I am all for intentional parenting. In fact, I advocate for it. But when does well meaning and calculated child-rearing cross the line and become helicopter parenting? I admit that it has taken me three years to realize that my worst fear of being the helicopter parent I saw all the time while teaching was who I was becoming. But it was small, subtle ways that were leading to bigger habits that I have had to start working on.
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Subtle signs that you’ve actually been helicopter parenting all along
I’m guilty. Seriously.
I hover and even want to be the one in the cockpit steering for my kids.
Because I know best, right?
My decisions can help them make the perfect grades, achieve pro status at sports and music, and be multi-lingual. And somehow it’s fulfilling to us as parents that our kids embody our own dreams and fill the gap of our own shortcomings.
However, almost every time, taking a step back and letting our kids be kids is the best thing we can do for them. As much as we want it to be, parenting isn’t about us. It’s about bettering our world and raising confident, independent children that can problem solve their way out of a situation.
Subtle signs that you’ve actually been a helicopter parent all along
I am learning to let go. However, the hardest habits to break as a helicopter parent are the small ways that I don’t even realizing I am hovering, making decisions for my kids, or actually perpetuating entitlement and the Me, Me, Me epidemic instead of ending it.
You want to help your child even when they don’t ask for it.
It’s the most painful thing in the world to watch my daughter struggle to do simple things.
Like take her shirt off? While she’s screaming that her head is stuck?
Gah. Stop. It’s worse than being stuck in the shirt myself.
And there have been times I have tried to jump in and help her take that darn shirt off. But she gets mad at me. Yells. And falls backwards like a awkward anteater with her arms in the air, stuck inside her own t-shirt.
The best thing we can do as parents is stand by and watch our kids crawl, struggle, and smash through obstacles that life presents them. We learn the best from our failures and from our mistakes, so it’s time to let our children fail and make mistakes too.
You expect too much of your children too soon.
There are jokes about parents wanting their kids to know 5 languages by 5 years old and how if a child is a pro at a chosen musical instrument or sport by the time they’re three then they’re behind.
But really, take a minute. Evaluate.
How often do we push our children to achieve and outdo the kid next door? Or how often are we forcing them into performing to meet our needs instead of their own?
We spend so much time worrying about our kids that we don’t enjoy them for who they are, what they love, and what they are accomplishing in the moment.
It’s ok to introduce your kids to hobbies you think they might wind up loving, but there’s no need to push them beyond their interest level or ability. In fact that many times leads to dependence or resentment. But not always.
Fears or frustrations keep you from letting your child participate in an activity.
I get it. I hate crafts. I don’t like playgrounds. And kids’ songs annoy me.
So fire me from this mom job because I am not fit to be a mother, right?
It’s ok. Despite not enjoying those aspects of motherhood I know that my kids enjoy creating and making. They benefit from physical exercise and the gross motor skills developed on playgrounds. And that while I may be pulling my hair out by the millionth time my daughter sings “Jesus Loves Me” in the back of our van, she has benefited from memorizing a song, understanding musical rhythms, and mastered basic mathematics by adjusting her voice to sing pitch perfect.
And yet so many times I get caught in this vicious cycle of fear and frustration. I fear the horrors of our world so I deprive my kids of riding the bus and the subway to the local children’s museum or I am just not in the mood to be frustrated by the mess of arts and crafts.
But in the end this is just another form of subtle helicopter parenting. I am hovering in the background of their lives dictating every moment to fit my own needs and not allow my kids to spread their wings a little.
You can’t put your phone or camera away.
Half the time I have my phone out to capture every cute moment and priceless photo. But in exchange for the kodak moment I miss so many priceless memories. I don’t get to see them with my own eyes, but through a screen.
I am sending the message to my children that everything must be documented, everything must at least have the illusion of grandeur, and that memories are manufactured moments not the natural progression of spending a life well-lived together.
Furthermore, my camera causes me to hover. I can quickly and easily scoop my child up from a situation before it happens and I can take away the learning experience of building with blocks the way my child would because I sit and build something different.
Your intentionalism becomes unintentional.
You’re so wrapped up in the ideal outcome for your child that you take it too far. I have been there. I have prepared every step of the way to make sure that my child learns something and somehow in the process they didn’t learn it because I did it all.
Sometimes there’s a fine line in intentional parenting that blurs into controlling and doing too much. And early on I didn’t know that. I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand it.
Now I know that I can help enable my children, but the moment my planning and my help takes away their own critical thinking, their own self-regulation and self-confience, and their own choice, that’s when intentionalism becomes piloting, hovering, and ultimately helicopter parenting.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!