Helicopter Parents in the Making

In one of my previous posts, I discuss some of the expectations that I had for myself as a parent while I was pregnant and about how those expectations (related to wanting Levi to go to daycare) did not come even close to fruition.

Another thing that I felt sure of while I was pregnant was that I didn’t want to be a helicopter parent.  I teach classrooms full of the children of these helicopter parents, and I definitely didn’t want to be one.

I read this mom’s plea to other parents asking them not to help her child on the playground:

It is not my job — and it is certainly not yours — to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage.

If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it.

It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.

I don’t want my daughters to learn that they can’t overcome obstacles without help. I don’t want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort.

I read it and leaned over my belly to grab my keyboard mouse and clicked to share it on Facebook.  I read it and thought, you’re damn right — this explains exactly what is wrong with helicopter parenting.  A similar post on Scary Mommy about the difference between “bench-warmers” and “hoverers” seemed to ensure that I was going to be sitting on that bench.  Playgrounds, after all, are there for moms to get a break and for kids to have fun and freedom, right?

These were the self-assured thoughts I carried during that year of trying to get pregnant and through the ten months of pregnancy.

This weekend we brought Levi to the Kids’ Korner at our gym (this is the onsite child care space).  He’s in the “stranger danger” phase, and back around Christmas, he started refusing to stay at the Kids’ Korner, crying and clinging to me.  We are slowly working on getting him to acclimate and feel comfortable there by going to the gym each weekend as a family.  We bring him into the Kids’ Korner and stay with him until he seems like he’s engaged  with other kids and playing happily.  Often we never get to this point and one of use ends up staying there while the other works out and then we switch off.  On occasion we get to head to the fitness area and get in 10-20 minutes of working out before he starts crying and we head back to get him.

On this particular weekend I was hanging out in the Kids’ Korner.  As usual the only parent in the Kid’s Korner.  I was standing a good distance away from Levi, as he wandered, picking up toy cars and trucks, trying out the wheels on a few.  He kept checking over his shoulder to be sure I was there.  I smiled reassuringly.  As I looked around at the childcare workers, (teenagers mostly) who tolerate us being there each weekend, but who also must think we are nuts there lurking in the shadowy corners, and it slowly dawned on me:  I am helicopter parent in the making….  Or perhaps the thought was framed as a question:  Am I a helicopter parent in the making?

Dawn told me the story of watching a dad drop off his daughter who was crying as if her heart were dying, and he was simply resolute in his response:  She had to stay there.  If she didn’t stay there, they weren’t going to do anything fun later.  Dawn said he left, and the little girl continued to cry almost to the point of throwing up before the staff was able to calm her and engage her in play.   Now in trying to not judge, I will simply say, that I just cannot do that.  But instead, am I seen as the Kids’ Korner’s resident helicopter parent?  Not that perceptions of my parenting should matter, but in this case — a case where my parenting philosophy is more free range than helicopter (or at least I want it to be) — it kind of does.

How, I am asking, does one avoid being a helicopter parent and simultaneously a parent who doesn’t want my child crying to the point of stomach sickness?  There is a happy medium here somewhere, right?  Am I doing a child a disservice, robbing him of an opportunity to learn self-soothing, each time I smile and not from behind the play mat enclosed post?  I assure myself there will be plenty more opportunities for this kind of learning (and more crucial ones) in the future.  I reassure myself that all parents have to do what is right for them and for their heart, and that while I value both self-care for the parent (that is, working out is an important element of our lives that should be attended to) as well as opportunities for my child to learn to overcome obstacles, we just aren’t there yet in this particular context.