On Realizing I Was a Helicopter Parent, Too!!
Ok, soooo.. I got called out when I posted some pictures of my daughter learning to ride a bicycle. My sister commented, “Nice photo bombs, helicopter dad!” Well, she’s only 6 I thought, and…., and…. Then she’ll be 12, then 18, then 26 and someday she’ll be 30, and I just want to make sure she doesn’t fall over and get hurt. The ages change as do some of the potentially negative impacts of keeping our kids safely in their bubble wrap.
Now, I’ve worked in the treatment and mental health industry for 15 years. I’ve spent countless hours helping parents and families disentangle from unhealthy dynamics that started early. So when my sister pointed this out it really made me step back and get a better sense of what so many of my parents and families have gone through or are going through. It’s a natural, loving response that, if unchecked, can go the extreme and can become suffocating.
Before my daughter was born I read The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost. This book is largely about attachment parenting in some indigenous cultures and using those cultures as a lens through which to view and re-view how we attach and parent. What was striking to me was the depiction of the learning and acculturation process. Some of the kids depicted in the book were using axes and machettes at the age of 5 to help out with work in the fields. These kids had learned through experience what would hurt them and what would not. They were not missing fingers or toes. And there was not a field full of moms and dads running around yelling instructions or “Be carefuls!!” These kids had learned, through experience, what was safe and what was not. They were more independent, autonomous, and self-directed than many of their Western counterparts.
I’m not trying to romanticize the other here. What I am highlighting is that it can be helpful to gain some perspective on how we parent. It might be a book about other cultures. It might be a comment from your sister or a friend. If we can resist the temptation to take make it about us and can step back for a minute to take a look, it can be helpful and can lead toward corrective action. And maybe a laugh when you realize you have been photo bombing all of your kids photos!! In my photo-bombing moments, I was in a race with my anxiety, trying to make sure nothing bad happens. And only ensuring that when something does happen that it will likely hurt worse and she will be less equipped and less resilient to relate to it on her own.
Of course we have to keep our kids and loved ones safe. But how we do this is the key question. Are we doing this in a way that is empowering them? Or in a way that is just decreasing our own anxiety, as the priority? If it is the latter, try sitting on the curb and taking a picture rather than “becoming the news” and ending up in all of the pictures. Haha, it’s actually quite funny to notice her face versus my face in these photos. Hers of the pure joy and bliss of riding a bike for the first time. And mine of the pure terror and fear of her riding a bike for the first time.
So, how can you stop being a helicopter parent? Do the following:
Be kind to yourself. Approach your “hovering” tendencies with a sense of humor. Allow others to help you become more self-aware of your becoming the “photo-bomber” I mentioned above. Trust in the ability of your son or daughter to be resilient and courageous. And, be there with love, support and bandaids.