True Confessions of a Helicopter Mom

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

There’s a study from BYU that says that helicopter parents are hurting their kids. You can read more about it here.  The study says that even loving parents don’t make up for the damage inflicted by excessive hovering.

I don’t know if I’d call myself a helicopter parent or not. My kids would probably say yes, but as one swim coach told my daughter, we are far from the worst parents he’s met.

To try and determine my status I took this quiz from the Christian Science Monitor.

I earned Terra Firma.

13e7cdf4346de40aade6db55399ea91eMy two kids are so different, I question if I parented them differently? I feel like I helicoptered my first born, and was more laid back with the second. The result is one more dependent and one independent.

I used to boil my son’s binky’s after they hit the ground for a good five minutes. I’ll never forget that smell of burning rubber when the water boiled away. The joke my husband used to tell was that with our second child, I asked the dog to “fetch” the binky.

Binky's

Binky’s

When my son was born, I worked on my writing and PR business from home. I thought I could full-time parent and work simultaneously. I didn’t take into consideration that clients would want to me run over for meetings without notice.

Then, Robert went mobile. He was crawling around. Spitting-up on my keyboard.

Nope, full-time work and stay-at-home parenting didn’t work out well for me. I hired a full-time babysitter and then became jealous every day they left for the park.

Three years later, when my daughter was born, the full-time help was gone, and I switched to part-time work. I was able to spend time with the kids, and do a little work, too. It was a nice balance.

Early on, I volunteered in my son’s classroom. I corrected papers, taught computers, writing. Anything they’d let me do. I’ll never forget arguing with his second-grade teacher over the word “artic.” After all, I had drilled him the night before on the continents. “It’s arctic,” the teacher told me. Oops.

My son constantly asked me to bring things to school. Papers he forgot. Projects left behind. I always dropped what I was doing and drove to school—including during his senior year! I can’t believe I did that! I did not do that for my daughter. Mostly, because she never asked.

I helped out with her schooling, too. But, in her elementary school years, it was limited to driving for field trips and special events.

I have one child that now calls whenever there is a problem. His face pops up on my phone and I automatically ask, “What’s wrong?” A broken computer, a fender bender, a parking ticket. It’s always something. Of course, there are exceptions—he aced a test, or got asked to be a guest speaker by the Dean at a fundraiser.

My daughter calls once a week or so to talk to tell me how she’s decorating her room, about a backpacking trip to hot springs, or that she had a good workout.

Maybe the difference between my kids is this: they are entirely two different people, with different goals, personalities, and interests. 

As far as my being a helicopter parent? I think I improved over the years.

How do you define if you’re a helicopter parent? What things have you done that are over the top?

My two kids.

My two kids.

Advertisements

Yes. Crazy helicopter parents actually did this…

IMG_2084

I think my daughter was telling me to chill at SMOC a few years ago.

I was reading an article from the New York Times where they asked readers to send in their crazy helicopter parenting experiences. The title of the article was ‘Bizarre and Unusual’: Readers Respond to Helicopter Parenting.

They listed a few letters that I found unbelievable. In one, a young physician was on an all-day interview at a hospital and his dad spent the day with him!  In another, a mom called a hospital to find out and clarify the benefits her young doctor son was getting.  I wonder if there’s any coincidence that a few of them were stories about doctors? It’s very competitive and grueling to get into and through med school and I wonder if mommy supervised the entire way?

Here’s one of the stories from the article:

“My boyfriend’s mom definitely has helicopter tendencies. It is very bizarre to me — we are both 29 but I was raised to be very independent. We both went to medical school and are now in residency. My favorite story is that she apparently somehow got ahold of the information about the benefits offered by his hospital and was concerned about them or had questions about them. So without asking him about it decided to call the hospital herself and ask. The staff found this to be pretty amusing and apparently made an announcement over the intercom in the operating room saying something to the effect of “Dr. X — your mommy just called.”

The article talks about LaVar Ball, the father of the U.C.L.A. basketball star Lonzo Ball who was the second draft pick and plays for the Lakers. I will admit I was out of the loop on this story, but after hearing discussions about him and being clueless—I’ve learned that he is the big daddy of all helicopter parents. He’s the dad of three promising basketball players who has interfered with their coaches, programs and careers their entire lives. Here’s a list from USA Today of the 10 most outrageous things he’s said.

katyawn

Back when it was okay to hover and over-parent.

