The not-so-funny truth about helicopter parents


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The goal is to raise happy, healthy kids who experience failure at times so they can also experience success.


I often joke that I’m a recovering helicopter parent. But, it’s not that funny after all. It’s important to raise kids who can handle the curve balls life throws at them. By not allowing our kids to fail, we’re robbing them of the ability to learn, grow, and understand hard work. Not only that, but studies show that kids with helicopter parents suffer more from anxiety and depression.

In an article in USA Today by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed. called “How to help your adult children find success,” it appears success comes most often after failure. So, if we’re not allowing our kids the chance to fail, how will they be successful later in life?

Here are a few tips from the article:

“In a study reported in Psychology Today, the majority of children with helicopter parents have higher anxiety and view life’s challenges as being more daunting than those with more hands-off moms and dads. So what can we do, as parents, to truly support career success in our children? Psychiatrist Joel Young, M.D., suggests these strategies:

“Rather than sharing your goals and wishes for your child, listen to theirs. This builds their skills in independent thought and critical thinking, and sidesteps imposing your values on them.

“When your child receives a consequence, such as not getting hired for a job you think they’d excel in, don’t try to intervene to change the outcome.

“Avoid being your adult child’s keeper and don’t remind them of deadlines. By middle school, they should have learned to stay on top of their to-do lists.

“Instead of offering your solutions to their career challenges, encourage your child to come up with remedies on their own.”

Honestly, is there anything worse than watching your kids suffer, feel hurt or experience failure? We want to make life easy for them. But, while they are young, let them flunk a few tests, or oversleep for school. These are minor things that they can self-correct. They can learn from their mistakes. If we’ve helped our kids every step of the way from kindergarten through their senior year in high school, and they’ve never experienced failure, they may feel overwhelmed when they get a lousy grade on a college paper or fail an exam. They also may feel they aren’t worthy and are incapable on their own without their helicopter parent at their side to save them.

It reminds me of a book I learned about at a writer’s conference more than a decade ago called “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones” by John C. Maxwell. It was recommended for writers to read this book because in this tough profession we face rejection after rejection and the key is to keep going and fail forward, rather than failing backward. I believe it’s an important read for parents, too, so that we allow our kids the growth experience that only failure provides.


Before my kids experienced anxiety, stress or failure. Those were the days!

What other sad side-effects do you think helicopter parents may inflict upon their children–with the best intentions? Do you know any helicopter parents? What have you seen them do that you would never do yourself?


Facing our imperfections in parenting




Big brother meets his little sister.

In a heart-wrenching article, “Parenting a constant fight to be the best amid failure,” a mother feels like a failure because she’s less than perfect. The author Ashley Abramson also reflects about her own opioid-addict mother. She loved her mom in spite of her suffering and problems. I can relate to this because I grew up in a household with its own issues—parents who fought, addiction and bipolar disorder. I’m also a less than perfect mother and wish I could have done more or been a better person. This is an emotional story and one I hope you take the time to read. Here are a few excerpts:


“Nothing renders me as helpless as my 3-year-old son’s night terrors. If I make it in time, my touch is enough to absorb his fear. But if I arrive a second too late, I find him terrified by something he can’t name and may forget by morning.

“I measure my success as a parent by my two boys’ awareness of my love, and how safe they feel. So when I don’t get there in time, I feel like a failure.

“That’s because they only see what I do, not my intentions. They do not know what I want for them — what I am desperate to give — unless I actually come through. On the nights I don’t make it to their room in time, or on the days when I fail to be present, or worse, withdraw from them because of my fears, I am not enough. I’m sure my mother never intended to let me down. But she did, and that disappointment cast a shadow on my childhood.

“We are all perfect parents before we have children. Armed with the ideals we have collected since childhood, but none of the experience we need to know what we are up against, we will our children’s lives to be at best idyllic and at worst stable — and in my case, anxiety-free. But when our children come, they shine a spotlight on our weaknesses. And not only do they see us for what we are, but we do, too — perhaps for the first time. Only now can I see that for the gift it is. Because in the heat and pressure of stewarding another life, we become what we want so desperately to be. Only when we are face to face with our brokenness do we ever have a shot at wholeness.”

This article hit me hard, from the author’s memories of her mother to the night terrors that my son experienced, also. I felt so helpless and scared with him screaming and thrashing about–I was unable to comfort him. I also agree with the author that parenting gives us the opportunity to be better people.

We want our kids to be surrounded and protected by our love. We want them to grow into loving and kind adults. We need to be examples to them of how to behave, give and receive love. Because we are human beings, we are less than perfect. Our kids may be frustrated with us, but they–and we–can accept our less than perfect parents and still love them.


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Mommy and me class where we played “Itsy bitsy spider.”

How has becoming a parent made you a better person?

The Problem With Participation Trophies

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Healthy competition at a swim meet.

Why are our kids getting awards for showing up? Is it damaging to make them believe they’ve earned something without achieving it?

Kids instinctively know who’s the smartest in the class. They know who the fastest runners and best athletes are. By not recognizing achievement, what are we adults trying to prove? That everybody is equal? It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game?

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement.

Robert with friends at CSF banquet where they were recognized for academic achievement. Did you know that some schools have done away with valedictorians because it’s hurtful?

An NFL star named James Harrison of the Pittsburg Steelers made headlines this summer because he returned his sons participation trophies.

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” the linebacker wrote. While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them ’til the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy,” Harrison said.

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I believe by not having winners and losers we are encouraging mediocrity. We are telling kids that when they are older and have a job, that it’s fine to just show up and they’ll receive raises automatically. We are taking away a valuable lesson that should be learned at an early age—how to handle failure.

I think it’s great that my kids are swimmers and they learned how to deal with failure. Swimming is a pure sport. Kids are racing against a clock. It’s not subjective. It’s not judged (well, not much—there are officials that DQ swimmers for technical mistakes). The point is this: everyone does not get a ribbon, nor a participation trophy. There are winners and losers. Kids learn from this.

trophyAs a team we celebrated achievement and excellence. We held send-off parties for Junior Olympics, Juniors and National meets. We sent a swimmer to the Olympics twice—Beijing and London. We had pot-luck dinners on deck and goodie bags, special caps and t-shirts for the ones who made it to higher level meets. We had annual banquets with four awards per group. For the fastest boy and girl strictly based on time. And the coach’s awards, based on criteria such as attendance and effort.

Those were proud times for all swimmers and parents. The kids who didn’t receive awards or goodie bags did not have their self-esteem pummeled. Instead, they were motivated to achieve and work harder so they could get recognized someday, too. They cheered loudly with team pride for their teammates.

I’ve written about how failure helps kids this week on SwimSwam, and previously in What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet.

By giving everyone ribbons and medals for participation, we are holding our kids back. They aren’t learning what losing teaches—working hard, resilience, good sportsmanship, empathy and persistence.

My son getting a hug from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune.

My son getting a hug and present from his piano teacher for a beautifully played Clair de Lune at his senior recital.

My kids are definitely persistent, almost to the point of “stop already!” They have a never-give-up attitude that serves them well. They were never the most talented swimmers who could jump in and make finals at JOs. No, they were the ones like the tortoise, who had to work steady for years and years to catch the hare.

One of our fellow swim parents said it best:  “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I guess a character named Yoda said it first.

Do you have experiences where all kids received trophies at school or in sports? What’s your opinion about participation trophies? Please comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.

My daughter and teammates at Junior Olympics.