I have a difficult confession to make: I once was a helicopter parent. In my defense, ten years ago when my husband’s and my two adult kids were teens, books with titles like, How to Raise an Adult, Grit, and The Gift of a Skinned Knee, did not dominate the parenting sections of bookstores across the country, or make the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list. A decade ago “self-esteem” was both the buzzword and the mantra most frequently uttered in the parenting trenches. But now that I know what I know, I sure would love a do-over.
To set the record straight, as far as helicopter parents go, I was actually just somewhere in the middle of the pack. I knew PLENTY of parents who were WAY more accomplished hoverers. That said, here is an honest (and embarrassing) account of what my younger self might submit for an award in the most-dedicated-mom category,, but which I now view as my top five over-parenting fails:
5) My kids always know that if they ever forgot something important for school, from homework to sports-gear, that I will come to the rescue. It’s my job to help them and make sure they aren’t marked down!
4) My kids know I will always be there to make something healthy and nutritious to eat and that I’ll bring it to them while they sit at the table studying or relaxing. They don’t have to prepare the meal with me, or spend time making their own. Again, that’s my job, and I love it!
3) My kids do their own laundry, of course, but they really don’t have to spend their limited time on any BIG family chores. They just have so much on their plates!
2) My kids know that if some seemingly unfair situation arises at school that, if REALLY warranted, I will kindly and gently bring the problem to the attention of the teachers or administrators involved, usually via email. I just want to understand and help convey the teachable moments!
1) My kids know that no matter what I’m doing, I will ALWAYS come to their rescue when needed, sometimes even when they don’t know they need it!
The only defense I can muster as I divulge these awkward truths from my past is this: It was all so incredibly well intentioned.
Back in the day, my friends and I often chalked-up our similar parenting philosophies to the natural yin and yang reaction to the way we were raised (let’s just say, most moms in the 70s weren’t personal taxi drivers for their kids). My generation knew we could do so much better, which basically translated to raising superior, more-secure humans. How sad and ironic it now is to realize that through my well-intentioned over-parenting I inadvertently conveyed to my kids a message that fostered insecurity. A message that made them feel that they were not capable of navigating their own world, and robbed them of some appropriate opportunities to learn that they could advocate for themselves with their teachers and coaches, and that they could manage the challenges that would come their way. And when if it wasn’t the outcome they had hoped for, I took away the chance for them to learn how to do a little better next time, and to not fear the trying.
I think it's possible that some of that helicopter parenting behavior on my part, including a bit of grade fixation, was driven by a desire I had for our kids to attend a top tier college. It's definitely a focus shared by a lot of parents in our community, right? But what's been sad to hear are the growing number of stories of kids having to leave that great college they worked hard to got into. The reasons are varied, and by no means am I suggesting that over-parenting is the root cause of all problems that arise for kids in college. In our case, though, looking back I realize that we really were asking a lot of our kids to make the leap from being somewhat coddled to suddenly being expected to be capable. Though both our kids graduated, they were behind the curve on a lot of things that made their first year of college REALLY difficult for them. Simply knowing how to study, test well, have fun with friends, and play sports didn’t build a resilient child.
For you younger parents, I have this bit of advice. Don’t fall into the trap that I did. Though being the super awesome parent who is lowering the In-n-Out bag from a helicopter is incredibly fun and rewarding in the moment, in the long run you’re really not doing your kid any favors. And believe me, their twenty-four-year-old self might let you know that in no uncertain terms. Truth be told, that part isn’t very fun at all.
On the upside, today’s parents have access to some incredible resource that I didn’t back in my day. The books I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog all provide compelling research and insight that just might change how you parent. They are certainly game-changers for parenting philosophies in the years to come. Future generations of young adults who learn gratitude, connect with their authentic selves, and develop resilience might just owe those authors, among others, a debt of gratitude. Hopefully, if one of those kids is yours, your future self will have a big hug and a sincere “thank you” to enjoy some years down the road.
Here’s my final confession: though I’m incredibly proud of our kids’ accomplishments and the amazing young adults they’ve turned out to be, and I LOVE every minute that we spend together, if I had a do-over, I would go about a lot of things differently, both for their benefit and mine. My wish for all of you is that ten or so years from now, you won’t feel compelled to say the same.