The helicopter parenting stories I’ve witnessed pale in comparison. I remember parents insisting that their kids be moved up in swimming or arguing with teachers about grades. One story involves me. I took my son for swim lessons when he was four years old and insisted that he be moved up a few levels. A few summers later, a swim instructor told me about the crazy parents she encountered and said, “One year we had this mom insist her four-year-old be moved up two groups, and he physically wasn’t able at that age to be in that group!” I smiled to myself. Wow, I made it to someone’s most crazy helicopter mom list! I don’t think that’s a great honor, do you?

 

What are some of the crazy stories you’ve heard about helicopter parents?

Too much parenting isn’t helping

robert bunnyIn an article in Fatherly  called “Science Suggests Parents Are Taking Parenting Too Far” by Patrick A. Coleman, Parents who want to give their kids every advantage are spending more and more time and money on kids, but science is finding that it’s better to step back and find balance.”

I figured this out for myself. The more I did for my kids, the more I crippled them. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for years, but the damage is done.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the article:

According to a recent study by Cornell University, a majority of parents see world-consuming hyper-engagement as the best method of child-rearing. Going all in on kids has become a cultural best practice, begging this simple question: Does it work? Ask a scientist and they’ll likely tell you no.

Parents who really want a kid to get a head start will often push their child to hit developmental milestones early. The problem is that hitting a developmental milestone early does nothing to improve a kid’s outcomes. Also, pushing them to develop early might actually be detrimental, according to a recently published study by infant attachment expert Dr. Susan Woodhouse of the Leigh University CARE lab.

“We were trying to understand what parents are doing that really matters for children to become securely attached by 12 months,” Woodhouse says. In other words, she was looking into parental behaviors that help babies orient to their parent in a developmentally appropriate and secure way. “What our data showed is that when a baby really needs you and is crying, if you responded at least half the time, the baby would be securely attached.”

Woodhouse calls this the “secure base provision” which simply means parents are responding correctly to a baby’s cues enough times that attachment can form. Importantly, in order to reach the secure base provision, parents don’t need to respond to their child’s cues correctly 100 percent of the time, or even 80 or 70 percent of the time. They simply need to respond correctly 50 percent of the time, which Woodhouse likes to call “good enough” parenting. The clear virtue of this approach is that it allows parents to behave less mechanically, lowering levels of stress, and shielding kids from the potentially deleterious second-hand effects of anxiety and parental busyness.

kat chairThe article explains why we shouldn’t be interrupting and hovering over our kids all the time. They need time to figure out how the world works without us interfering:

But that’s not the whole story. Responding to a child is one thing, but so is letting them explore independently. “When the baby is not in distress, learning about the way the world works and exploring, parents get the job done by not interrupting the baby and making them cry,” Woodhouse explains. “When a cry shuts down the exploratory system and gets the attachment system activated. The exploration stops. The baby isn’t doing their job anymore and that creates insecurity.”

That reminds me when my kids were young and they were playing at the park. My husband and I were sitting on a blanket a few yards away. Our toddler girl fell off the swing, face planting into the sand. My gut reaction was to run to her and see if she was alright! My husband held my hand and said “Shhh!”

We watched as she picked herself up, dusted off some sand and hopped back on the swing. What would have happened if I had my way? I’m sure I would have been carrying home a sobbing child.

But insecure attachment in babies isn’t the only risk of being over-involved. According to a 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, kindergarten-age children’s risk for anxiety disorders later in life might be correlated to maternal anxiety or excessive maternal involvement. After tracking 200 children into their elementary years, researchers found that children were more likely to have diagnosable anxiety if mothers had responded positively to survey questions like “I determine who my child will play with” or “I dress my child even if he/she can do it alone.”

The fact is that parenting is stressful enough. But when parents take burdens, either social or educational, off their children’s shoulders, kids do not learn the crucial coping and organizational skills necessary to become functional adults.  

Schiffrin’s most-cited study looked into a child’s self-determination — essentially the ability to make decisions for oneself, feelings of autonomy and having relationships. A child who has strong feelings of self-determination generally also has a sense of well-being and happiness. Schiffrin wondered if helicopter parenting, defined as a developmentally inappropriate level of involvement, affected a child’s self-determination. And … yes. Very much so.

The point of the scientists quoted in this article is for us parents to stop helicoptering, quit snowplowing and find some balance. Good enough parenting is being there when our kids need us, but allowing them room to grow and thrive to become self-sufficient.

kat and rob beachWhat are your thoughts about doing too much for our kids?

Helicopters, snowplows, submarines and “dog moms”

robertbaby

My son

Have you heard all the new names for parents? We used to have helicopters, but now there are snowplows and submarines. My daughter told me that I’m more of a “dog mom.”

“What’s a dog mom?” I asked.

“You keeping me on a leash or locked in a crate.”

