So this post is being written by a guest blogger who happens to be my boss at work on campus, but also one of my best friends and my second mother. We work in the Humanities Department on campus see helicopter parents a lot. Helicopter parenting is something that is more and more common today, and she’s here to talk about her personal experiences with the subject!
I’m the first to admit, I struggle to avoid helicopter parenting! You see, my step-daughter is only with us 50% of the time, and when she was in the lower elementary grades, helicopter-style parenting was the only way to make sure we had all the information we needed regarding her schoolwork and other parts of her life. But now, my husband and I have an “ours” child, and of course, he’s with us all the time. I don’t need to worry the schoolwork won’t get to our house, or that we’ll miss parent-teacher conference sheets, or newsletters, and yet, it’s very hard to keep myself from hovering!
What keeps me from being what I call a “double-rotored” helicopter mom is my experience at the university level. I’m the administrative assistant in a large department at the local university, and every summer I have extensive contact with incoming freshman – and their parents. I see incredibly grown-up, ready-to-face-the-world freshmen….and then I see freshmen that are clearly not ready to deal with college. Freshmen that walk into the room and Mom asks me, “Can he go to the bathroom before he begins?” Freshmen that look to Mom or Dad for the answers to my questions. Freshmen that are going to struggle when they have to be “in charge” every single day. Freshmen whose parents call me with questions on how their student should register for spring semester classes. I once had a parent sit down next to their child during a test, “in case they needed help”!!
When your child is 18 years old, and ready to live full-time away from home, on a college campus, they should be able to do certain things by themselves – register for classes, answering questions, ASKING questions. If they can’t do those things, they’re not ready. And most frequently, the reason they’re unable to do those things is that they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn independence – a helicopter parent has always done it for them.
Learning independence needs to start young and it’s not always easy to allow our children that independence! My “baby” boy is almost eight now, and my step-daughter is nearly twelve and I am most definitely not ready for them to be big kids. After all, a parent’s natural instinct with their children is to protect them from bad things – bad grades, hurt feelings, bullying, all the scary things the world has in it. Sometimes, we have to remember that by the time a child is in first or second grade, they are old enough to have some responsibilities. They are old enough to turn in homework without being reminded. They are old enough to have consequences when they don’t remember to put their homework in their backpack. They are old enough to be given small tastes of independence. When they’re in fifth or sixth grade, they are ready for more responsibility – they’re ready to keep track of assignments on their own and they’re ready to spend some time on their own. For example, this summer, we let our two children (together) walk to meet us at a park several blocks away while we drove there. Was it nerve-wracking? Sure, the first couple times, it took everything I had to not follow directly behind them in the car. But the pride that they both took in that independence is amazing and teaching them they CAN do things on their own is one of the most important skills we can teach our children.
As I wrote this post, I emailed my husband about the topic, and he reminded me of one of the most important reasons to teach children that they are strong and can do whatever is necessary. A little over a year ago, my dad and stepdaughter (Michelle) were involved in a fairly serious car accident – the car was airborne for a period of time, the air bags deployed, and the entire car was totaled. My dad doesn’t remember anything after he told Michelle to get out of the car (and he was eventually Med-flighted to Madison). Michelle, at ten years old, was able to keep herself together – she didn’t freak out, she didn’t shut down. She stayed calm, and kept reassuring her grandfather that she was okay. It was Michelle who answered questions from the EMT’s and who gave them my contact information at the hospital when her grandfather couldn’t. The confidence and independence that we taught her gave her the skills to know that she could take charge in a very scary situation.
So, if you’re already a double-rotored helicopter parent, take baby steps – see if you can get yourself down to just a single rotor. Maybe it’s just sending your child up to the counter by themselves at Dairy Queen to order their dessert and pay for it, while you watch from the booth. Maybe you let your child get a low score on a test that they forgot to write down and didn’t study for. Will it be hard not to help, or keep them from suffering consequences? Sure. But if you start there, and you see how proud they are of themselves when they accomplish something on their own, maybe you, too, can ditch the helicopter, and let your children learn to soar on their own.