Helicopter Parenting – or for goodness sake at least hover out of sight!

“Helicopter Parent is a colloquial, early 21st century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. The term originally coined by Foster W. Cline M.D. and Jim Fay in their 1990 book “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.” Helicopter parents are so named because like helicopters, they hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. Some college professors and administrators are now referring to “lawnmower parents” to describe mothers and fathers who attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles, to the extent that they may even attempt to interfere at their children’s workplaces regarding salaries and promotions.” (Helicopter Parents – Wikipedia)

I read another article recently about Helicopter Parents. I used to think it must certainly be an exaggeration until a friend who teaches at a local college told me some of her experiences. Then, at the college laboratory where I work, a parent called looking for research material for her son, who was working on his PhD. It was all I could do not to say “really lady, are you kidding me?” Instead, I gave her some contact names and gently tried to explain that certainly it would be better for her son if he made those phone calls himself. I am sure she heard nothing that I said. Of course, helicopter parents is not really a new concept, it’s just a new term for Jewish/Italian (insert your ethnicity here) mothers!  (I would be the Modified-Italian mother. I will not help you with your PhD. but I will be quick to tell you that the boy/girl you are dating is not good enough for you and recommend a list of alternatives. Hey, it’s not a flaw it’s a cultural thing!)

My adult children have all been around this weekend, visiting on their breaks between college semesters and work. I love just sitting in a room and watching them all. It is an amazing experience to realize that those little babies you held in your arms have grown into adults, and in fact, into adults that I really, really like a lot. We all got to eat dinner together the other night. The funny thing was I hadn’t set the table, I thought we’d just eat buffet style. As children, I made them eat at the table together every night and they did not always appreciate it. While I was finishing dinner I looked into the dining room to find them pulling out chairs and gathering around the table on their own, wanting to sit together and eat as a family. It was wonderful. During the meal, I had to stop the conversation for a moment. I said to them “I just want to tell you all that some families sit around and talk about ‘American Idol’ at the dinner table and my children are sitting here debating politics and arguing over whether Freud’s theories still have any validity. I could not be more proud.” They laughed, and continued arguing. (Freud neither won nor lost, it was an even draw).

I was very involved when my children were in elementary school. I volunteered excessively and attended all their events. By high school, however, it became more difficult. There were lots of them and they participated in many activities. I had gone back to work and back to college. I could only be there so often. I certainly could not keep track of things like homework assignments and project due dates. They learned to keep track of those things themselves and I think they were better for it. I stepped in only when absolutely necessary. So when do we know when to stop hovering? How do we know when to cut the apron strings? I think it is different for every single child and every situation. Certainly, if your child is working on his or her PhD. you need to cut the strings. Yet, if that same child came home a few years later, going through a difficult divorce or some other life crisis, it is okay to mother again, just for a little while. The trick is to figure out where and when to step back. No one gets it right all the time. My oldest daughter cut the strings herself. Some of her first words as a toddler were “I do it myself Mommy.” She was not a child who needed me to hover. She was very eager to jump out on her own. A few others needed more of a shove to embrace the idea of independence.

My goals as a parent have always been clear to me; to raise children who are capable of taking care of themselves and to raise children who give more back to the world than they take out of it. My self esteem is not wrapped up in what they do or do not do. Their success or failure is theirs alone to celebrate or to learn from. My only dreams for them are to be safe and happy. Whatever form that takes, I support it and will love them regardless.

And moms, if you are going to hover, just a little, once in awhile, try to be more stealth about it. Helicopters are way too noisy . . .


Karen Foley

About Karen Foley

Karen Foley, has successfully been writing her blog for the BDN since May 2011. By successful, she means a few people read it, and she has not been sued, stalked or fired since starting it.