Ouch! Although it’s kind of funny–I mean sort of–if its not true. I guess I should be joyful that she coined a new term, right? Remember, you heard it here, first. “Dog mom.”

In “How Parenting Styles Affect Kids: Snowplow vs. Submarine,” by Maria Schwartz on Teenlife, she explains in more detail about different styles of parenting and how we should strive to become submarines.

Labels for different parenting styles have come and gone for just about as long as there have been parents. Since the college admissions scandal made headlines last month, there has been a lot of talk about the perils of “snowplow parenting” — clearing a path for children by shoving obstacles to the side.

Like the tiger mothers and helicopter parents who came before, snowplowers are highly involved parents who take a proactive and often authoritative role in their children’s lives. Any parent can understand the desire to do everything in their power to make their kids’ lives better. And, with the advantage of age and experience, it can be easy for parents to believe they can — and should — make all the right choices for their children.

The downside of snowplow parenting

There is, however, reason to believe that the kind of top-down micromanagement involved in some parenting styles is doing more harm than good. When children aren’t given a chance to fail, they get little practice grappling with the frustrations and challenges of failure.

On the other hand, kids who lose the student council election, get cut from the basketball team, or get the C they deserved instead of the A they wanted learn valuable lessons about hard work, resiliency, and handling disappointment.

“We learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out,” wrote Rebecca Pacheco in The Boston Globe earlier this month.

So instead of emulating a snowplow or a helicopter, parents should consider drawing inspiration from another source: the submarine. Submarines are powerful machines that gather intelligence and are ready to pop up when needed. But they spend most of their time “guiding & protecting” below the surface.

In the same way, parents who step back (or below) — while their teens take charge of navigating the seas of school, relationships, and personal growth — give their kids a chance to make mistakes, find solutions, spot opportunities, and — most importantly — gain confidence. But, like a submarine, they are ready to surface when needed to provide information, guidance, or protection.

kat tub

My daughter

Schwartz includes three tips to be an effective submarine parents: letting kids fail, being a sounding board and getting them out of the house into an independent activity.

Those three tips are good ideas. Without allowing our kids to fail, they won’t know how to pick themselves up and continue on. We’re taking away a valuable life skill of resilience. Listening is so important, too. How often do parents try to give advice and tell our kids what to do when all they want is someone they trust to listen to the?

As for independent activities outside the house, My kids learned so much from their weeks at swim camp when they were younger. They got to stay in dorms with other kids, have college-age counselors, be coached by Olympians. What great memories and independence they had. There are so many activities available for our kids these days. Let them go to experience something new without us hovering and yanking on their leash.

Don’t be a dog mom. Undo that leash, open the crate and let them run!

Image-1

Waffles at the beach

What are your thoughts about all the new parenting labels?

Sometimes they fall before they fly

I wrote this story several years ago about my son and his struggles leaving the nest. I’m proud to say, yes he made it and he’s flown away successfully. This year, we’re watching our daughter as she makes her way out of the nest and into the world of “adulting.”

imgres

“Sometimes when they leave the nest, they have to fall to the ground before they learn to fly.”I was at a swim meet this past weekend, talking to a longtime coach friend of mine. The “leaving the nest bird analogy” was his answer to my question about if you should let your children fail. Or, continue to support them at all costs and bail them out of trouble? When is it time to say no?

In my opinion and according some of my best friends, at some point you have to put your foot down and no longer give in. The sooner you do that, the better off they will be.

robert

My son at Laguna Beach.

 

Is this “tough love” or is it merely letting our kids face reality and consequences?

My son, who is a bright, loving person, struggled through some of his college years. His first year, he was in an accident and looking back, he should have taken a hardship withdrawal. Now, in his final quarter of school, he’s been sick for at least six straight weeks. He wants to take a hardship withdrawal now—with only four weeks left before he graduates.

Literally, it kills me. In the very least, it sickens my heart. I want him to finish, but we’ve drawn a line in the sand. We will not give him a dime more for college. He’ll have to figure this out for himself. In fact, I told him that if he withdraws from college now, he’ll have to come home. We aren’t paying for him to live in Santa Barbara without going to school. No, we’re not paying for next quarter, either.

Are we being too hard? I don’t think so. It would be easy to give in.

robertUnfortunately, I didn’t allow him to fail when the consequences weren’t so high. I was one of those helicopter parents rushing to school with forgotten papers, etc. I did him no favors by saving him from small failures. 

He’s thought through his options and I’m happy to say, he’s sticking with school. However, I came to the realization, that whatever path he takes, it’s his decision and his life. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go. It would not be the end of the world if he didn’t get his college degree in June. It isn’t my first choice for him, don’t get me wrong. But, if he had to work for a couple years and save the money to finish college, he’d learn a lot. He may even appreciate the opportunities we’ve provided for him.

