A unique viewpoint in parenting was written by Dr. Danielle Teller, mother of four teens and published on NBC News. “In the age of the helicopter parent, why I gave my teens almost total control,” Teller describes how she and her husband decided to step back and let their kids find autonomy during the high school years, so they’d be independent by age 18.
This reminds me of my parents, who said their definition of parenting success was to let us fly from the nest. I recall them doing lots of activities together and my brother and I having an enormous amount of freedom. Most weekends my parents were fishing on our boat, visiting our cabin on the Stillaguamish River or exploring some other areas from Carmel, CA to Eastern Washington. My brother and I survived. We didn’t have parents telling us to fill out college applications or worrying about our homework. We both ended up in the top 10 of our classes and were accepted and graduated from the one college we applied to–the University of Washington.
By contrast, I hovered and cajoled my son and daughter over their busy, crammed packed schedules. My husband and I were fixtures around the pool watching them practice and compete. College applications I oversaw and made sure dates weren’t missed. The end result was—I believe—more anxiety and tougher times for my kids in college than what I experienced. Of course, it’s a different time and things are, well different!
Here are some excerpts from the article by Danielle Teller:
“It’s appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm, but it’s not helpful to decide for them the course of their future.”
“My teenagers call me a bunny mom. Let me explain. We live in an affluent suburb with high-performing public schools, and many of our kids’ friends have tiger moms and helicopter dads who heavily police their children’s schoolwork, music practice, and extracurriculars in the hope that their offspring will go on to elite universities and professional success. My family, however, has adopted a different strategy.
“Several years ago, my husband and I sat our four kids down and explained that we weren’t going to parent them that way. We hoped that the rules we had enforced when they were preteens had instilled good habits, but once they got to high school, we were going to start to back off. We would no longer insist that they join a sports team, eat broccoli or play piano. We weren’t going to make their decisions for them or push them to succeed. We would provide guidance and support, and we would expect them to be good citizens at home and at school, but our goal was to gradually hand over the reins, so that by age 18, they would have complete control over their own lives.
“It wasn’t easy to hand over control. We could envision the mistakes and poor choices our children might make, and we had met the talented and ferociously hard-working peers they would eventually compete with for college admission and employment. But though we were nervous, we decided to take a light-touch approach for two reasons. First, it seemed most likely to produce happiness, and second, we weren’t convinced that intense parental involvement is key to long-term success. (Notice, too, that we are not conflating happiness with success.)
“It’s hard for parents to let go. Just as we protected our babies from sharp objects, we want to protect our teens from what we perceive as failure. Yet while it is appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm as we did when they were younger, it is not helpful to decide for them the course of their future lives. As a so-called bunny mom, I have to bite my tongue when one of my children decides to stop taking math classes or quit the swim team. “You won’t achieve your full potential,” I want to say. But that shouldn’t be their goal in life any more than it is my main goal in life. Their goal should be to follow their own ambitions, wherever those may take them.”
I am impressed that these parents were able to let go during the high school years. It would take a lot of strength and conviction to not get caught up in what all the other parents were doing. They are successful professionals in their own right, and definitely not living vicariously through their kids.
What is your opinion of hovering over kids, versus a laissez-faire attitude?