What My Daughter Has to Say About Helicopter Parents {who, me?}

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The problem with educating your children is that they become…educated. When Cope came home from Ocean Classroom (and after a period of love and kindness) I was informed we were doing it all wrong – “We need to get chickens again and eat our own eggs. And we need a goat. Mom, that face wash is ruining the ocean! And FOR SHAME – YOU’RE USING PLASTIC???!

Enthusiastic she was saving the world from her wasteful and consumerist mother, I had a silent counter-argument… just wait, honey. just wait until you’re a mom packing lunches and walking through knee-deep snow to water chickens only to find them slaughtered by a weasel and golly gee, can’t a girl use her favorite face wash? Oh, and yes, let me skip outdoors to milk the goats daily. I shall wear braids and an apron. And sing.

Sometimes it’s fun to be patronizing.

Now the girl is taking Psychology. She spent Sunday afternoon educating her mother. Hey parents, leave those kid alone.

“Mom, what do you think of this: in the UK there are adventure parks called The Land, designed in the 40s, where kids can make fires and uses knives and saws.”

I said: “Fires?”

Apparently this is a thing. This adventure playground looks like it was inspired by a junk yard. “It’s one of dozens in the UK fostering an endangered human behavior…RISKY PLAY.”

And I kindof love it.

Cope says parents need to stop helicoptering, using Atlantic Monthly writer, Hanna Rosin, as her muse.

“Kids who are not at risk or who don’t feel like they’re at risk (at danger) or don’t find risk in socially acceptable ways – like handle scissors before age 6, flip pancakes, chop potatoes – they will either become afraid of everything and not know how to handle real life situations OR they will seek out risk in socially unacceptable ways like doing drugs…”

She spoke passionately, wearing her brand new smarty-look glasses and gave me these gems to consider:

“If you’re always hovering and giving stuff, helping, never letting them fail, they’re much more likely to feel entitled, angry, and ungrateful.”

I took mental notes. No more hovering. No more stuff. Fail, darlings, fail!

“If you never let kids feel like they can handle themselves than they’ll never be able to handle themselves.”

This discussion made me think of my own childhood, a more relaxed time, where I was a free-range child in a Nebraska suburb. We roamed unsupervised for hours at a time. When I was 5 years old me and my twin brother walked to school. Alone. It was a mile there, a mile home. We often got side-tracked. It was glorious.

Our mother drove us maybe once a year. No matter how late we were running – and we were often running – We walked in sun, rain, and snow with other unsupervised children.

Once I arrived at school at 9:30 (school started at 9.) “Where were you?” my kindergarten teacher asked. “Just walking to school.” I remember how big her eyes got.

In second grade I picked up a dead squirrel in the road, and brought it to school for show ‘n tell (my teachers loved me).

We got into all sorts of mischief. Those memories remain some of the happiest of my life.

Oh, guess what else we did? We jumped on trampolines! (okay, okay, I broke my neck but that was a fluke.)

As I’ve grown up and become a mother, it’s less socially acceptable to let my children play or walk places independently. Parents get arrested for such things. We’re meant to feel like we’re sub-par parents unless we’ve got EYES ON THE CHILD every single second.

Once, when Cope was six months old, I gave her a fork to play/eat with. The women came out of the woodwork – OH MY GOSH WHAT ARE YOU DOING????!!!! YOU GAVE HER A FORK!!! AHHH! SHE’LL POKE HER EYE OUT AND DIE!!! WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU? That fork was snatched so fast out of her hand it made both our heads spin. Publicly shamed, I didn’t make that mistake again. We gave her forks in private. And she learned to eat with it.

I partly blame the media. With the speed of news, we hear about every kidnapping, car crash, accident, drowning, and child murder that ever happens. The thought sends chills and horror through my body. But guess what? Kidnapping rates haven’t gone up. Child accidents haven’t gone up. Just because we walk our third-graders to school or teach them never to talk to strangers, doesn’t lower their risk of being kidnapped. The rates have remained the same since the 70’s.

Cope quotes Rosin again, “We’re always saying kids are growing up so much faster now – they’re not. They’re just mimicking adult behaviors. And then when it comes time for them to exercise responsibility and become adults they don’t know how. They can’t.”

My own mother studied human behavior extensively in the 90s. She hated the 1980’s self-esteem movement. “Telling yourself how wonderful you are all the time is stupid,” I can hear her saying in my head. “Teaching kids how TO DO THINGS makes them feel good about themselves.” Which was why I scrubbed the disgusting kitchen floor every Saturday. And golly gee, I do feel good about myself!

By skipping milestones (not letting our kids cross the street, get jobs, walk to the store alone) are we actually depriving our kids of becoming capable? How sad. Because that’s not the intention of any parent I know.

When I was in college I had a roommate who went home after one week. I felt terribly for her. She just couldn’t hack it. She told me she had never done her own laundry or dishes before. She was too scared to find her classes. I was shocked her parents would actually let her come home. I imagined my parents saying, “Are you joking? Suck it up. After a semester we’ll discuss.” (obviously there are exceptions to every situation!)

Want more? Read this: How To Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb: “Why the obsession with our kid’s happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods.” Yikes.