Nobody told me parenting would be so hard.

robert 2

Fly Away
by Lenny Kravitz
“I wish that I could fly
Into the sky
So very high
Just like a dragonfly
I’d fly above the trees
Over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please”
robert 1
What are your thoughts about letting kids fail?

Do Latchkey Kids Become Helicopter Moms?

 

IMG_8366

The park where my kids grew up playing outdoors.

 

I find the headlines of parenting articles to be pretty funny these days. I’ve heard about helicopter parents who hover endlessly over their kids and interfere at the workplace and summer camp. But, I’ve never heard about lawnmower parents before. Have you?

When I was growing up, a lot of kids went home after school to empty houses. More women were working, plus there were a lot more single-parent homes than in previous decades. There was a popular phrase back then called “latch-key kids.”

Here’s a memory about how different parenting was back when I was a kid compared to today. When I was in high school, I took a road trip with one of my best friends from our hometown Snohomish to Sun Valley, Idaho. My friend’s parents asked us to drive their pickup truck while they flew–a 675-mile trip! We slept in the back of the pickup truck in sleeping bags somewhere in Oregon. Then once we got to Sun Valley, we had planned to pitch a tent in a local campground, because we weren’t invited to stay in the Sun Valley lodge with my friend’s parents. For some reason, we chose to sleep in the parking lot in the back of the truck instead. I remember one night the parents were out late in the pick-up truck and we were sitting on the curb in the parking lot, waiting for them to return and to crawl into our sleeping bags. We were on our own for meals and everything. Wow. Talk about NOT being a helicopter parent!

In “Finding a balance between latch-key and helicopter parenting,” I found some interesting ideas:

“Latch-key kids surged from the 1970s to the early 1990s due to economic changes requiring two incomes to get by, and societal changes where an increased divorce rate created single-parent homes.

‘Now the generation of latch-key kids are parents themselves. Many generation X’ers over-compensate for their latch-key upbringing by being a helicopter parent,’ Janice Emery, 4-H youth development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said.

A helicopter parent is a parent who pays extremely close attention to their child’s experiences and problems. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.

As parents, it is important to find the middle ground between these parenting styles and balance protecting children, and making sure they grow into responsible adults,” Emery said. “Parents have to keep in mind parenting success is not measured by how much a parent does for their child, but rather how much they teach them to do on their own.”

The second article I read today explains the difference between helicopter and lawnmower parents. In my humble opinion, I don’t see that much difference between the two of them. Both won’t allow their kids to fail and learn from their mistakes. I do agree we need to do less for our kids so they can grow up to be competent, well-balanced adults.

Helicopter of Lawnmower? Modern Parenting Styles Can Get in the Way of Raising Well-Balanced Children

“Helicopter parents, as the name suggests, spend a lot of time hovering. They always stay close to their children, ready to swoop in and direct, help or protect (usually before it is needed). Lawnmower parents are one step ahead of their children, smoothing their path and making sure nothing gets in their way. Common tactics of both include interfering significantly with their grown-up children’s lives, such as complaining to employers when their children don’t get a job.

As with anything, there is a middle ground. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that providing children with opportunities and support helps them to gain experiences, confidence and networks that they wouldn’t be offered in more adverse settings. But there is an important line between supporting children and wrapping them in gold-plated cotton wool.

Allowing children freedom to take appropriate risks through outdoor play is essential for their development. Risky play does not mean placing children in grave danger, but instead allowing them to be children – climbing, jumping from heights and hanging upside down are good examples. Risky play allows children to test limits and solve problems. And, yes, this includes learning what happens when they overstretch themselves and fall.”

 

1_498389_0_1370586658_636x435

A view from my home town where I was a latch-key kid.

When I was growing up, we could ride bikes throughout the countryside. We told our parents where we were going—it could be to a friend’s house who lived five miles away—and our parents never worried. Even our golden retriever Pepi lived a free-range life.

For some of my childhood, I was a latch-key kid and the scary thing about it was going home to an empty house. If my brother, who was two years older, had golf or tennis practice, then I was riding the school bus alone and being dropped off at a bus stop, a quarter mile from my house. It was lonely and quiet, but I survived. The bad days were when Thelma, our bus driver, dropped me off at my doorstep and announced that a prisoner had escaped from the Monroe Penitentiary, which was a couple miles away. She’d wait until I was safely inside my empty house. Those were the worst days as a latch-key kid.

I wonder if spending some years as a latch-key kid influenced my involvement with my children every step of their way to becoming adults?

