made their kids.

    JDaffron  |  December 8th, 2009 at 9:29 am