What is a helicopter parent? This is my personal definition;
one who hovers over their child like an annoying little gnat, trying to control everything they do, think and feel.
Ok, I’m talking about me here. I
am was a helicopter Mom. Hopefully a recovering one, now that I am aware of it.
It began so innocently, born out of love for my babies, and a desire to make the best human beings I knew how. But I didn’t know parents should have boundaries. Well, I kind of knew, but that’s another story.
I think it all started when my kids were toddlers. I didn’t just hover over them while they were newly walking. That’s understandable. I hovered even when they were quietly playing by themselves. God forbid they be allowed to use their very own imaginations, and so I would sit down and play with them, even though they were not seeking me out.
When I quit my job it wasn’t only because I wanted to spend more time with my kids, it was because no one could watch them as good as me. Yep, not even their grandmother.
It got worse in elementary school. Because I was already so invested in protecting my children from themselves I stayed close to them even while they were at school. I volunteered for everything. I didn’t just help out for parties or field trips though, I literally threw myself at teachers, begging them to give me something to do on a weekly basis. Anything.There were times when I did nothing more than color pictures, but I got to observe how my kids behaved in class, witness who their friends were and whether or not I approved of them, how the teacher treated them, etc.
When my daughter moved out at 20 years old I was lost. It turns out it’s not so easy to hover over your kid when they don’t live in the same house as you. So I turned all my attention onto my 16 year old son instead. I really stepped up my game, too.
I was treating him like a king; making his breakfast, lunch and dinner, doing his laundry, sometimes even cleaning his room! The craziest thing is, he did not want me to do these things for him.
But, unlike my daughter, who wisely resisted my meddling for most of her life, he tolerated it because he is very sensitive to me. He knew something I didn’t; I was doing those things for me, because I couldn’t admit that I wouldn’t always be needed. Well, again, I kind of knew…
But as it should, the day came when my son took a stand. I had texted him for the third time while he was out one night, just to “see how he was doing”. He was almost 18 at the time. When he came home the next day he said, “Mom, we really have to talk. You’re treating me like a baby, and I’d like you to stop. I need you to trust that I’m okay when I’m not home.”
“No!” I wanted to scream. “I can’t do that. What will happen to you if I don’t check up on you?!”
That’s when I heard my thoughts loud and clear, and I realized how insane they were. Not only was I making myself crazy, I was not giving my son any credit. I was dismissing him, as if he had no power to think and do for himself. I was taking away his power, and giving it to myself. Oddly, I did not feel powerful at all though, just weak and wishy washy and worried all the time.
What a relief it was to finally see what I was doing. Letting go did not come easy for me, and it is still a practice, but it’s been worth the effort. My son has thrived because of his freedom and has really grown up a lot. He is away at college now, in another state, and he is loving life.
I see how some of his peers’ parents step in every time their child has an issue, whether it’s scholastic or emotional, and it reminds me how not to be.
I can also see that I did more good than harm to my kids, because there are things I see other parents do that I would never dream of doing (like hopping in a plane because their kid is having a bad day or calling the dean to ask why their kid didn’t get into a class). My kids do not need that kind of support from me. But I use what I see as a reminder to keep re-defining, again and again, my new-found boundaries with my children.
I know my kids still need me in some ways, and I think that’s normal and healthy. But if I had to do it all over again, I would definitely make my life easier and, for the sake of raising confident, capable, strong minded individuals, I would spend more of their first eighteen years reminding myself that I am their teacher and mentor, and my main job is to work myself out of my job as a parent.