16387049_10155016389924612_4962935708272400344_n

The pool and swim team that allowed my kids space in a safe environment without me helicoptering–too much.

Did you grow up as a latch-key kid and do you think it affects how you parent? Or do you think we’re living in different times and we cannot allow our kids the same amount of freedom we had?

No one-size-fits-all approach works in parenting

three

Me and my two kiddos.

In an article in The Boston Globe, different parenting styles are discussed, from helicopter parents to the new buzz about snowplows—plus those lawbreakers who crossed the line with cheating on college admissions. According to Rebecca Pacheco in “Forget the buzzwords about parenting styles, let’s just be present.” she makes good points about how important is to be there and be present in the moment, regardless of your “style.”

Every generation has a fresh take on parenting, its own personal stamp on how children should be raised. Lately, though, it seems we hear of a new style every few weeks. First there were attachment parents and helicopter parents, and now come the snowplow parents.

This last group is particularly infuriating because it means just what one might expect: to remove all obstacles in the path of a child. In other words, instead of preparing the child for the road ahead, the parent prepares the road itself. They plow it and pave it and block traffic. Sometimes, as in the case of the parents in the college admissions scandal, they even commit fraud.

As far as parenting styles named for heavy machinery are concerned, it seems that snowplows deserve more ire than helicopter parents — characterized as those who hover too close — because snowplows do more than hover. They do the work, sometimes even the dirty work, for the child.

Of course there’s a big difference between over-parenting and engaging in criminal activity. Either way, I’m curious if there’s anything positive to glean from the revelation of how far some parents go to shelter their children from the travails of growing up. How did we get here, by the way? And what can parents of more modest means (and probably stronger ethics) do instead to better prepare their children to succeed in the world?

She goes on to say, let kids experience failure. Failure is good for our kids and especially when the stakes aren’t too high. For example, if they fail at a test in high school, it’s not as important as in college when classes cost a ton of money. Failure needs to be looked at as an opportunity to learn. If we swoop in each time to save the day, our children won’t learn the lessons they need to move onto the next phase of their lives. Their days “adulting” will be filled with anxiety and stress, because we robbed them of necessary experiences. Just saying, from my own experiences.

Here’s what the writer from the Globe said about it:

First, let’s remember: Failure is good. Not all the time, not as a way of being or way of life. But failure teaches kids resilience, creativity, and prioritization. Through failure, we learn what matters enough that we are willing to work relentlessly toward it no matter how many times we fail; or we learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out.

Jessica Lahey, New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” and a longtime educator, puts it this way: “Kids need to have a positive, adaptive response to failures in order to learn from them, so every time we swoop in and save kids from a consequence, that’s a learning opportunity lost.”

The best thing she said, in my opinion, was “Be present.”

When it comes to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each kid is different. The strengths and resources of parents vary greatly. And yet, one technique stands out for me, which can be summed up in two words: Be present.

Practically speaking, babies and toddlers do not exist anywhere other than the present moment. When they are hungry, hunger is all that exists. When they are in pain, pain is all-encompassing. Older children understand the concept of time, but their needs are only slightly less immediate. You can reason that you’ll go to the playground not today but tomorrow or request that no one wake you before 7 a.m. on Saturdays, but a child of any age still often needs a response in the moment.

When it comes to parenting, the most important question might not be which style we choose, but how we show up for our children in a given moment. One moment after the other. Every day. Year layered upon year, like tiers of birthday cake or bricks. Granted, no one is perfect, never distracted, or immune to a bad mood or short fuse, but before we can be “good” parents, we must first be present ones. We can borrow wisdom from all kinds of parenting styles: from Montessori or Tiger Mamas, attachment or anything goes, but it all seems secondary to the question of whether our faces light up when they enter a room. Do we take the time to be attentive in their presence?

We teach kids to stop and look both ways before crossing the street. It’s a crucial safety precaution, but it can also serve as mindfulness inspiration as parents. How often do we take pause, stopping to consider what is happening as it’s happening, rather than merely reacting? As parents, do we have a stop-and-look equivalent as the moment is unfolding?

Being in the present is important when you have adult kids, too. It’s also something to remember when you’re with your spouse. Are you preoccupied on your phone while they are talking to you? Are you nodding your head in agreement without listening? Most people are distracted because of our phones. When our adult children call, get off the computer or whatever else we’re doing and pay attention. If we’re distracted all the time and not really “there” we may find ourselves in a day and time when nobody is calling anymore.

Stop. Breathe. Be here, in this moment, with yourself, with your kid whom you love. That’s the job. Leave the plowing of snow and hovering at 460 rotations per minute to the heavy machinery.

What are your thoughts about being in the moment with the people you love?

meandrbeach