Obviously I need to be a tad more neglectful, let the darlings feel a little more discomfort, fail more and bigger – let them discover that they are perfectly capable of getting right back up.

I vow to try.

But children, beware. Does this also mean: no more driving to school with your forgotten gym shorts, requesting a teacher, hounding the coach because your didn’t get enough playing time, or worse…writing your homework essay? (for the record, I’m batting 50% at these four.)

Remember the Battle Cry of the Tiger Mother? I loved that book – and was fascinated, inspired, and appalled.

Concluding words, Cope? “Don’t be a helicopter parent! No one likes it, least of all your incompetent children!”

My friends, these are very encouraging words indeed. Parents, it’s time to take a load off! Read in bed. Take a nap. It’s cereal for dinner – and they’ll pour the milk. Bonus: It’s good parenting!

“Cope, aren’t you glad I gave you chores and made you do things?”

“Actually, I’d rather be pampered hand foot.”

Too late! Yesterday afternoon I took her advice to heart. I took a nap. Without supervising the children. BEST MOM EVER. Right?

I also want to say: Thanks, Cope. For reals. You’re going to make a terrific mom.

(And don’t worry, I’ll bandage the cut off fingers of my grandchildren after they use scissors without supervision 🙂 ).

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9 thoughts on “What My Daughter Has to Say About Helicopter Parents {who, me?}

  1. Shirley

    Give Cope a copy of one of the scientific studies indicating that children who know their heritage, i.e. ancestors, are more emionally resilient and send her off with a few pedigree charts. (This may be new knoledge for her teacher.)
    You have one smart young woman there. Allow me to give you a “something to look forward to”. One day you will have the opprtunity to sit on the sidelines ; yes, this is a spectator sport,( at times it requires one to sit on hands and zip one’s lips. ) and watch your educated, competent child do her own parenting. We find this quite fun.

    Reply
  2. Dianne Salerni

    I love Cope’s research on this matter and her conclusions. I agree with her!

    Yes, I too have read stories in the news about parents being arrested for allowing their children to walk to the park alone. In nearby Maryland, there is a couple who has been fighting Child Services for years on this matter. I admire them for sticking to their beliefs and principles in spite of repeated harassment.

    Reply
  3. Barrie

    This is really interesting. I particularly am thinking about the risky behavior now…or later thing. I think I can do this! Very good reminder as I start this teenager thing!

    Reply
  4. Julia Tomiak

    Adolescence- the years when we suddenly turn into embarrassing ninnies who don’t know a thing. I’m pretty sure the only way I’ll survive is with lots of humor and prayers. I do agree with Cope on some points- 75% of my kids do their own laundry. I just don’t let them hold knives when they fold. 😉

    Reply
  5. Dana

    Great read! There are times when I wonder how my kids will survive in the real world, but then there are times when I think I just want them to be kids as long as they can. I’m anticipating that the first year of college will go a long way in fostering more independence in my daughter. She is perfectly capable, and when Mom’s not right there, she will do it herself (and I don’t have to hear about it!)

    Reply
  6. Melissa Sarno

    I LOVE this post. And I love your kids. You’re a Mom I want to emulate. I read The Atlantic piece and it gave me a lot to think about. Like how to raise a free range kid in the middle of Brooklyn. I was born in 1980, so I’m in this weird time warp where I experienced a free range childhood just before the shift to helicopter mode. I remember how my friend and I biked miles from our home crossing some major roads in a thunderstorm and my Mom was just like, oh good you made it home alive. I’d love for my son to have a similar experience. For now, while he’s only two, I guess I can stick to letting him fail and get frustrated.

    Reply
  7. Kate Johnston

    Awesome post, Amy!!

    The first time I let my daughter use the oven by herself, she burned her hand! I felt awful, and it was years before either she or I was ready to try it again. When her grandmother found out … ! It’s no surprise helicoptering exists; there are way too many people out there telling us what to do and how.

    I have stopped listening to both sides and followed my instincts. I think many of these situations we find ourselves in are relative. Some neighborhoods are quite safe, while others are horribly dangerous. Some children are careful and can be trusted with using a knife, while some children are absentminded and careless and really aren’t ready for sharp-edged instruments that can maim. 🙂

    As long as we pay attention to the individual child and raise them according to their strengths and weaknesses, sense of responsibility, and maturity level, I think that’s the best we can do.

    Reply
  8. Allie

    I enjoyed this, and read every word. I am in such a quandary! I sometimes feel as though I brought myself up. By the time I was 10 I knew how to cook, and by 12 did my own laundry. I was the one who cleaned our house. I had a job at fourteen, and left for college when I was seventeen out-of-state, to a school I’d never laid eyes on! The roommate story is crazy. One week? And yes, why in the world would they let her come home?

    As a parent – I’ve been become a cliche. My fifteen year-old can’t do anything for himself. I’m panicking and now trying to implement a crash course of survival for him. And oh, is he fighting me!~ He doesn’t want to do anything for himself, and so I need to just stop. Perhaps if nothing he needs/wants gets done, he’ll finally get motivated. I don’t know.

    Reply

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